Irving Washington: Purpose Driven

The very first thing outgoing Online News Association CEO, Irving Washington, remembers buying with his own money was a $400 video camera for a local Indianapolis thrift store.

“The big camera with VHS,” he tells me, laughing. “The one you put on your shoulder.”

For “hours and hours,” Irving would “create shows” and sketch comics based on mainstream hits like The Simpsons, Tiny Tunes, and even his grandmothers’ soap operas. 

“I was usually taking something else that I saw and then putting a black lens, characters, or a narrative to it,” he says. “It was taking this lack of what I was seeing elsewhere and creating it for myself.”

From his early days at Radio Television Digital News Association and National Association of Black Journalists, to his eleven-year tenure at the helm of the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, Irving has been proactively recasting and re-writing previously segregated roles and narratives to be more diverse and inclusive.

This week, in the fourth in our series of Media Transformation Challenge-sponsored episodes of Friends & Neighbors, MTC Journeys, Irving reflects on how he applied key MTC Tools, like From/To, and The Balcony, Power/Opinion Matrix and Temperaments to accelerate that transformation. 

“Dot coms were not considered journalism,” he recalls of ONA’s founding. “There was so much to be advocated for that [diversity] was not a priority. Part of my From/To was that we can do both, right? We can do a variety of different things, whether that’s expanding international reach, people of color, or the type of career level of folks in the room.”

And as he counts down the days to the end of his ONA ride, he reflects on challenges, successes and a-ha moments.

What is he most proud of?

“In 2020, when (other) organizations were going through with racial reckoning, we didn’t do a Black Lives Matter statement; we were already doing the work.” he said. “We already had demonstrable receipts. We (didn’t) need to brag about it.” 

“Top down from the staff to our board (we are) majority women and people of color.”

Washington also talked about his decision to move on from the organization despite not knowing his next step at the time.

“I was looking at what’s ahead for me, and what’s the best decision for all things,” he says “[ONA] is on a wonderful trajectory despite all of the challenges. So it became clear to me that – even though what was next was not clear – it was supposed to end.”

In the weeks after his announcement, Irving landed a role at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“I firmly believe they’re purpose-driven things that we are each here to do,” he says. “But you’re not always gifted with knowing where to go, and it always doesn’t make sense. I have this sort of innate push/pull, and I lean into that.”

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