Site icon NABJ

NABJ Issues Statement on Westword’s Egregious March Cover

The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) is disappointed with the image created for Westword’s Armed and Dangerouscover. It projects an image of young Black men as criminals and plays into the worst stereotypes and innuendoes.

Westword’s March 28 issue had an original cover highlighting coverage about how “Colorado’s Youngest Criminals Aren’t Kidding Around.” 

The cover featured a young man depicted with dark skin and textured hair, wearing a hoodie, headphones, and a backpack with a gun.


While Westword has since replaced the image and apologized (here), we are calling for a commitment from the publication — and our colleagues throughout the industry — to enact swift and sustainable changes that will prevent this type of offense from happening again.

Westword’s leadership has pledged efforts focused on “improving our internal systems by having more voices included in the approval process.” 

We agree that more Black managers are needed at approval levels; it’s one of our key advocacy issues, but news and media managers must also understand that real change goes beyond just expecting diverse voices to help create fair and responsible coverage and productions.

Real change will come from ensuring that all staff — no matter race or ethnicity — bear the responsibility and are trained to spot and rectify insensitive content. 

“All news and media organizations must hire and promote people who understand that imagery plays a major role in perception and perpetuating justifications for discrimination,” said Ken Lemon, NABJ President. “The imagery used on the Westword cover told a visual story that associates Colorado youths’ criminal activity with young Black males. This is not only dangerous and disturbing but also represents the types of actions that exemplify how misinformation and disinformation can be spread by irresponsible media portrayals. As a Black male, the cover hauntingly reminded me of how so many Black men and boys have lost their lives and have been harmed, falsely accused, and more because of perceptions based on imagery in the media.”

NABJ Vice President-Print Kathy Chaney added, “Accuracy and objectivity are at the foundations of journalism. Images like what we have seen on the Westword cover reflect that our industry has dropped the ball in holding its staff accountable for these principles. Every designer, editor, writer, and manager must be held to the standard of ensuring the content — or promotion of content — they produce does not misrepresent or violate a community for the sake of garnering a viewer’s or subscriber’s attention. We are calling for documented systems to be put in place by not only Westword but all organizations to ensure unbiased storytelling at every level.”

NABJ’s local chapter, the Colorado Association of Black Journalists, is advocating on the ground regarding the impact of the Westword cover and has planned to meet with Westword leaders to share the organization’s and readers’ concerns. We applaud this effort, thank our local members for alerting us to this important matter, and stand with them as they advocate for better coverage of the Black community in their area.

In 2017, the NABJ Board of Directors launched the Black Male Media Project to help ensure a fair narrative and accurate portrayals of Black men in the media. Over the years, the Project has worked with news organizations and communities around the nation to advocate for more balanced coverage of Black males. Seven years later, the recent controversial cover of Westword shows there is much more progress to be made in the news industry on how Black males, especially young men, are depicted.

NABJ stands ready to continue to hold news leaders accountable until meaningful change is made.


Exit mobile version