Significant efforts to integrate diversity issues into journalism programs have been undertaken in universities throughout the nation, leading some educators to be cautiously optimistic that future journalists may be better equipped to include the voiceless of today in the news columns of tomorrow.
Pockets of creative activity that range from individual class assignments to departmentwide initiatives clearly are emerging. But at the same time, too many journalism programs are not consistently and comprehensively including diversity in their classrooms or curricula. That, educators say, leaves too many students ill-prepared to practice inclusive journalism in an increasingly complex and multicultural world.
Experts say the issues go far beyond the economics of training journalists who can better reflect the nation’s changing demographics and, thus, attract and retain new readers. It is, they say, a fundamentally moral and ethical obligation that should be as central to journalism’s core values as the value of accuracy has long been.
Accuracy, balance and fairness are absolutes in good journalism, and diversity must be among them, says Caesar Andrews, president of the Associated Press Managing Editors and editor of Gannett News Service.
“It’s not there yet,” Andrews said. “Diversity can’t be an add-on because it’s trendy, the right thing to say. Those who define what news is, and those who teach others, have to believe that diversity is at the core of quality journalism.”
CHALLENGES TO TEACHING DIVERSITY
But inclusion of diversity issues has been hampered by a variety of barriers that range from academicians who lack awareness to resistance steeped in both the subculture of the academy and society in general.
“If this is a value we hold, we are not doing a very good job of imparting it either in the academy or the profession,” said Keith Woods, group leader for reporting, writing and editing at the Poynter Institute. “And it ought to start in the academy.”
Even a curriculum that has evolved to include diversity issues won’t be effective unless faculty can reach students who are, by and large, majority students raised in a majority society.
“In many cases, that’s almost impossible to do,” said Cathy Jackson, an assistant professor of journalism at Norfolk State University in Virginia and head of the Minorities and Communication Division of the largest professional society for journalism educators, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.
“Lots of people are talking the talk, many are walking the walk and doing quite well,” Jackson said. “But until we get to the basic problem of what divides us, all it will be is a lesson in the classroom.”
Similarly, academic freedom – the long-standing tradition that says professors can operate their classrooms as they see fit – can provide a further barrier. The Poynter’s Woods says his work with universities trying to integrate diversity into their programs has clearly shown him how academic freedom can impede change in the academy.
And academic freedom couples with what Woods calls the issue that stands in the path of progress: professors who fear they simply don’t understand diversity issues well enough to incorporate them into their classes.
A related issue, educators say, is that while different universities are trying a variety of approaches – borrowing ideas from each other and adapting them to their own needs – there is no single approach that ensures successful outcomes that will produce long-term change in journalistic practices.
Pam Creedon, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University in Ohio, says it comes down to a single issue:
“How do we do it? How, exactly, do we do it? It’s very difficult to bridge the chasm between good will and good intentions and how you affect the outcome.”
Despite the barriers, strides clearly have been made, and efforts that range in comprehensiveness and complexity are emerging at universities throughout the country.
“We’ve come light years,” said the Poynter’s Woods. “The optimist would be able to look at that. When you think of the mountain we are trying to move, the realist has to step in and remind us that we are talking about changing, not just the way we think and teach, but in some very fundamental ways, we are trying to change the way we view our humanity. You don’t do that overnight.”
Among the examples:
Indiana University’s School of Journalism has spent the past two years in a partnership with the Poynter Institute designed to infuse diversity deeper into the curriculum. Woods and his colleague Lillian Dunlap conducted workshops, taught classes that demonstrated how diversity issues can be integrated, and advised doctoral students who studied syllabi with the goal of suggesting new assignments and teaching modules.
As a result of the Indiana experience, the Poynter Institute developed a new seminar, “Diversity Across the Curriculum,” designed for college journalism educators interested in the seamless inclusion of diversity in their journalism classes. And Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Illinois has entered into a partnership with the Poynter Institute similar to the Indiana University experience.
Indiana’s David Boeyink, an associate professor of journalism, said the result was a tiered approach designed to reach students at each stage of their development as journalists: in introductory classes, basic skills courses, advanced skills courses and theory classes such as ethics.
Indeed, while stand-alone media minorities classes are important because they highlight and focus on issues, educators say that integrating diversity across the journalism curriculum – and throughout individual syllabi – also is important if diversity is truly a core journalistic value.
In a tiered approach, an introductory course can sensitize students to the issues through lectures and assignments that might include content analyses of sources used in stories.
“If we teach some history in the class, are we teaching about the black press? The Latino press? The gay press? If not, whose history are we telling?” asked Don Heider, an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and author of “White News: Why Local News Programs Don’t Cover People of Color.”
On the next tier, students in first-level skills classes can study real-world examples of journalism that include the use of diverse sources and perspectives. Writing exercises that contain stereotypes can generate discussion about inappropriate uses of racial identifiers.
As the next step, students can be trained and assigned to interview under-reported people significantly different from themselves.
“It could be gays, African Americans, a religious group. They have to communicate across differences, talking with people about what it’s like to be a member of that group at Indiana University,” said Boeyink. He said that cautious students would seek out people who are similar to themselves.
Heider asks students to complete story idea sheets designed to make the process of being inclusive a natural part of good journalism. His “bottom-up reporting” emphasis intends to teach students to seek diverse viewpoints, and all students are required to pitch a “bottom-up” story.
“Too many reporters do top-down news,” Heider said. “If it’s the cops beat, do you only talk to the chief? Or to the beat cop? Or to the prisoner? Or do you also talk to the people who filed complaints against the police department?”
At South Dakota State University, a leader in diversity issues, advanced reporting and photography classes go to all nine South Dakota Indian reservations to report stories and produce newspapers on Native American topics.
South Dakota State also has received a $420,000 John S. and James L. Knight Foundation grant to share a journalist-in-residence with the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, said Richard W. Lee, head of South Dakota State’s department of journalism and mass communication. The program will focus on Native American and Hmong populations, and it will include annual spring conferences designed to teach students from both schools to look at issues from the perspectives of Native American and Hmong populations.
At University of Colorado at Boulder, individual faculty members may approach diversity in a variety of ways, including ensuring that guest speakers are diverse, assigning readings that represent diversity, requiring stories that have diverse angles, and reminding students to deliberately approach people who are different as part of their working repertoire, said Patricia Raybon, associate professor of journalism.
An extracurricular organization for students interested in minority-related media issues sponsors speakers and produces newsletters designed to keep issues of diversity in the forefront. Universitywide, student evaluations of faculty ask how well diversity was covered in all University of Colorado classes.
The University of Georgia’s Hugh J. Martin, an assistant professor of journalism, is building diversity into his classes in subtle ways. For example, an exam in his editing class asked students to produce a front page with the five stories he gave them. Students exercising solid news judgment would determine that one of the stories, which dealt with affirmative action, would have been one of the two top stories on the page.
In another exercise, students edited a story about an upcoming exhibit of photographs from the book “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America.” Students were asked to use the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics to justify whether they would publish a picture to accompany the story about the lynching photography exhibit.
Students in upper-level ethics classes can examine case studies, such as how newspapers cover murders in different areas of the city, or how to respond to rumors that a political candidate, who is ferociously anti-gay in his rhetoric, is gay himself.
Kent State’s journalism school and Howard University’s School of Communication in Washington, D.C., are co-sponsoring “VillageAmerica – A Multimedia Convergence, Diversity Initiative.” With a $35,000 grant from the Gannett Foundation and a partnership with a production company, the universities have developed a one-hour PBS television special to be followed by 38 weekly shows focusing on multiculturalism. This semester, students in Kent’s Media Information Gathering class are learning to find qualitative and quantitative resources that deal with diversity. Those resources, and student-generated story ideas, will be incorporated on a Web site to be launched in April.
Creedon, the journalism school director, also is establishing e-mail and chat relationships this semester between Kent State journalism students and students in the United Arab Emirates who are, initially, discussing their reaction to a poster developed after Sept. 11 that calls for an end to hate and racism.
WHERE ARE THINGS GOING?
“Diversity is on everybody’s radar screen,” said Susanne Shaw, a University of Kansas journalism professor who serves as executive director of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. “We’re committed to this.”
That focus appears well placed. Twenty-three percent of all non-compliances issued by accreditation visiting teams from 1995-1996 though 1999-2000 were issued because of “Standard 12,” which says that journalism and mass communications programs must demonstrate a commitment to increase diversity among the faculty and the student populations and to create an environment that exposes students to a broad spectrum of voices and views.
In an effort to help universities improve their diversity initiatives and comply with “Standard 12,” the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has awarded the accrediting council a $100,000 grant to produce a guide to the best diversity practices on college campuses. The guide is expected to be completed early next year.
Diversity is being “discussed, dissected and debated” on more college campuses than ever before, and there is an overall sense of progress, said Andrews, who serves as APME’s representative on the accrediting council. The next – and tougher – phase, he said, is to move from the superficial to the substantive.
“It’s not a statistical game – there are X number of black people in the country so you devote X percent of the conversation to blacks. That’s ridiculous. Diversity involves something much more textured. Journalists have to see the value of including, reflecting differences. Can I tell a better story by reaching out to a different set of people by finding the nuance in this issue?”
A critical issue, educators say, is the need to assess whether diversity initiatives on the college campuses are affecting the outcome. Are students complying with diversity initiatives because it’s required to achieve a good grade, or will diversity initiatives change perceptions and behaviors and produce better storytelling in the nation’s newsrooms?
The University of Texas’ Heider said the students’ cable channel newscasts are far more diverse than the newscasts of their professional counterparts.
“But what about when they go to Lubbock or Waco, and that’s not the norm?” he asked. “Will the small- and medium-markets beat it out of them? I don’t know. I hope not.”
The solution, some educators suggest, goes back to framing inclusiveness as a core value of quality journalism.
Says the University of Colorado’s Raybon: “I believe there’s not an editor alive who will turn down a good story. Approach it as good journalism. That’s the language to put on it. We equip our students to make a difference when we articulate it that way. We set them up for failure when we don’t.”
Bonnie Bressers teaches in the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University.
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