Sometimes diversity is the last thing on teachers’ minds. Sure, educators try hard to bring shy voices into a classroom discussion and make sure that minority opinions get aired. But teaching students how to report on all of America often doesn’t make it into the curriculum.
Diversity continues to be one of the toughest standards for journalism programs to meet, according to the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. When I talk with teachers about the reasons, they usually say they just don’t have the time.
Many journalism schools have one diversity course. It’s often an excellent, in-depth journey into intercultural communication, the role of media in stereotyping and newsroom diversity issues. But if this is the only — or even primary — time when students discuss such questions, what message does that send?
In too many newsrooms, diversity also tends to be an add-on, a side dish to the main meal of news for the day. When the bottom line is suffering or time is short, attention to inclusive, balanced coverage drops off the priority list. If we can’t begin to think of inclusion as an everyday demand of good journalism, how will we ever break our habit of relying mainly on a white, male, abled and straight view of the world?
Journalists across the news media gravitate toward a narrow demographic band of sources and subjects. Consider the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ most recent analysis, which found that we include Hispanics only when they’re the obvious focus of the story. Out of an estimated 12,495 network news reports not specific to Hispanic issues, only 1.7 percent quoted a Hispanic source. In print news magazines the same year, only five non-Hispanic-focused stories included Hispanics out of 1,547. These tendencies in turn limit our ability to come up with angles and ideas that interest more than a narrow population.
It does take time to build a diverse source list and rethink story frames that might be demographically biased, especially if we are starting from scratch or don’t have much practice challenging what could be culturally limited thinking. That’s why the most effective newsrooms view diversity as an everyday practice. Just as a science reporter must keep up with the latest findings in biology, the best newsrooms regularly keep up with all the various communities they cover. In the same way, the most successful journalism diversity programs build inclusive thinking into every aspect of the curriculum.
The benefits multiply quickly: Diversity doesn’t require extra time that’s simply not available, and students learn to see diversity as routine. Here are some suggestions:
When you discuss basic journalism techniques, include diversity considerations from the start. For one teaching plan, see “Get to the Source” (www.spj.org/div-gtts.asp), an SPJ-designed unit that teaches source credibility and authority, contact development, interviewing ethics, and story framing with diversity as a central concept.
Coverage choices and approaches: Use successfully inclusive stories as examples of plain-old good journalism. The award winners of the Let’s Do It Better! Workshop on Journalism, Race & Ethnicity make great models (www.journalism.columbia.edu/cs/ContentServer/jrn/1165270107053/page/1165270106862/simplepage.htm).
Teach students to rely on more than the AP Stylebook. You can also study the style guides developed by the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Black Journalists Association and others. SPJ’s Diversity Toolbox compiles these (www.spj.org/dtb7.asp), as does the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism resource list (www.ciij.org/resources>).
A couple other resources to check for ideas about teaching diversity include:
•Mass Communicating: The Forum on Media Diversity, which has an annotated bibliography and course syllabi: www.masscommunicating.lsu.edu/main
•The Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism, which includes sections for educators and students:
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