When I joined SPJ’s diversity committee last August, one of the first things I learned about was an idea from committee member Walter Middlebrook: He wanted SPJ to help provide training for minority journalists who are managers in their newsroom or who want to move into a leadership role. Right away, I knew it would be a good project for us to take on, though also knew we had a lot of work ahead to make it a reality.
It’s amazing to think that almost a year later, we’re announcing our first two Reginald Stuart Diversity Management fellows: Alexandria Alejandro, sports editor at the Victoria Advocate in Texas; and Kris Vera-Phillips, senior news producer at KPBS in San Diego.
Alejandro and Vera-Phillips will receive an all-expenses paid trip to attend Poynter’s weeklong Leadership Academy in October for coaching and other sessions on how to become better leaders. Both say they think the training will be very valuable in their current roles, but we’re also asking them to help ‘pay it forward’ and help with a future SPJ training on management.
Their applications were impressive:
Alejandro is the first female sports editor in the 169-year history of the Victoria Advocate. She joined the paper in 2014 after more than a decade as a sports reporter and assistant in New York. She was promoted to assistant sports editor within her first nine months in Victoria, and was named sports editor a short time later.
But she recalled in her application that she was told early in her career that she lacked the skills to be in sports. In response, she focused on learning everything about the job, she wrote. ‘I worked my way up eventually because I was driven to succeed, but I still had to prove otherwise,” she wrote. “It doesn’t matter that I’m a rare breed, or that I’m a female sports journalist who’s part of a tiny percentage represented by women in sports media. What matters is how I’m able to handle leadership, and this fellowship will help guide me in that direction.”
Vera-Phillips has been a senior producer at KPBS since February, which she described as her first management role after working as a line producer at stations in California and Kansas. She described how she’s used her background — she’s Filipino-American — to help reporters add more context to stories to show how an issue may relate to another part of the community.
‘Diversity is critical for newsroom leadership because it helps journalists understand the different people behind news events and issues,” she wrote. “Diversity helps newsroom managers guide reporters, hosts and producers to see more angles of news stories, from the perspective of the interview subject to the viewer on the other end of the television screen.”
As discussions continue about the importance of diversity in newsrooms, it is clear that hiring and retaining managers who are representative of our many communities must be part of that solution. But it’s not enough to simply stick people in management positions and hope they’ll succeed. We must also offer support, training and other resources to help current and potential leaders be effective in their job.
There have been many initiatives to help address this need over the years. I’m excited to add our fellowship to the mix and look forward to seeing the program and our first two fellows grow.
This wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of our diversity committee, including Walter Middlebrook who sparked the idea. We’re also grateful for the generosity of the the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation in funding the fellowship, and to SPJ’s board for their support. And we’re especially honored to be able to name the fellowship in honor of Reggie Stuart, a longtime champion of diversity and a past president of SPJ.
Congratulations, Alexandria and Kris!
SPJ Diversity Committee chair
News producer and social media manager, The Charlotte Observer