Georgia Fort: Holding Media Accountable

Fort’s exhibit “Freedom of the Press” was at Normandale College from October 14 to November 12, showing images from rallies, demonstrations, and events that she captured while reporting stories.

Years before George Floyd would become a household name, Georgia Fort was challenging narratives around Black people and police brutality that are often perpetuated by the media.

She recalls one pivotal experience as a news anchor working for an outlet in Georgia. A supervisor asked her to find the criminal history of the victim in an officer-involved shooting. To be balanced, Fort also looked into the officer’s history. She found 12 pages of complaints — four were specific to racial profiling. Two police officers confirmed the involved officer’s racial bias.

“Guess what made the five o’clock news?” Fort says. “The man’s criminal history and nothing about the cop who shot him.”

She began to understand the broader issue. Not only do police misuse their power with little accountability for their actions, but when those stories are mishandled by media outlets, it shapes the way the public understands the world.

Stepping Into Media

Fort spent her formative years in Saint Paul with her sister and mother. As renters on welfare, they moved often, yet she feels deeply connected to Rondo and the East Side, where she attended Harding High School. She excelled in academics and worked a variety of jobs to support her family, including starting her own cleaning business.

She majored in business administration and management at the University of St. Thomas, and got her first break in media at KMOJ. There she built the groundwork for her multifaceted journalism — hosting shows, reporting for different platforms, running websites. She engaged diverse audiences and became a trusted voice for Black and brown community members in the Twin Cities.

After her role in TV news in Georgia, Fort moved to Duluth, where she reported on the chief of police’s family ties to Irene Tusken, a white woman whose false rape accusation led to the 1920 lynching of three Black men.

Shortly after that, Fort’s contract was terminated. She believed her 10 years of work experience — including two Emmy nominations — would land her a job when she returned to the Twin Cities. But every station told her she needed more experience.

Reporting Rooted in the Community

Fort felt called to do meaningful work. As a single mother, she wanted to create a better world for her daughter, and felt an urgency to bring her full self to her work.

“I worked alongside kids who went to the most prestigious journalism colleges, who were terrified to go into poor neighborhoods to ask a witness who saw a police shooting for comment […] or go to homeless encampments and see needles on the ground,” Fort explains.

She says that as someone with Black heritage, and having family who struggle with addiction and are incarcerated, she is not far removed from the issues she is covering. That life experience gives her humility and helps her see people’s humanity beyond their circumstances.

Fort also notes that she and other Black women in newsrooms are often deemed “angry” when they advocate for better representation of Black and brown people. Newsroom dynamics can prevent media accountability.

Fort began work as an independent journalist. The role gives her the freedom to tell riskier, more authentic stories. Three years ago, she began co-producing a documentary with Unicorn Riot interviewing mothers from across the country whose children were killed by police. The families alleged police were covering things up and dominating media narratives. Prior to the national racial reckoning, she says, “That [story] was controversial. Nobody [in the media] wanted to touch that [story]. People would accuse us of being biased and not being good journalists.”

But then the world saw for themselves the disparity between the initial press release (“Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction”) and what was captured on Darnella Frazier’s cell phone.

Although it has required some professional sacrifice, Fort says her mission to change narratives is worth it. “It is about examining the media industry and saying, ‘How can we be better collectively? How can we stop being an industry that causes further harm to marginalized and oppressed communities?’”

Action = Change

Georgia Fort says, “Real change does not come without resistance. So be prepared, be in it for the long haul.” She says we all have a part to play in changing the media landscape — invest in independent journalism and alternative models of distribution, and be critical of what we are consuming. Fort encourages media outlets to be more equitable: diversify their rolodex of experts and sources, build relationships with community, and prioritize story integrity.