John Tarleton

By Zahra Latheef, age 11

John Tarleton is the editor in chief of the New York-based Indypendent newspaper, which he also co-founded in 2000. John also co-hosts a weekly news radio show on WBAI. The Indypendent is the largest progressive newspaper in New York.

Zahra: As editor in chief of the Indypendent, what would you say sets you apart from other newspapers?

John: My approach has always been to listen closely to what people’s interests are. We have people who write for the Indypendent that have had many years of journalism experience, and [we give them the freedom to] write in a way that other publications wouldn’t. We also train a lot of journalists, like IndyKids. If their interests are sincere, and they are aware of what’s going on in the world, we work with them. There’s obviously a lot of media here [in New York], but nobody’s doing what we do. I think what we do that’s unique is we create a sense of community for people that often feel like this capitalist society we live in is alienating, and we remind them that there’s plenty of people who are working very hard to create a better, more fair city and world to live in.

Zahra: Why do you think social justice reporting is crucial to the world of journalism?

John: Because so much of the media tells stories from the perspective of the wealthy and the powerful. Mainstream corporate media tends to focus on what powerful politicians say, or the police chief, or the CEOs of large companies. Those voices are so dominant in the media. Social justice media gives us a picture of the world from the perspective of people who are most impacted by the system we live in. Not just how they’re impacted, but how they’re organizing collectively to try to change their situation for the better. Corporate media has a financial imperative to make as much profit as they can for their top executives and their shareholders. This often leads to a very superficial, sensationalistic kind of journalism, with emphasis on celebrities or crime. We don’t have the same imperative. We’re not trying to maximize profits for shareholders, so we have a different approach to journalism.

Zahra: What is one of your proudest achievements so far as editor in chief?

John: When Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York City was first running four years ago hardly anyone knew or cared who she was. Nobody thought she had a chance in the world of winning. The Indypendent covered her when hardly anyone knew or cared who she was. We interviewed AOC and many of her staff and community volunteers. And I came to realize that she had a very good chance of winning, so we featured her on our cover. We managed to tell her story and give her visibility in New York City that she had never had before. I think it made a difference in that election, because a  lot of people were able to see her on the cover and find out who she was and why she was running. 

Zahra: Do you have any advice for young people who are looking to become journalists?

John: Be curious about everything. Read a lot, read different sources and follow your interests. Don’t be shy about interviewing people. You can learn so much from interviewing people. Basically journalism is a great excuse to be constantly learning about everything and to be meeting all sorts of interesting people.