A conversation with Paul Jay – The Baltimore Podcast Show
Eze Jackson and Tracey Beale talk with Paul Jay about TRNN’s beginnings, challenges along the way, why we’re stationed in Baltimore and the future of independent journalism.
PAUL JAY: Georgie’s been asking me where babies come from.
TRACEY BEALE: What’d you say?
PAUL JAY: I told her.
EZE JACKSON: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Eze Jackson here with Tracy Beale. What we’re doing today is a series of conversations we’re going to be having with members of The Real News staff and some folks from outside of the staff. And we want to start in house today with our editor-in-chief, Paul Jay. What’s up, Paul?
PAUL JAY: Thanks for doing this.
EZE JACKSON: No doubt. Thanks for letting us.
TRACEY JACKSON: Starting at the top.
EZE JACKSON: Starting at the top. 2019, we’re here. I want to go back to the beginning of The Real News, the very beginning, the moment where you say okay, this is what I’m going to do.
PAUL JAY: It kind of really begins with 9/11. Before that, I’d had this idea of a documentary channel that would make use of the Internet. I was a pretty well-known documentary filmmaker in Canada. I was making films for films for A&E and CBC and BBC, pretty big budget documentaries. And then I started this daily debate show on CBC called originally Face Off and then called counterSpin. We were on five nights a week on prime time and we would have real debate about politics, current affairs and a spectrum of guests that you normally would never see on television.
And then I was kind of getting really ready to make a feature film, I had a kind of all worked out. And it was actually going to be titled 2020. Now, this is back in 2000-2001 and it was actually at the time of what I thought was going to be a big economic crisis, and we may still see this before 2019 is over, and the rise of a far right government. And I’m not saying everything I saw came to be, but it’s not that far off. And I was starting to work out the whole plot lines of the film at the same time as producing this daily debate show, but I did the debate show–it was almost 10 years at that time and I had enough of that and I really didn’t want to do daily at all anymore. I kind of didn’t want to do news anymore.
And then 9/11 comes. And what happens in the United States after 9/11 is really you can see what American fascism could look like. Certainly I wouldn’t say it was full-fledged, people still had some rights to speak and organize and such, but the atmosphere was such that in the newsrooms around the United States, and generally in the culture, there was a real hysteria and a real repression. Dan Rather, who was the news guy for CBS for many years, he said that the atmosphere in the newsrooms–he compared it to being in a township in South Africa, a Black township, and being accused of being a traitor. And he said if you spoke out against the White House, it was like you would have a flaming tire of patriotism put around your neck. And he only said that to the BBC, he didn’t say it here.
So it really started hitting me that what was happening in the U.S.–now I was operating in Canada at the time, but there was a somewhat similar atmosphere developing, not as bad as down here. And the show I had, I was the exec producer, so we really got to control who came on the show. Well, we started having real debates about 9/11 within days of it happening, because Bush goes on television I think two days, three days after the planes hit the towers, and he says, “You’re either with us or against us in the war against terrorism.”
And so, I wrote an intro to the show. We weren’t even supposed to be on for a couple of weeks. But I phoned CBC and I said, “We’ve got to go right away because he just declared war and he says we all have to join the war. Well, we have a right to debate, do we want to be part of this war or not?” And so, a few days later we did, we went on early. I wrote an intro and I said, “If President Bush had asked us to grieve about what happened on 9/11–” the numbers, how many, a couple thousand people killed–I said, “we wouldn’t have done the show tonight. But he asked us to go to war and we have the right to debate why this took place.”.
Well, the morning of the day that we did that show, newspapers all around the English speaking world had almost the same editorials or op eds, and they said, “If you try to connect 9/11 to U.S. foreign policy, if you want to suggest that it’s U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East that had something to do with this, then you’re blaming the victims.” And they tried to shut down the whole conversation of how the United States and the support for the Saudi regime, one-sided support for Israel and its occupation Palestinian territory, if you try to connect that to 9/11, they said, “you’re capitulating to terrorism and you’re blaming the victim.”
Well, we did the debate that night and we kept it going. But it was infuriating as much as it was obvious that the reasons for 9/11 were totally connected to U.S. foreign policy. Not just that, like why did these Islamist militants, al Qaeda types, how did they get to be in the position they were in? The American policy invited them to come to Afghanistan. The CIA invites bin Laden to come to Afghanistan, around which they help mobilize tribal elders, people from the countryside to induce the Soviet Union to bring troops into Afghanistan and create a jihadist war against the Soviet Union. This is what gives birth to this, the whole U.S.-Saudi alliance is what gave birth to this. Most of the people on the planes, the terrorists, were from Saudi Arabia, and we know now, the Saudi government was directly involved in facilitating these attacks, we know that from the joint congressional investigation into 9/11.
Anyway, so I’m back in this moment, I want to make my movie and I don’t want to get into daily news again, but you can see how terrible news is getting in the United States and it ain’t that much better in Canada, our show was quite an exception, and you could see the Internet, there’s now the possibility to create a news channel that can bypass the traditional gatekeepers. And you could see from what was starting to happen with the Howard Dean campaign, you could raise money directly over the Internet, so I could kind of see what was possible. And I didn’t want to do it because I wanted to go make my movie. But I’ve kind of learned, over the course of my life, that if I don’t do the most meaningful thing I can possibly do, I’m actually not very happy with myself.
So in a sense, creatively as an artist, I wanted to do the movie, but in the end it wouldn’t have been the most meaningful thing I could do, no matter how good the movie was. And so, in the end, I wound up what leads to doing The Real News.
EZE JACKSON: That’s fascinating, because at the same time, I’m serving in the Navy and we’re the first battle group to attack Afghanistan.
PAUL JAY: That’s right, you’re right off the coast.
EZE JACKSON: Yeah, I was stationed in Norfolk on the USS Vella Gulf, an Aegis cruiser. And we are called to leave, we were scheduled to go on a six month deployment anyway, but we pulled out like a week or two before our date that we were supposed to leave. And I remember, there was no discussion about how America became this target, like why were we such a horrific target?
PAUL JAY: Because they hate us.
EZE JACKSON: Yeah, because they hate us, everybody hates America, our freedom.
PAUL JAY: They hate our freedom. You know, bin Laden wrote a great letter–I’m sure somebody else help him write, but he wrote a great letter called “A Letter to the Americans”. And in it, he directly talked about that. He said, “If we attacked you because we hate your freedom, shouldn’t we attack Sweden?” I mean, if you want to talk about these liberal values and all that, Sweden is actually a better example of it than the United States.
EZE JACKSON: They certainly wouldn’t have had as big of a fight on their hands.
PAUL JAY: Well, it wasn’t Sweden that propped up the Saudis and the Israelis.
TRACEY BEALE: Poor Sweden. OK, I want to ask you a question. So I just want to consider like the optics of the whole thing. So you’re from Canada, you’re a white guy from Canada, you come here to the U.S. to start like an independent news organization, and more specifically you end up in Baltimore, a city like Baltimore, predominantly working-class, predominately Black, and then there’s you. What makes you the right person to lead this charge in independent media, or are you?
PAUL JAY: Who knows? It ain’t done yet, we haven’t succeeded yet. Maybe I’m not the right person.
TRACEY BEALE: Do you think about that ever?
PAUL JAY: No, I don’t think about that. I think about I need to do what I can do. Like, I look at I look at life–if you want the big picture how I look at things, I think we’re on a very, very long journey from animal to humans and we’re only partway there. We’re not even close to the kind of society, the kind of world humans are capable of creating. So our job, especially as you become more conscious of sort of the bigger picture, we’ve got to move the football down the field a little bit. So my job is to move the football down the field. Whether I turn out to be the right person to do this or not, who knows. I mean history will be written, we’ll see. We’re not nearly as big as I would have liked to have been at this point. I would say we’ve not even made as big an impression in Baltimore as I would have hoped by now.
So let’s go back to why am I doing this and why I would say most of us at The Real News are doing what we’re doing. Because frankly, I made a lot more money before I ever did The Real News. I was at a very senior level of documentary filmmaking, I had a daily television show, one of the documentary films I made was invited to the Sundance Film Festival, Hitman Hard Wrestling the Shadows, and I was invited to come to Hollywood and I met all kinds of production companies. I could have gone down that road, but as I was saying before, if I don’t do what I think’s the most meaningful, I’m not happy. So the reason I got involved in The Real News and the reason why that was my choice is because fundamentally, I want to change the world. And that means political change, not only, but in the end, it comes down to a political fight. I mean, what does that mean? It means a fight over power, it means a fight over who’s going to decide how this world is run.
EZE JACKSON: I mean, I tell people all the time, politics, whether you like it or not, affects every aspect of your life.
PAUL JAY: Because you know what that really means? It means class affects everything. There’s nothing above class. So my decision to do The Real News was fundamentally, how can we, within the sort of boundaries and role of journalism, help change the world? It wasn’t just to consume news, to produce a product to make, it wasn’t that interesting. It certainly wasn’t to make money. It was can we do journalism that helps explain, investigate, report on what’s going on in a way that helps change the world, which means helps people fight for their interests? So we’re in Toronto, where this whole thing began, but it was very clear if you really want change, you’ve got to do it in the United States. We wanted to do both Canada and the U.S., but I thought we could kind of do it from Canada. I’m a dual citizen, but I grew up in Canada.
We started covering the primaries in 2008, and it was really clear once we were down doing day to day coverage here that we had to be here, you couldn’t do it from Canada. And it was just more important, in the scheme of things to be in the U.S.
TRACEY BEALE: To be here.
PAUL JAY: So we moved to Washington–Real News started in 2007 for real and moved to Washington about 2009, I guess. And then we start getting clear on something I think very important, which was we wanted change, we also wanted our audience to be ordinary, working people primarily. And based in Washington, we were talking very much to a stratum of the population, the very political, news junkies.
TRACEY BEALE: People that get it already.
PAUL JAY: They’re immersed.
EZE JACKSON: People that talk the political walk.
PAUL JAY: And it really hit me that you know for most “ordinary” people–I use the word ordinary with quotation marks around it because most ordinary people are not ordinary. That being said, I mean not elites, and I don’t know what the word is when you say not elites, I don’t know what the other word would be so I use “ordinary.” It’s really about their direct experience, because most people have not had a chance to go to university, they aren’t plugged into this culture of information, of global analysis, it’s really about their life in a city. And even people that have gone to college, once you go to work, to a large extent it’s still about your day to day life. Your day to day life is the experience of a city, your neighborhood, your community. And that’s the news most people are interested in. International news, to a large extent, is very abstract for most people unless you’ve got people in the armed forces in your family, maybe you’re a first generation immigrant. But for most people, international news is very abstract. Even national news is kind of out there somewhere. It’s really about your city. So we figured we need to get to a city and root ourselves into a specific city.
Now, because we’re interested in change, if you look at the history of this country, where does the most important, most profound change come from? When African Americans are at the heart of it, when the people that have been most oppressed, most disenfranchised, and the 1960s is the best example of that, that the engine of that transformation of the 1960s was the civil rights struggle, but not only. Even in union organizing, I mean, that doesn’t get talked about very much. Even in the 1930s when unions were getting organized, Black workers were often at the heart and leadership of it. So if you want change, you’ve got to learn how to talk to Black America. And we also did an actual survey. In 2005 when we were getting this thing going, we bought a question on a Zogby survey, it’s like 2500 homes are called across the country.
TRACEY BEALE: They send them out.
PAUL JAY: They phoned 2500 homes and they asked, “Would you donate five or ten dollars to a news network that’s non-profit and doesn’t take corporate money, government funding or advertising? So about 49 percent of the respondents said they would donate. They had most likely to donate, most unlikely. The group represented most likely, the highest numbers of people? African Americans, and from the South, too. At the time, before we got the answers, we thought it would be like Northeastern liberals or California white people. No, the people that are most disenfranchised. And the group most represented in likely and very likely, Hispanic Americans, for the same reasons, obviously. So you put all of that together, we’re in Washington, we start to really realize we need to be in a city. And one, we wanted a Black city and two, we were going back and forth to Detroit and Baltimore, actually.
TRACEY BEALE: Very similar.
EZE JACKSON: Very similar cities, yeah.
PAUL JAY: Well, and also, Detroit had something else going on, which we could do Windsor and have a Canadian-American thing going, on crossing the bridge. It’s almost like one city in a sense, just geographically anyway. But finally, we decided Baltimore because one, it’s near DC and we could keep our coverage of DC going. And two, there wasn’t as much going on in Baltimore, frankly, and that was good because it was like fresher territory for us to go. And then the big building and all that was crazy, there was no plan for it. We saw the building, it was great, phoned one of our big donors and said, “What do you think about a building?” And he said yeah.
EZE JACKSON: I think that’s the thing that interests me the most about working here and being from Baltimore, is that we’ve always had very limited sources of news. There’s about three channels on TV where you can get local news, there was The Baltimore Sun and City Paper, which has gone defunct now. And so, now we’re at a place where we now even have less outlets of journalism, of news. And when I move around the city and I talk to people, whether I have the hoodie on or I’m driving the van, people will come up to me and ask me about it, “What’s up with The Real News, I drive by the building all the time, what’s going on?” And when I tell them what we do, I get the same response all the time, it’s “There’s not enough of that, we’ve got to listen to the same three sources all the time.” And then people end up going to the site and finding out stuff.
PAUL JAY: Can I just pick up another piece of Tracy’s question, though, because I haven’t talked about this yet? What about a white guy, and especially a white guy from Canada, coming to Baltimore?
TRACEY BEALE: Yeah, because folks will ask that question, like “Hey, why?”
PAUL JAY: Well, it’s a good question. First of all, when I came here, I was certainly quite naive and didn’t really understand Black American culture very well at all, especially growing up in Canada, so it’s not even like I had grown up in a city like Baltimore. That’s a big Black population in Toronto and I worked on the railroad for five years before I got into media stuff. I was a carbon mechanic, I fixed freight cars.
TRACEY BEALE: I did not know that. Every time we talk I learn something new.
PAUL JAY: Half my shift was Jamaican. So it’s not like I hadn’t grown up working with, having Black friends and colleagues and all the rest, but not African American. And it’s quite a different story, as you guys know better than I do. The culture of Black Americans that are the descendants of slaves is a very distinct culture. And even Black Africans coming to the United States, it’s not the same thing.
EZE JACKSON: It’s different, yeah.
PAUL JAY: They may be discriminated the same way–actually, I take it back. I don’t think they are discriminated in the same way. Educated Africans probably do better here than Africa educated African-Americans.
TRACEY BEALE: That’s a whole other conversation, a good conversation.
PAUL JAY: My point is there’s a long time of me being here to start to have some understanding. I still don’t know whether Black Baltimore will accept The Real News with me as the face and main spokesperson of it. I still don’t know. But I’ve come to the conclusion, number one, we will do everything we can to develop Black voices on The Real News. But more importantly, I don’t care anymore. I’ve given up worrying about, it because I actually now really do believe that conscious Black Baltimore is far more interested in the truth than they are what color somebody’s skin is. And there’s a lot Black bullshitters in this city. And most of the politics is Black, and to a large extent, a lot of the senior police forces has been and is Black, and so on and so on. And so, that kind of initial reaction, the way I think to overcome it now, is just tell the truth and let’s do our work. And people on the whole are wise enough that that’s what they’re going to care about.
And they’ll always be a fraction, but I think it’s very small, that we’ll use that to kind of attack us, but I don’t think that’s anywhere near the majority of working people in the city. What they want are solutions and they want to hear something authentic. And if we do our work right, I don’t think people are going to care that much. On the other hand, there’s another big reason we came to Baltimore. I’m 67 years old. We need to develop a new leadership for The Real News, this is not a short term project. And I really want the new leadership to emerge out of a place like Baltimore, because class matters, and class and race matters. And in terms of the formation of people, doesn’t mean you can’t get opportunists, not very good characters out of there, but I also think out of this kind of situation you can get the best kind of characters. And I’m hoping that emerges as the new leadership for this.
EZE JACKSON: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges in maintaining– I know that there’s a lot. I mean, we’re here with you day to day, so we see a lot of challenges. But when you wake up in the morning, what are the biggest challenges you face in running an independent news organization like this?
PAUL JAY: Well, there’s so many. It’s hard to know where to start.
EZE JACKSON: Give me like two, the first two that come to your mind.
PAUL JAY: We have had trouble–I would say two things. We’ve been having trouble recruiting experienced Black journalists who also get the framing of how we want to approach questions. There is a problem in Baltimore, it’s not New York, it’s not DC, it’s not LA, which means a lot of really talented, smart people leave.
EZE JACKSON: And that’s across the board in everything.
PAUL JAY: In all the arts, everything.
EZE JACKSON: All the professions, arts, all that. Yeah.
PAUL JAY: If you’re good, you leave. Not everybody, but a lot of them.
TRACEY BEALE: It’s a starting point for a lot of people.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, and if you start making it in like a New York or an LA, it’s hard to come back.
EZE JACKSON: And it’s fascinating, because a lot of the best training comes from here. You got Peabody Conservatory, you got Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland, some of the best colleges. Even the high schools, like Baltimore School for the Arts and City College and Mervo, MICA. People even come here to learn and then go elsewhere.
PAUL JAY: Then there’s another problem. A lot of journalists in general, but it’s also true for Black journalists or Latino journalists, to make it in the world of journalism, they learn to get along, and their journalism stays within the very narrow confines of what they’re willing to expose, what they’re willing to explore, how far they’re willing to ask why. I’ll give you an example. Why is there crime, so much chronic crime, and why is there so much murder in Baltimore? Well, a normal journalist will say, “Well, because of the poverty,” and they stop there.
TRACEY BEALE: Then what does that really mean?
PAUL JAY: But why is there chronic poverty? They don’t want to really answer that question profoundly. What are the real roots of 50, 60 years, if not more, but especially since the 50s, early 60s, why such massive chronic poverty in Baltimore? Because if you don’t really get to the roots of it, you won’t get to the solutions of it.
EZE JACKSON: But when you start to dig in like that, then you’ve got to start digging into people’s pockets, and their money and the money that they’re trying to hold onto. And, like you were saying earlier, how class and power control everything. And you start digging into power and you start cutting down, well who deserves this power and why is this existing? And that’s where people get scared to have those conversations.
PAUL JAY: Because if you ask those kinds of questions, you’re not going to get hired at most media organizations. The Baltimore Sun does some decent investigative journalism, but they won’t take the why the next step, because it challenges power.
TRACEY BEALE: So that’s something you want out of reporters and folks that work for The Real News.
PAUL JAY: And it’s very hard to find. So more and more, we’re looking to people who will just be willing to have the analytical skills, maybe they’ve studied history, or just working people who want to learn and they get trained as journalists. And we’re going to have to do more of that.
TRACEY BEALE: That’s an interesting thought.
EZE JACKSON: I mean, I’m going through a bit of that process myself. Actually, I’m going through that right now.
PAUL JAY: That’s part of why I want to do this show.
EZE JACKSON: I was a rapper interested in journalism.
TRACEY BEALE: Yeah, I’m an artist.
PAUL JAY: So you asked me about challenges. I’d say other major challenge is not having found more experienced, senior people to help run the place. It means my time’s very divided. And right now, it’s very important to really try to do analysis of–just to take now, this government shutdown and the wall and immigration issues. Internationally, it’s a very dangerous situation. This administration, the Trump administration wants to go after Iran, the Russiagate stuff, there’s a whole section of the state and the military-industrial complex that wants to up the rhetoric against Russia. I’d like to parse through these issues. That’s really where I should be spending most of my time, but I wind up spending a lot of my time administratively. And the underlying issue, I guess, is always money. Right now we’re OK financially, we have a mix of bigger donors and a lot of smaller donors. But we really need to grow and we need more money so we can increase the numbers of people that are working here.
Let me say the other challenge too, maybe this is in some ways more important in the long run. Right now, we’re pretty good at interviewing and discussing policy and analysis and all that. It’s not a very good format for ordinary working people, so we need to get much, much better at finding ways to do storytelling and formats that will be easier for people to get engaged with, as well as a lot of what goes on in the world, whether, frankly, even a real political-economic analysis of Baltimore, but certainly national and international issues, a lot of people don’t have the building blocks of information to even start really getting the big picture handle on it.
EZE JACKSON: To even participate in the conversation.
PAUL JAY: I’ve always said it’s like me watching a cricket game. I mean, I can watch basketball because I know the players, I know the backstory, I know the drama, I understand the rules, I get the game. I watch cricket, it makes no sense to me whatsoever and I can’t watch it.
TRACEY BEALE: I don’t watch cricket.
EZE JACKSON: Yeah, I’d probably be the same way, I’ve never watched a cricket game.
PAUL JAY: But I think news is like that for a lot of people.
TRACEY BEALE: Yeah, we know not to trust it too, now.
EZE JACKSON: Yeah, I think that’s why so many of the formats have lasted so long, because it’s this cookie-cutter format that people are used to, and they can digest it in one, two minute clips, if that long, 30 seconds.
PAUL JAY: And the format you’re talking about relies on being very sensationalist. So it keeps you interested because someone got killed or somebody stole something, or this or that. And it needs that to keep you involved, but there’s no big picture, there’s no weaving these things together because the reason we want to weave these things together is not just so people can understand better, it’s so they can actually change it.
TRACEY BEALE: Yeah, that big picture understanding.
EZE JACKSON: And that’s when you have people who say things, you know, from the suburbs, that will say something simple like “Don’t go to Baltimore, you might get shot.”
TRACEY BEALE: Yeah, and they believe it.
EZE JACKSON: It’s like, plenty of people don’t get shot in Baltimore on a regular day. But if you’re only looking at the news, that’s what you think, like it’s the Wild, Wild West. And it’s like no, I don’t know when the last time I was anywhere near a shootout, you know what I’m saying? But you hear about shootings every day.
TRACEY BEALE: Now a year ago, The Real News, in partnership with several other people, started Ida B’s Table, started a restaurant. Now, how does that fit into the mission of The Real News, a restaurant and an independent news organization?
PAUL JAY: Well, people ask me, “Why’d you start the restaurant?” And my normal answer is it was a moment of utter psychosis, a complete psychotic break.
TRACEY BEALE: Well, when you interviewed me, you were like, “Yeah, we’re starting a restaurant.” And I remember being like, “I don’t understand.” I was like, “I guess it’s going to make sense later. I don’t understand.”
PAUL JAY: Yeah, it was completely nuts.
EZE JACKSON: I remember thinking–and I’m not saying this for points or nothing–I remember thinking it was a great idea, because then I won’t have to walk so far for lunch with this awesome restaurant right next door, it’s genius.
TRACEY BEALE: Sandwiches for you.
PAUL JAY: Well, we have a big space. And we actually tried renting the space, it was too big. But it was such a beautiful, big space, we didn’t want to break it up. But the idea of the restaurant was kind of always in the mix once we took over the buildings. So the reason for doing it is as a strategic outreach into the community so they better know The Real News, really a marketing opportunity for The Real News. That’s the reason for doing this, so it’s another way to engage with people. We hoped it would at least break even. It hasn’t yet, but it’s getting better I hope. And it was also sort of a mission creep. At one point, it was going to be a pizzeria. Really, for the whole beginning of the idea, let’s do it so simple and so cheap where people can just come hang out.
And then mission creep started, so then the place got fancier and looked better and then we hired David Thomas as the chef, who’s a great executive chef. And then we got more mission creep because he started developing it more as a real, full-fledged restaurant. And then, when the thing took off, it was enormous, all kinds of press and we got great publicity. And it’s still busy, but we’re not yet making enough use of why we did this, which is to use it as a way for people to come and learn about The Real News. So we’re going to be a lot better at doing that. As you guys know, because you guys are hosting it, we’re going to start this show on Tuesdays called–I don’t know what it’s called.
EZE JACKSON: We’re going to call it something.
TRACEY BEALE: Give us suggestions for the name of the show.
PAUL JAY: We were going to call it Real News Tuesdays until we realized as soon as we post the show on the web, it will be Wednesday and then it won’t make any sense to call it Real News Tuesdays.
TRACEY BEALE: Real News Yesterday.
PAUL JAY: Yeah, Real News This Week or something, I don’t know. Anyway, we’ll figure out a name. But it’s going to be a place where people come, and we’re going to have a menu that’s more affordable, and eat and drink and participate in a conversation where we’re going to show reports from The Real News, maybe clips from documentaries, talk about different issues, and it’s a place–we’re calling this like a Community Editorial Committee in a sense, the people that come to the audience. It’s an exchange for people to tell us how we’re doing, what they think of how we’re reporting and analyzing and how our coverage is, and to direct us. Like at the end of every one of these sessions which we’re planning right now, every other week, we’re going to have a conversation about OK, what would you like to know next?
TRACEY BEALE: What do you want, yeah.
PAUL JAY: Yeah. Like for example, we’ve done a lot of work in the past about what does real community control of the police look like. And clearly, the police force here is one, dysfunctional and two, usually unconstitutional to say the least, and corruption is rife and all the rest. And there’s a lot of cops who themselves are very concerned about how dysfunctional it is. But certainly, for the community, it’s very coercive and neither keeps the community safe, nor does it respect people’s rights. The argument is, “Well, we have to give up on people’s rights in order to keep the community safe,” except they don’t keep the community safe, they just screw with people’s rights. So then, what does a real solution look like? So that will be, for example, one of the sessions we would have at Ida B’s.
And then we’ll hear what people think. And then people will say, an example might be, “Well, has it ever worked, having real community control of the police?” So we’ll go do some reports. We’ll look at–there’s an interesting model in Toronto, there used to be a model in Detroit where they had an elected Community Control Board. There’s a difference between community review of police and actual control of police. To control, the community group hires and fires the police chief, not the mayor. Under review, the best they can do is make recommendations. So there’s different models like this.
EZE JACKSON: I think it’s going to be interesting to see what happens if this police commissioner that they’re considering from New Orleans comes, because he’s dealing with consent decree stuff in New Orleans right now. So I think it’d be really interesting to watch and see what happens with that. One of the things I find fascinating about Ida B’s and this discussion that we’re talking about building in the restaurant, is that what’s happened organically there is there are these political conversations taking place.
Because I don’t know if people know, we’re right down the street from City Hall. So you can walk into Ida B’s at any given time and there’s all types political folks, lobbyists, elected officials, city council members, sitting in there having dinner. The state’s attorney comes through there sometimes, and you see them and they are having these conversations. And of course, the journalist in me wants to like butt into their lunch and be like, “What y’all talking about?” But you can’t. But I think the space is happening organically, so I think all of this is going to be interesting to watch over the course of time.
I wanted to wrap it up with your vision for the future, like in a few sentences if you could say exactly where you see The Real News going and what role you see it playing. You said some of it in the other questions.
PAUL JAY: Well, when it comes to Baltimore, 65 percent of the city is Black. The majority of the Black population is working class. Why isn’t city council, and Baltimore being the biggest city in Maryland, why isn’t government, both at the level of Baltimore and the level of Annapolis, the state, why isn’t it working in the interests of the majority of people when the majority of people, especially here, are Black? What is holding people back? So I would say various things, it’s not just one thing, but two of the biggest things is one, the school system, not just about the quality of education, but also the content of education. Because the teaching isn’t about how to change the world for the better, it’s kind of about how to accept things as it is. But media is enormous. And the role of corporate television news and print, but television particularly, because I think most ordinary people watch news rather than read, is extremely important.
And what corporate news does is, as I said earlier, it never asks why to a point that you get to effective solutions. So I’m hoping if we do that and we learn how to do it in a way people can engage with it, we will start to actually compete with corporate news in terms of our footprint, or the number of views. The reason we came to Baltimore is that–our basic analysis was this. Baltimore City is 65 percent Black, mostly working class, surrounded by a county that’s primarily white and much wealthier. The medium income in Baltimore is about 40,000 dollars, the medium income in the county is 66,000 dollars. Poverty in Baltimore is something like, at the very least, officially something like 24, 25 percent, but it’s probably really more like, it could be as much as 35 percent. Poverty in the county is like under 6 percent. So if you’re an advertising-driven news operation and your advertisers are trying to sell stuff, which market are you interested in?
TRACEY BEALE: Yeah, you want the market with the money.
PAUL JAY: White county, not Black Baltimore. So that’s why we think if we can learn to do the news and investigate and report, analysis and all of this, in a way that’s really relevant and accessible, we can beat corporate news here, because they really don’t give a damn about Baltimore. But it’s still for us to do it. We’re still figuring out how to do it.
EZE JACKSON: I agree. And that’s one of the reasons why I’m here too, because I think this is a great time in that when you asked that question, “Why isn’t the working class more catered to or paid attention to,” I think one of the things, growing up here and even having worked in politics for 10 years, is political involvement. And since the death of Freddie Gray, it’s increased. We go from before 2015, your average local political turnout was probably around 12 to 15 percent of registered voting, it was really low.
PAUL JAY: For municipal elections, yeah.
EZE JACKSON: And you had a lot of political family dynasties, you had a lot of politicians that held onto those seats for years because they knew there was only a small amount of people that were actually paying attention to what was going on. And then Freddie Gray gets killed by the police, the whole world starts watching, the uprising it happens and you see this increase in political involvement which brings the consent decree now, which brings almost a full turnover of the city council, and we’ve got a few young Black new senators that have been elected. So I think it’s going to be interesting to watch. I think this is a great time to be here doing something like this. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to just be in the midst of it, because I think we can compete with corporate news. I think that we can take this stuff to the people in a way that they can digest it and actually be involved in it.
TRACEY BEALE: Yeah, and a lot of those changes you just mentioned is because of media, whether it’s Sally with her cell phone or an organization like us or folks The Root and different people that just come to Baltimore when these things happen. But it’s because of independent media, it’s the only reason that the message got out the way that it did. People were like, “Hey, we’ve got to do something about this. Oh, wait, we can do something about it.”
EZE JACKSON: Well, thanks for taking this time to talk to us, Paul.
PAUL JAY: Thank you.
EZE JACKSON: Thank you for watching. Once again, as we’ve talked, The Real News is a non-profit news organization, so we can only do this through your support. Thank you to all of those who have supported us, especially in our 2018 fundraising drive. We still need your help, so if you’re watching and you can, please go to the website and donate to TheRealNews.com. And we look forward to bringing you more of these discussions. Thanks.