Diverse averse

What’s black and white and white all over?

Answer: Most college newsrooms.

Here’s how some silly censors accidentally raised a serious issue…

Wesleyan University is a private liberal arts school in central Connecticut, located about halfway between Hartford and New Haven. Its 3,300 students seldom make national headlines, but that changed last month.

Some or many students (it’s hard to tell) were furious when the campus newspaper printed an opinion column criticizing Black Lives Matter. The story spread when those students demanded the school defund the paper.

Instead, I offered to help those students launch their own newspaper if they’d stop attacking the one that’s been on campus for nearly 150 years. Alas, I never heard back.

Because Wesleyan activists are calling for censorship – and getting hammered for it even in liberally leaning media – they’ve already lost a much more subtle yet powerful argument…

College media suffers from diversity adversity. 

I’ve advised a student newspaper for 16 years and visited more than a dozen others, some for a day and others for a week. Here are four big reasons – there are many smaller ones – why Wesleyan protesters are wrong about the solution but right about the problem…

No other extra-curricular activity pays less per hour than the campus newspaper.

You work long and late hours on stressful deadlines – even longer and later if there’s breaking news. So it’s common for college journalists to lie on their time sheets, because most schools now cap student work hours to save money.

Meanwhile, tuition is skyrocketing. So the first diversity casualty is the least obvious to the untrained eye: class.

I’ve watched many talented writers, designers, and photographers reluctantly leave the newsroom so they can work in malls and restaurants. Those who stay rely on their well-off families to chip in more, or they simply decide to go deeper into debt.

Either way, you’ve instantly lost diversity.

Diversity in college media sucks, and it’s pro media’s fault.

Why burn all those hours and cash in a college newsroom when the likelihood of working in a professional newsroom dims by the day?

Legacy media are still laying off employees right now. Even if you land an entry-level journalism job, the salary will likely rival what you made working retail in college.

So it’s hard enough recruiting anyone to work at your campus newspaper, much less a representative sample of your student body.

Deadlines are the enemy of diversity.

College newspaper staffs not only have to publish a print edition, they also have to feed a website with fresh content. Ask student editors why they aren’t visiting classes or recruiting from campus organizations, and they usually answer, “When do I have time for that?”

College newspapers today are fretting about tactics and forgetting about strategy.

College journalists don’t write what they want to read.

When I critique campus newspapers, as I will next month at a college media convention in Austin, I ask the staffs if they enjoy and understand their own stories. Mostly, they say no – they’re bored with their own work.

So why do they cover boring Student Senate meetings with boring writing and boring photos? “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” they tell me. “That’s what we’re taught.”

When I suggest they skip a meeting to tackle big topics like race, they say they don’t want to sacrifice their incremental coverage. But if you want to recruit a diverse staff, you have to cover diverse topics.

Smarter journalists than me have contemplated newsroom diversity.

But I have two simple suggestions for college newspaper staffs.

First, fearlessly report on race and class.

I live in South Florida, where middle-class white people don’t dominate like in other places. Yet our student newspaper rarely delves into these topics. On our campus, Haitian students often complain that African-American students disrespect them, while Puerto Rican students say the same about Cuban students (and even professors). Why? It’s a fascinating story that’s never been written.

I’ve visited private universities with a mix of wealthy and impoverished students – and sometimes they end up dating. Those relationships seldom last. Why? Another fascinating tale to tell.

If you peer into the sociology of your peers, you’ll signal to your readers that you see more than yourselves in your stories.

These aren’t multi-cultural puff pieces, either. So you might screw up the reporting. If so, you’ll publish all the critical letters to the editor and meet with all the pissed-off readers – because that’s what the best pro media outlets do.

“That sounds dangerous,” a college journalist once told me. I replied: It certainly is. But it’s safer than ignoring those topics. When your coverage of race and class consists of nothing but hastily written op-ed pieces, well, that’s a perilous way to live.

And that leads to this…

Second, make journalism fun again.

SPJ’s most diverse training program over the past decade isn’t a diversity program at all.


It’s called Will Write For Food. We recruit college journalists from around the country to visit a Florida homeless shelter that runs the nation’s second-largest shelter newspaper. Over Labor Day weekend, those 20-25 students take it over, working nonstop to publish a paper that’s sold on street corners around the state.

Because it’s stressful and chaotic, sturdy students apply from as far away as Alaska. We never know their race, sexual orientation, or economic status. Yet historically, straight white men represent only 2-5 members of each class.

Here’s an example from 2013: Out of 21 students, three were African American, three were Hispanic, two were Asian American, and two were white guys.

Why? Because as a boring white guy myself, I don’t choose the staff. The alumni from previous classes do. And since Will Write For Food is enticing to edgy students, they choose successors with the same values they possess. They seldom know anything about the applicants’ personal traits (although some mention wisps of it in their cover letters).

College editors don’t need to send their staffs into homeless shelters, they just need to make their papers a little more challenging. If they do that, they might attract more challenging staffers.


Announcing the Reginald Stuart Diversity Management fellows

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:

Alexandria Alejandro

Alejandro/Photo: VictoriaAdvocate.com

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.”

Kris Vera-Phillips

Vera-Phillips/Photo: kpbs.org

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.

Reginald Stuart

Reginald Stuart

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!

April Bethea,
SPJ Diversity Committee chair
News producer and social media manager, The Charlotte Observer

New Reginald Stuart Diversity Management Fellowship to offer access to training

The Society of Professional Journalists, with funding support from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, is announcing the creation of a fellowship to cover management training for SPJ members who are journalists of color, those who identify as LGBTQ or have disabilities.

The 2015 Reginald Stuart Diversity Management Fellowship will cover the expenses for two SPJ members to attend the Poynter Institute’s Leadership Academy, a weeklong training for managers held each October in St. Petersburg, Fla. Applications are due July 15.

“Being a good journalist and being a good manager are two different things,” said Robert Leger, president of the the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation. “The Foundation is excited to underwrite this training to prepare diverse journalists to make that jump, to their benefit and for the benefit of communities that should receive more inclusive coverage as a result.”

Reginald Stuart

Reginald Stuart

The fellowship, created by the SPJ Diversity Committee, aims to help identify potential newsroom managers from diverse backgrounds and offer them access to training that helps them to develop or strengthen skills that could help them be more successful in their jobs. It is named in honor of Reginald Stuart, a longtime diversity champion and the first African-American president of SPJ.

“Having newsroom staffs, especially managers, that reflect the communities they serve is an important way to help ensure that coverage accurately and fairly reflects what is happening in a community,” said April Bethea, chair of the SPJ Diversity Committee and an online producer at The Charlotte Observer. “These fellowships are but one way to expand the pool of future news leaders.”

Stuart has been a reporter, correspondent, bureau chief and assistant news editor for several media companies as well as a corporate recruiter for Knight Ridder and The McClatchy Company. In addition to serving as SPJ president, he has been a recipient of the Society’s Wells Memorial Key for outstanding service.

“Too many people with high potential were lured into management with unclear guidance and kept on the job with insufficient mentoring. That’s why so few people succeed in management,”Stuart said. “Here’s hoping this fellowship provides the guidance and mentoring that will help more aspiring managers master their career challenges so they and those who work with them reach their goals.”

In addition to attending the Poynter training, selected fellows will be expected to “pay it forward” by serving as speakers on leadership, diversity or other topics for SPJ.

More information about the fellowship and application procedures can be found here. The deadline to apply is July 15.

The fellowship joins other initiatives from SPJ to increase diversity in its membership and to address issues related to news coverage in diverse communities. Other efforts have included:

  • The newly-renamed Dori Maynard Diversity Leadership Program, which sends up to six journalists to SPJ’s annual conference. At the convention, program participants will learn more about the organization and how its programs affects journalists from a variety of backgrounds. Fifty fellows have participated in the program since 2005.
  • The Rainbow Diversity Sourcebook, a guide to help journalists expand the voices quoted in news articles. It is available online or as a mobile app.

For more information about the fellowship, contact Chris Vachon at cvachon@spj.org or 317-920-4781.

Lynching story fails to identify race of all involved

If we don’t know our history, it is said, we are doomed to repeat it.

The New York Times published a story Feb. 10 that revealed some of the ugly history of the United States of America. A new report documents the lynchings of 4,000 human beings, black people tortured and killed by mobs of white people in 12 Southern U.S. states.

These African-American citizens were attacked and murdered for minor offenses or for doing nothing at all. Some of the killings took place less than a century ago. The Times’ story noted that the organization that compiled the report, the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, plans to erect markers and memorials at the sites of these horrific injustices.

What the Times story did not note was the race of the perpetrators. Vox, and later, Jezebel, called out the nation’s leading newspaper for failing to use the word “white” in its story, as if white, Caucasian people are not a race.

“This sort of oversight is in no way something that only happens in The New York Times or that only happens in the media,” wrote Jenée Desmond-Harris for Vox. “But this is the most recent example of the clunky awkwardness that accompanies discussions about the ways white supremacy shaped our nation’s history.”

Desmond-Harris’ point draws out a common blind spot in our reporting on race. Because media workers overwhelmingly are white, we tend to consider white, Anglo people as the norm, and not as a race, which surely we are.

When we point out that innocent black people were killed by mobs who watched and taunted and don’t identify the race of the people who did the killing, we diminish our own role in the oppression. (Full disclosure: I am white).

A theory called incognizant racism asserts that whites often overlook the concerns and interests of non-white people in favor of their own values and advantages in society. In newsrooms, this incognizant racism can help to uphold the status quo, which continues to favor whites.

If journalists are to be the watchdogs of society, who uphold the truth, it is important that we tell the whole truth. That includes pointing out the role of white people in the sometimes horrific racial history of our nation.

Everbach_head shotTracy Everbach is associate professor of journalism in the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas.

A Tribute to Dori Maynard

Dori Maynard, a journalist and champion for diversity in media died this week, and journalists across the country are mourning. They are mourning the loss of a woman who devoted her life to ensuring all voices were heard.

Photo Courtesy: Jackson DeMos, USC Annenberg School

Photo Courtesy: Jackson DeMos, USC Annenberg School

Maynard was the president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, named after her father, Robert C. Maynard, who was former publisher of the Oakland Tribune. He and his wife, Nancy Hicks Maynard, Tribune co-publisher, were the first African Americans to own a major metropolitan daily in the United States.

Journalism seemed to be in her blood. On her mother Liz Rosen’s side of the family, Maynard’s grandfather, Edward Patrick Flynn, was executive editor of the New York Post. Beyond telling stories, Maynard advocated better stories be told by reaching out to underserved communities. She pushed for journalists to make stronger efforts to include more diverse voices in their news coverage.

Maynard was also actively involved in the Society of Professional Journalists, and served on the board for the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.

Her friends and colleagues throughout SPJ and SDX are deeply saddened by her death.

“This news comes as a complete shock. How can Dori be gone? What a loss for our profession,” said SDX President Robert Leger.

“She accomplished a lot in a too-short lifetime. I admired her and was proud to serve with her on the SDX board,” said Irwin Gratz, former SPJ President and SDX board Vice President.

“Dori was one of those people who showed up and by showing up made a difference. When I thought she might be too busy, or too involved, or too far away to attend a Foundation board meeting, Dori showed up. I will remember Dori for her passion for diversity in our profession, for her diligence in making a difference, for her advocacy as a human being,” said Steve Geimann, also a former SPJ President and current SDX board member.

George Daniels, Assistant Dean of the College of Communication and Information Sciences at the University of Alabama, met Dori when he was a SPJ Diversity Fellow. Later while serving as the SPJ Diversity Committee Chairman he would invite Dori to be part of the many discussions that came before the committee.

“Though she was based in California, it was nothing for her to get on a plane and fly all the way across the country to engage in an important diversity-related meeting and she gave tirelessly to the efforts to ensure that our media outlets were true to their pledges to make their newsroom staff look like the communities that are becoming more and more diverse,” Daniels said.

Longtime friend Sally Lehrman, a SDX board member, former SPJ Board Member and SPJ Diversity committee member and former chair, admired Dori’s commitment to change.

“Dori’s warmth and passion for her work blended so beautifully in a woman who knew how to talk straight and press for change — and at the same time, listen carefully and thoughtfully to others who had a completely different perspective. She had such a big heart,” Lehrman said.

Rebecca Tallent, journalism professor and SPJ Diversity committee member says Dori left quite an impression on her.

“Dori taught me what it meant to really be tenacious, and how to use that trait in the difficult art of diversity,” Tallent said.

“Whenever I would see her, I would mentally paraphrase the line from the end of the trial in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: Stand up children, a great person is passing by,” Tallent said, ”Lord Almighty – how that woman will be missed.”

Sandra Gonzalez

Sandra Gonzalez

Sandra Gonzalez is former SPJ Diversity Committee Chair, and is a general assignment reporter at KSNV-TV in Las Vegas.



Newspaper Headline Points Up Lack of Understanding

Flawed news coverage is always bad form, but the issues in Rapid City, South Dakota points out journalists are not understanding or mindful of Native American issues in stories or headlines.


Native News Online

In January, the Rapid City Journal ran a story about some children from the Pine Ridge Reservation being attacked by a crowd during a hockey game for reportedly not standing during the national anthem. The students were attacked with racial slurs, insults and had beer sprayed and thrown at them; the Journal headline on Saturday, Jan. 31 read: “Did Native Kids Stand for National Anthem?” The Journal editors have since apologized for the insensitive headline.

Granted, the newspaper did not condone the actions of people at the hockey game, they even ran a strongly worded editorial calling on people to stop racism. But, the headline was a serious lapse that fails to meet the standards of journalism and points out how thoughtless journalists can be if they do not understand a group of people.


Native American Journalists Association

Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) leaders said the regrettable headline represents one of the more troubling examples of irresponsible coverage of Native Americans in recent years.

“The headline fell short of the standards of responsible journalism, as it indirectly suggested that the elementary and middle school students could have been responsible for prompting the harassment,” a NAJA press release reads. “The headline was a result of phrasing that was not well thought out on the paper’s part, and outcry over the headline has been swift in the Rapid City region and beyond via social media.”

In its apology, Journal Executive Editor Brad Pfankuch said the paper “deeply regrets the pain caused by this headline” and said the staff have begun taking steps to responsibly address the situation.

“A justifiable anger has resulted from the headline that appeared in the Rapid City Journal on Saturday, Jan. 31,” Pfankuch said. “It is now abundantly clear that the headline about the National Anthem is troubling to this community and our readers.
“To some, the headline signified that there was a justification for the harassment of Native American students at the Rush hockey game on Saturday, Jan. 24. This was not our intent. There is no justification for such racist behavior. There can never be any justification for the appalling way those students and their chaperones were treated at the game.”

Pfankuch also noted the owner of the suite where the students were sitting, who was not at the game, received a death threat and the paper ran the story using an anonymous source to protect that person and their family. He said if the police provide names of the people responsible for the harassment, the paper will publish the names. Pfankuch also promised NAJA the paper will continue to aggressively pursue the story.

NAJA officers said they appreciate Pfankuch’s prompt attention to the issue and encourage the Journal to continue pursuing the story.

Rebecca Tallent


Rebecca Tallent is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Idaho and she serves on the SPJ Board of Directors as a Campus Adviser at Large.

Another reminder to choose our words carefully

By Georgiana Vines, diversity committee vice chair

The Dec. 23 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review has an article  that no clear consensus has yet emerged in the news media on how to describe immigrants to the U.S. who are not here legally. The story by Rui Kaneya, CJR’s correspondent for Illinois and Indiana, is a reminder that news reporters and editors need to think about terms they are using.

Georgiana Vines

Georgiana Vines

Here is some of what he reported:

“As style manual changes go, it was big news. ‘Illegal immigrant,’ a phrase long used for people living in the country without authorization, was no longer ‘sanctioned’ in Associated Press copy, the wire service declared in April 2013. Its influential Stylebook was updated to read, in part: Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. The change was part of a broader effort to avoid ‘labeling people,’ said Kathleen Carroll, AP’s executive editor, but the move seemed clearly a concession to advocates for immigrants who argued it was offensive to describe a person or group of people as ‘illegal.’ Within weeks, major newspapers like the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today followed AP’s lead and abandoned the phrase, and it seemed likely more would follow. The Stylebook ‘is the last word on journalistic practice, so it’s particularly important for the AP to set this standard,’ Rinku Sen, publisher of the website Colorlines, which had coordinated a campaign to ‘Drop the I-Word,’ said at the time. ‘This should put the debate to rest.’ ”


Kaneya’s research shows that “illegal immigrant” hasn’t been banned and even has cropped up in AP copy despite the directive. Again from Kaneya’s story: “ ‘Alas, we are not perfect,’ said Paul Colford, an AP spokesman. Asked about a couple of these stories, he described them as ‘lapses from AP style.’”

He found Gannett allows local autonomy on matters of sensitivity with one paper using “undocumented” or “unauthorized” and finally “illegal immigrants.”

Kaneya summarizes that it’s not surprising that “illegal immigrant” lingers even after the shift in AP style. “Margaret Sullivan, the New York Times public editor, argued in its favor in 2012, writing that it was “clear and accurate,” while the alternatives were not,” he wrote.

All of this is a reminder that we are supposed to choose our words carefully whether it’s describing someone from another country and how they got to the U.S. or we’re writing about a person who has developmental disorders. Links to a number of these discussions can be found in the Diversity Style Guides Roundup at http://www.spj.org/divws2.asp.

Read the CJR article, ‘Illegal,’ ‘undocumented,’ or something else? No clear consensus yet” at http://bit.ly/1Hh22R7

Georgiana Vines is vice chair of the SPJ Diversity Committee and a retired associate editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Health Affects All Of Us: Covering the Affordable Care Act

A little over a year ago, I didn’t know much about health insurance, except that I had it. Well that all changed when I was assigned to cover the Affordable Care Act in 2013.

In Nevada, we have a state based exchange, and our state figures showed many Nevadans didn’t have health insurance, especially in the Latino community.

When the insurance came online through the exchange, the learning process started rolling.

Much like the reports we heard about healthcare.gov, there were also problems in enrolling through the Nevada exchange Nevada Health Link. The process moved forward, and people were enrolled, but not as many as projected.

There lies a situation yet to be uncovered. For those in communities across the country who chose not to enroll, or missed the deadlines, penalties are coming. It will show up when people start filing their taxes.

Courtesy: clipartbest.com

For those journalists assigned to cover the ACA or health insurance, the stories are numerous. It’s not too late to start, as open enrollment begins its second year.

Lower income communities will be impacted greatly by the new federal law requiring all Americans to have health insurance. Whether they buy a plan through the exchange in their state, or qualify for Medicaid, they must enroll.

To learn more about insurance issues, find the navigators, or insurance brokers in your communities. They can guide you to further understand the intricacies.

What are the efforts being done to disseminate this information in other languages? In Nevada, there was great need to explain and to help people enroll who speak Spanish.

This additional expense will impact families’ budgets, another factor to consider in decisions to enroll or not. Hospitals and doctors offices will also be impacted by the new influx of patients who are now insured.


Courtesy: clipartbest.com

The issue is not without controversy. Whether people believe mandated affordable insurance is a dream come true, or is a bad idea, it’s still in effect.

Those involved with providing the insurance through the federal government, or through the individual states that wanted to operate their own exchanges, now have at least one year of experience under their belts.

With glitches, complications, and other frustrations that evolved during the first year of enrollment, government insurance leaders, and insurance carriers are hoping for a smoother ride with this second year rolling out.
Covering this activity has become a new beat in newsrooms and if your newsroom hasn’t designated a reporter to this topic, this would be a great beat to grab. The impact of insurance on the community is far-reaching, and the stories are numerous. Health affects all of us, and this is an arena that will continue to grow.

Sandra Gonzalez

Sandra Gonzalez


Sandra Gonzalez is former SPJ Diversity Committee Chair, and is a general assignment reporter at KSNV-TV in Las Vegas.





Lessons from Ferguson: Earning the public’s trust

Diversity Toolbox column reprinted from the September/October edition of Quill. Read the full issue at http://www.spj.org/quill.asp


By Sally Lehrman

Let’s face it: The moment news gatherers take on a story that turns on racial justice, most of them contend with a severe lack of trust. Americans are only half convinced that the news media are ever worth their confidence, according to survey data. For communities of color, the reliability, credibility and even objectivity of the news are especially in question because of a troubled track record of stereotyping and neglect.

So it was in Ferguson, Mo., as journalists struggled to tell the story of the community uprising after unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer. Reporters, photographers and producers faced the fundamental challenge of all journalism: earning the trust of both sources and audiences.

Traditional media took days to recognize the significance of the events unfolding over the first few days after Brown’s death. But Twitter was afire with the #Ferguson hashtag and #IfTheyGunnedMeDown commentary on media portrayals of black victims. To many Twitter users it seemed a repeat of media inattention in the wake of the 2012 killing of Trayvon Martin, also black, unarmed and a teen, in Florida by a neighborhood vigilante who has identified as both white and Hispanic.

In both cases, the black American community at the heart of the story turned to social media to call attention to the incident and the issues they felt needed airing. St. Louis alderman Antonio French, who had already been tweeting regularly about social concerns in St. Louis, walked among the Ferguson protestors, urged calm and showed armored vehicles confronting community members in his posts on Twitter and Vine. Reporters, police officers and neighborhood leaders soon followed suit with their own version of events.

True enough, Twitter users can choose to follow only those with whom they agree. But more importantly, some commentators propose that people across the racial spectrum turn to Twitter because they see the news media as out of touch.

Twitter may win people’s trust because they can be certain they will hear the perspectives of members of their own communities. They can join in debate. They can relate to the ideas expressed and the voices that tell the story.

In Ferguson, reporters faced a chaotic situation coupled with police hostility. Yet the results of their efforts often seemed superficial. Ricardo Torres, a Milwaukee-based freelance journalist, compared much of the work to weather reporting. Journalists described the social climate as if it were nature on the move, he said, with “tensions building” and the “police on edge.” Many of them missed the opportunity to provide a three-dimensional picture of the outpouring of anger and concern.

What forces had shaped it? What was the story of the community in which it happened? What was the broader social context in which we all play a role?

In an interview, Elise Hu, part of the NPR team that reported from Ferguson, offered some tips on how to prepare for a fair, thorough and accurate telling of such a volatile moment. Some of her suggestions included:

Work With a Diverse Team

The NPR crew included a Latina, an African-American man and woman, an Asian woman and a white man. “It opened some doors,” Hu said. The team also worked closely with the local St. Louis member station, which provided knowledge about the local community, its history and current concerns.

Do your Homework on Social Issues Surrounding Race and Class

Some people think that we all live within society, so we’re all somehow experts on social issues. The NPR team had spent more than a year reporting comprehensively on the complexities of race, identity and culture. “We had laid all that groundwork of understanding race,” Hu said. As a result, they knew how to talk about difficult topics and to reach beyond the action on the streets.

Show the Diversity of the Community you are Covering

Many audiences around the country saw only three blocks of Ferguson over and over, perpetually in conflict and distress. Hu said her team felt it was important to show what else was going on. Hu did stories like the one that described the 150 area teachers who came out to clean up the streets. Such work helped show the people of Ferguson as more than caricatures of angry disadvantaged Americans.

Meet Your Audiences Where They Are

Ferguson news made NPR’s “All Things Considered” on a regular basis, but Hu said she also made sure to communicate real-time on Twitter because she knew that’s where the community was talking. And despite her expectations, she met a lot of young black and Hispanic men who told her they loved NPR. She learned something from those conversations.

“We shouldn’t use the fact that we think our audience is white to do a certain kind of story, because our emerging audience is very different,” she said. Hu was speaking about public radio, but her advice holds across the board.

Sally Lehrman is the Senior Fellow for Journalism Ethics at the Markkula Center. She is an independent journalist who reports on science and social issues.

Diversity Committee: Looking ahead to the coming year

It was nice to meet many of you in Nashville and I look forward to working with everyone in the upcoming year. I wanted to follow-up on a few items that came up during and after the EIJ conference.

First off, I’d like to again extend big thank you to Sandra Gonzalez for her work in leading the committee the past two years, especially for mentoring the Diversity Leadership Fellows during the conference. And thank you also to Georgiana Vines for agreeing to be vice-chair of the committee this year.

Diversity Chair April Bethea and past Chair Sandra Gonzalez and the President's Installation Banquet. Photo by Walter Middlebrook

Diversity Chair April Bethea and past Chair Sandra Gonzalez. Photo by Walter Middlebrook

In case you haven’t seen it, President Dana Neuts recently wrote a blog post on SPJ’s need to improve diversity within the organization. Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky also wrote on the issue, and I understand the membership committee also is looking at diversity in its efforts for the coming year. I hope to share more with you in the future.

Below is a recap of some of the things discussed at the committee meeting in Nashville. I hope you’ll find a project (or two) that you’ll want to help with this year.

1) MANAGEMENT TRAINING: One of our major goals for the year is to launch a project to help train journalists from diverse backgrounds who want to be managers. One idea is to sponsor someone to attend the Executive Leadership Program held by the AAJA. Walter Middlebrook has been taking the lead on this. This would require funding from SDX, and we’d need to first submit a proposal to the SPJ executive committee by January.

2) RAINBOW SOURCEBOOK: We’d like to make another run at updating the sourcebook, including reaching out to journalism schools or other educators to help with the work. If you are interested in helping with or leading this effort, please email me at adbethea@gmail.com

3) CATCHING UP WITH DIVERSITY LEADERSHIP FELLOWS: There have been eight classes of fellows since 2005, and we’re looking for 1-2 people to reach out to alumni to learn what they are doing now and if they are still involved with SPJ. This year’s fellows also suggested creating a Facebook group to help alumni stay in touch. If you’re interested in helping with this project, please contact me.

4) PROGRAMMING AT FUTURE CONFERENCES: There was a lot of concern about the lack of diversity in much of the programming at EIJ and a desire to push for change. I’ve shared those concerns with Dana Neuts, and Sandra and I both shared it with Chris Vachon during a debriefing on the fellows program. Athima Chansanchai, one of this year’s fellows, has expressed interest in helping with programming for EIJ15 and I also shared that with Dana. In the meantime, the request for EIJ15 proposals should be going out within the next month. I encourage you all to submit proposals and let me know if you have other thoughts on this issue.

5) WRITERS NEEDED: Finally, we’re looking for volunteers to help update our blog and social media accounts, as well as write for Quill on diversity-related topics. I’d like to see the blog updated at least twice a month, including a roundup of articles or other posts on diversity in journalism. Please contact Sandra Gonzalez (E-mail) if you’re interested.

Thank you all for your ideas and discussion at the committee meeting. Again, I look forward to working with you all.


April Bethea,
SPJ Diversity Committee Chair
Online Producer, The Charlotte Observer
adbethea@gmail.com | Twitter: @AprilBethea

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