Note: This remembrance, by longtime friend and fellow SPJ member Sally Lehrman, first appeared on the website of The Maynard Institute. Dori Maynard was a board member of SPJ’s associated Sigma Delta Chi Foundation and was named a Fellow of the Society in 2001.
Dori J. Maynard, a fierce and courageous warrior for diversity in journalism and public discourse, employed three powerful weapons: Passion, grace, and love.
In an era of financial and technological disruption throughout journalism, Maynard insisted that newsrooms honor their highest purpose. The news must teach each group of society about the others’ realities and concerns, engaging everyone in addressing the problems of the day. No one could be marginalized. No one could be typecast and repeatedly excluded from our daily lives as criminal, victim or outsider without a useful point of view.
Over the last year of her life, this challenge grew ever more urgent to Maynard. Cities across the country were erupting in rage in response to the killings, one after another, of unarmed black men by law enforcement. In the news, images of African Americans had expanded only slightly – from perpetrators to victims, too. Depictions of Latinos remained monochrome – the angry, troubled or dependent immigrants. The contributions of Native Americans and Asian Americans had almost entirely disappeared. In notes for an upcoming speech, Maynard urged, “For the sake of the country, for the sake of ourselves, this cannot continue.”
Maynard, who became president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in 2001, integrated theory, ethics and practical strategy to inspire action. As newsrooms grappled with the pressures of 24/7 newsgathering on digital platforms, Maynard took the opportunity to implant inclusion at journalism’s core. She showed how Institute techniques could enhance user-generated content and public engagement through social media. She taught short-staffed newsrooms how to tap into community knowledge to broaden their reach.
Maynard, 56, died Feb. 24 from lung cancer. Even on her final day, she was concocting fresh ideas, gathering funds and amassing intellectual fuel. She was planning to speak with a funder about a central program. She was preparing to convene a brain trust of leaders across technology, journalism and grant-making to chart a new course for the institute and formulate a strategic plan. “She was talking about a real re-thinking of the institute and what role it needs to play,” said Martin Reynolds, active on the Maynard Institute board and senior editor for community engagement at the Bay Area News Group. “We have to see that through.”
Giving Fault Lines Momentum
From the time she joined the Institute in 1993, Dori Maynard built upon the vision of her father, Robert C. Maynard, institute co-founder, and the original infusion of funds by the Knight Foundation a decade earlier. She breathed life into her father’s Fault Lines framework, shaping it into an enduring, accessible tool that is now taught in the best journalism schools around the country. By reflecting on the impact of an event or issue across race, class, gender, generation and geography, journalists could develop a more contextual understanding of its relevance. Fresh ideas for sources would open up. By recognizing the ways in which the five core aspects of our lives shape our thinking, she showed, we can also defuse fraught conversations across social differences. “It all had to do with, ‘What are we able to hear?’ ” explained Steve Montiel, president of the institute for 12 years and one of its nine co-founders. “Fault lines crystallized all that.”
Tapping Community Insight
Maynard kept in close touch with the Institute’s wide network, tapping into top journalism talent across the globe to develop ideas and implement them. She worked with Reynolds to take Community Voices, his public engagement initiative at the Oakland Tribune, to Open Society Foundation for the funds to expand it.
“The idea was to embrace the spirit that Bob (Maynard) had, which was really being inclusive and connected to the community,” Reynolds said.
The project counteracted the withdrawal of many news organizations from community beats for financial reasons, and also longstanding mistrust. In Jackson, Miss., Sacramento, Calif., and Oakland, Calif., residents learned to report and write stories, bringing their own vision and sources into coverage.
Maynard had pinpointed Jackson, with its 79 percent African American population, as a key site to challenge and reframe negative perceptions of black men and boys. She called Ronnie Agnew, the first African American to serve as executive editor of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, and convinced him to give her plan a try. It could enhance coverage and build audience. And indeed, the results were transformative, said Debbie Skipper, who was at the time assistant managing editor for news and business.
“While we have African American reporters and they have done a good job, reaching out to the community meant finding areas that we never really knew about,” she said. There was the member of the Jackson school board. There was the professor with a mind-blowing knowledge of urban planning. There was Rachel James-Terry, the young mother who knew barbers, beauticians, web developers, hip hop artists – and everything that couples her age ought to know about what’s going on every weekend.
Skipper hopes that the changes will cultivate a sense of ownership and investment in the Clarion-Ledger’s pages and website. “This is not that person’s paper,” they may begin to think, she said, “it’s my paper, too.”
Opening Journalism’s Doors to All
While Maynard was born into journalism, she seemed to feel that it coursed in everyone’s blood. She had been raised in two families with deep legacies in journalism. Her father and his second wife, Nancy Hicks Maynard, were the first African American owners and publishers of a major metropolitan daily, the Oakland Tribune. Robert took Dori to the Walter Cronkite evening newscast for her ninth birthday. Her maternal grandfather, Ed Flynn, was executive editor of The New York Post. Maynard grew up knowing news executives across the country and maintained relationships with them throughout her life. She seemed to know the background on every breaking news event from politics to celebrity gossip. Her middle initial, “J,” she would joke, stood for journalism.
In the Community Voices project, some bloggers reacted to Maynard’s history and accomplishments with awe. She immediately punctured their star-struck modesty. She encouraged, she teased, she spoke to each person one-on-one. “She was very humble and approachable,” said James-Terry, one of those who landed a regular writing slot at the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. James-Terry had imagined herself a rule-breaker, a writer unsuited for journalism. But Maynard would not let her off the hook. “I get that about you, and it’s okay,” Maynard told her. “You can still be yourself and tell your story.” James-Terry had graduated from Jackson State University with a degree in English, but felt stuck in a 9-to-5 job. Now she is aiming for full-time journalism work.
Mentoring with a Learner’s Stance
Both formally and informally, Maynard mentored hundreds all over the country. She drew out their ideas, engaging them to teach her even as she taught them. Linda Jue, editor and executive director of the GW Williams Center for Independent Journalism in San Francisco, said she and Maynard learned from each other’s very different personality traits. “She appreciated my forthrightness,” Jue said. “I would study her patience… how to be honest but using velvet gloves.”
Maynard asked Latoya Peterson, owner of the Racialicious blog, to tutor her in social media and blogging. Then she introduced the younger woman and her expertise to industry and foundation leaders. “She always framed it as if we were doing her a favor,” Peterson said. Maynard found manifold ways to encourage and support Peterson’s career, pressing her to lead and to reach high. “I have an imprint memory of her as insightful, clear-headed and sure,” Peterson said. “She was great at being the person you want to talk to, but modeling the person you want to be.” Peterson overcame her hesitance to apply for a John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University and won it. She got an appointment as deputy editor of the Voices column in Fusion, a Washington, D.C., joint venture between ABC and Univision. She learned from the elegance and polish that Maynard paired with her down-to-earth openness and humor.
“The silver BMW that was always full of newspapers,” Peterson remembered. “The colors she carried in her purse in case she went shopping.” With her personal color palette, a stash of snacks and a Kindle in her bottomless bag, Maynard was ready for any situation.
Living Diversity and Owning the Room
Maynard told stories about Miss Honey, her feline companion with a face squished in like a bulldog, but who wore a perpetual cat frown. She asked questions about family, health, food preferences and diet fads, somehow always keeping up with a multitude of friends and new acquaintances. In every situation, it seemed, Maynard very quickly found an area of commonality that grew into mutual respect. It was a way of living diversity. Maynard would constantly challenge her own assumptions. She disdained hiking but gave it a try. She never exercised but began walking around Lake Merritt in Oakland, Calif., each day with a friend. When she encountered racism, sexism or any other kind of bias, she found a way to enlighten. “She was astounding that way,” said Maynard’s close friend Jan Christensen-Heller, who owns a jewelry store in the nearby Rockridge area. “She would redirect them, and get them to think about what they just said.”
Many who knew her speak of Maynard’s poise. Yet she wrestled with the same shyness many other journalists feel about being in the spotlight. She began to prepare like an athlete, said leadership and communication coach Peggy Klaus. When she realized that persuasion on stage and before donors required hours of practice and an exciting, passionate presentation, Maynard accepted the challenge. Before talks she could be spotted walking up and down the halls, talking to herself, waving her arms up and down. “I’d get these texts from Chicago at 2 a.m., ‘I’m practicing, I’m going over the top,’” Klaus remembered. “She began to reflect in her demeanor, dress, posture and vocal quality that executive presence.” For Maynard, this was a special blend of warmth and strength. Maynard dropped her fears that she would be perceived as the stereotypical angry black woman, realized that she deserved an audience, and began to own the room.
Gently Insistent and Persuasive
Perhaps it was Maynard’s ability to blend street smarts with elegance, relentlessness with kindness, that made her so effective. The combination allowed her to hold publishers and editors publicly accountable, make them laugh, and inspire them all at once. “It was pushing people out of their comfort zone, and also getting into your face with the data sometimes,” recalled Robert Rosenthal, executive director for the Center for Investigative Reporting in Emeryville, Calif. Rosenthal first met Maynard when she brought the Fault Lines to the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he became executive editor. Now, at CIR, “I’m very proud how diverse we are, and we make it a point,” Rosenthal said. Maynard showed how race, gender, sexual orientation and other identity issues can be part of everyday newsroom conversation and now, he said, it is. “The thing with Dori is she could hit you over the head, but it was not with a hammer.”
Implicit Bias and Media’s Impact
In recent programs, Maynard tied Fault Lines concepts and content audits to the latest research in experimental psychology on implicit bias, that is, the cementing of stereotypes and unconscious favoritism into our unaware minds. She began to speak and write about the news media’s damaging role in shaping perceptions. She conceived the Maynard Media Critiques and America’s Wire, funded by the Kellogg Foundation, to illustrate both the traps of reactive thinking and how the Fault Lines could address them. Critique writers would take one-dimensional stories on issues involving people of color and diversify the sources. “I was somewhat skeptical,” said Washington, D.C., media strategist Michael K. Frisby, who worked with Maynard on both projects. “They turned out to be fantastic. What would result is, in these stories, these experts of color would add all kinds of amazing context.”
America’s Wire journalists wrote about issues and angles that the mainstream should have cared about but didn’t, Frisby explained. The Institute began distributing smart, high quality content to ethnic, community and mainstream media, website and bloggers. “The pickup was tremendous,” Frisby said. In a separate project, the Open Society Foundation-funded BrotherSpeak, the Institute collaborated with the Washington Post to create a video series viewing the lives of black men through the eyes of other black men. Maynard promoted the work through Twitter chats and a TED-like talk that used data to underscore the gap between black men’s lived experience and media portrayals.
Maynard brought her unyielding but compassionate style to journalism organizations, which she encouraged and cajoled to commit themselves fully to inclusion. She served on the boards of the American Society of News Editors, Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, and on the board of visitors for the John S. Knight Fellowship and the Journalism and Women Symposium Advisory Board. When the Knight fellowship program went two years without any African Americans involved, director Jim Bettinger gave Maynard what he described as a “sheepish” call. Maynard, not known for letting anyone get away with anything, didn’t wag her finger. She offered simple, smart and ultimately very effective strategies for change. She suggested people to talk to and gatherings to attend. As a result of his recruitment efforts, the 2013 program year included seven people of color out of thirteen U.S. fellows and three were African Americans. “It’s hard to ask for help if you feel like a failure,” Bettinger said. “You don’t come back for more. On the flip side, if you don’t get shot down, you do come back again.”
Maynard joined the Institute shortly after her father’s death in 1993. Along with developing Fault Lines at that time, she edited a compilation of her father’s newspaper columns in “Letters to My Children.” She had worked for a decade as a reporter on the staffs of the Bakersfield Californian, the Patriot Ledger, and the Detroit Free Press.
Maynard graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont with a Bachelor’s degree in American history in 1982. Before that, she spent a year traveling across Africa by bus, truck and thumb.
Maynard’s many honors include the Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, the Asian American Journalists’ Association Leadership Award, and designations as a Fellow of the Society of Professional Journalists and one of the Ten Most Influential African Americans in the Bay Area.
For Maynard, diversity was more than an ideology, it was a daily practice and commitment. Inclusion, she insisted, was central to journalism’s continuing relevance and to its financial survival. Through attentive innovation and relationship-building, Maynard showed both why and how diversity must be done. “She was able to be fierce without being strident,” said Montiel, the former president of the institute and a long-time friend. “There was such humanity to her and she was so positive. One of her gifts was being able to be heard.”
Sally Lehrman, long-time friend and collaborator with Dori Maynard, is an award-winning journalist who covers science and social issues. She also leads the digital journalism initiative at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
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