Ashton Lattimore is the editor-in-chief at Prism, a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color)-led nonprofit news outlet. Prism formally launched this month with a focus on coverage of electoral justice, gender justice, workers’ rights, criminal justice, racial justice and immigration.
Lattimore is a longtime editor and writer whose work focuses on race, culture and the law. Her writing has been published by the Washington Post, Slate, CNN and Essence, among other outlets.
Prior to joining Prism, Lattimore was senior writer and managing editor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School; before that, she was the lead editor at NewsOne. Also a former lawyer, Lattimore represented Pennsylvania’s governor in the lawsuits that successfully challenged the state’s congressional map as an illegal partisan gerrymander, resulting in the implementation of a new map in time for the 2018 elections.
Lattimore received a bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard College, a master of science in journalism from Columbia and a juris doctorate from Harvard Law School, where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. She lives in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, with her husband and two sons.
Pre-podcast Q&A below:
Where did you grow up?
Central New Jersey.
How would you describe your childhood?
Pleasantly quiet. I spent a lot of time reading.
How would your family describe you growing up?
Smart, curious, quirky.
What’s the first career you remember wanting to pursue?
I don’t know that I thought of it as a career at the beginning, but I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, and I’ve actually been one since at least fifth grade. I started with short stories, moved on to composing terribly introspective poetry as a moody teenager, and then finally landed in journalism when I went to college. I’m still evolving as a writer though–right now I’m working on a historical fiction novel.
Why did you choose to leave your journalism career for law?
At the time, a journalism career didn’t feel sustainable. Both the economy and the journalism industry in particular were pretty much in shambles by the time I graduated from journalism school in 2009 — a recession, widespread layoffs, publications shutting down, and so on. On top of all that, salaries in the industry remained extremely low despite the expectation that would-be journalists would move to some of the most expensive cities in the world to do the work. Going to law school and then practicing law seemed like a stable, parent-approved, and much more financially feasible alternative. And in terms of day to day work, being a lawyer is mostly reading and writing, so I somewhat naively thought I’d be satisfied with it, or even enjoy it. I wasn’t, and I didn’t. But on the bright side, studying and practicing law gave me a new way of understanding this country and the systems that lead to its (dys)function, which has stayed with me as I’ve pivoted back to journalism.
What drove you back to journalism from law?
I missed the freedom of journalism, and after what happened in November 2016 I felt a strong pull to jump back into the public sphere and work for social justice the best way I knew how–by writing, and by helping other people of color get their voices heard as well. Of course there are many avenues to work toward social justice in the legal profession, and I have immense respect for the folks who build legal careers with that mission in mind; being a lawyer just wasn’t my ministry.
How is it juggling two young children and a full-time job during a pandemic? Any tips?
My husband and I have a lot of help, but it’s still quite a lot. I’ve got no tips for anyone else, just sympathy, solidarity, and a fervent hope that government officials at both the state and federal levels get serious about responding to this pandemic and providing meaningful relief to families, schools and the childcare industry. In the absence of coordinated leadership to get COVID-19 under control, the long term impacts on children’s education and the careers of working parents — mostly mothers — may be catastrophic, and no amount of individualized at-home tips and tricks will change that. If this moment teaches us nothing else, it’s made crystal clear the severe shortfalls of a culture that prizes limited government and a hyper-individualized culture over literally everything else. So, I guess my tip is for working parents is not to look inward — look to your elected officials and demand better.
Why is Prism your dream job?
In this moment, there’s absolutely no better place to be than in a newsroom full of women of color dedicated to telling the stories the rest of the media gets wrong, or overlooks. It’s an honor to have a hand in shaping the stories Prism gets to tell about BIPOC people around the country — our leadership, our resilience and joy, and yes, our struggles.
What is Prism’s relationship with the foundations that support it?
We’re grateful to the foundations whose support has allowed us to do this work. Of course, as a newsroom we have complete editorial independence and autonomy.
What is Prism’s advantage being a 100% women of color newsroom?
As women of color, we bring a perspective to reporting and editing that disrupts the status quo, white male-centered norm that dominates the journalism industry. Because we take a wider view of whose voices matter, we seek out angles and stories that you won’t find in mainstream outlets. And because we come from the same BIPOC communities that we cover, our journalism is accountable such that sources trust us enough to bring us stories on the critical issues they’re facing. All of that allows us to produce rigorous, fact-based, reporting that elevates the people at the center of issues like racial justice, gender justice, criminal justice, electoral justice, workers’ rights, and more. In doing so, we challenge inaccurate media narratives that don’t reflect the lived experiences of BIPOC.
In a recent interview with Axios, you said: “Women, Black, Indigenous, and people of color are typically left out of mainstream media narratives, and that has real world consequences at any time.” Can you expand on that and share your vision for Prism’s editorial focus?
Sure. To expand on that, what I was saying is that through coverage choices, story angles, headlines and more, the national media tells us stories about ourselves and our society, and many of them inaccurate and toxic. Narratives like: “White men are the safest political candidates because they’re the most electable,” and, “For the sake of public safety and order, people accused of crimes should be jailed before trial.” Those narratives have actual consequences in terms of electoral outcomes, domestic policy at the state and federal level, and in the imaginations of every reader who comes away with a diminished sense of what’s possible for BIPOC people and our society as a whole. My vision is for Prism to stand as a powerful corrective to those narratives by producing the kind of journalism that treats Black, Indigenous, and people of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community, and other invisibilized groups as the experts on our own lived experiences, our resilience, and our fights for justice.
Can you give an example of a big story you’re working on or recently worked on?
In my role I don’t have as much time to write as I’d like, but earlier this year I wrote a story on the impact of the pandemic on working mothers.
What is your goal for Prism in 5 years?
To be the go-to national news outlet for smart, civically engaged, and justice-minded people to get a full and accurate record of what’s happening around the critical issues in this country.
What does #BlackLivesMatter mean to you?
It means that Black people are valued, respected, cared for, kept safe, represented, empowered, able to access justice, joy, and peace–that we’re able to live and thrive as whole human beings in every way the existing system is designed to prevent.
What problem facing the world would you most like to see solved?
White supremacist patriarchy. Solving that one would go a long way toward addressing a lot of other problems