As founder and editor of All Digitocracy, Tracie Powell keeps a close eye on media and its impact on diverse communities. Powell has not only reported and edited for more than a decade, she also has master’s degree in law and served as a legal clerk for the U.S.
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.
Racism is a hard truth in American society. It is our inheritance, built into America’s history of slavery, lynching, and unequal treatment in law enforcement. And it is our present, through the unspoken, unacknowledged biases we may abhor but unconsciously still carry with us.
Stunned by the brutal massacre at Charlie Hebdo magazine, journalists and citizens around the world mourned. Many proclaimed, “Je Suis Charlie” in solidarity. The massive march Jan. 11 in Paris made the most powerful statement of all. Jews, Muslims, atheists and others across a spectrum of beliefs and politics walked together “to shout their love for liberty and tolerance,” as Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the Guardian.
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.
“Good enough” isn’t good enough if you are a data journalist. Even “accurate” isn’t good enough. When you’re working with data, it’s important to run it through a bias filter at every stage. That’s what three highly regarded investigative journalists insisted as we prepared for a panel on the ethics of working with data at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in June.
Red state, blue state. White, black. Old, young. Citizen, immigrant. Journalists and their audiences seem to live in a world of opposites, with not much information in between. Observing the dichotomies that dominated coverage of the government shutdown, the Affordable Care Act, immigration and countless other topics, I’m reminded of a classic essay by developmental biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling.
Brace yourself. Reports on women and people of color in the news tend to depress. But the latest compilation of data may coax you into a tiny bit of a smile. Investigative reporting, that high-status bastion of male dominance in the news business, is opening up, according to data in the Women’s Media Center’s The Status of Women in the Media 2013 report.
What’s the foundation of great reporting? Sure, smart questions and careful listening. But underpinning all but the rare, confrontational interview is one key ingredient: trust. That’s one reason journalists gravitate toward familiar faces. We develop our reliable, go-to sources and on a breaking story, quickly identify who is likely to be responsive and credible in the crowd.
Two frightening killers were on the loose, and the Sacramento Bee’s readers wanted to protect themselves. They wanted more than descriptions of the attackers’ clothing at the time of the murders. They wanted to know the criminals’ race. The Bee, they accused editors, had allowed outdated policies to endanger public safety.
September 27th, 2007 • Quill Archives
Great resources abound to diversify election coverage
We have already debated Barack Obama’s blackness and discussed Hillary Rodham Clinton’s cleavage. No question: Journalists could apply a far more sophisticated lens to this historic moment, when a black American, a Hispanic and a woman vie with other candidates for our country’s top job.
Sometimes newsrooms seem awfully compartmentalized. You’ve got the City Hall crew, various metro beats, maybe a “communities” or demographics reporter, the arts team, business, sports and, often hidden away in a room piled high with documents, the investigative team. They often only focus on their own special world.
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.
In what has become an annual ritual, American newspaper editors have counted up their newsroom diversity statistics. And the numbers have been found wanting. The number of journalists of color within participating newsrooms has hovered stubbornly at about 13 percent for the past few years and even slipped a bit in 2006.
Is race biology? Is race culture and society? Is it history or ancestry? Most of us think we know about race, but many of our assumptions are wrong. That’s what the scientists who developed “RACE: Are We So Different?” have concluded after thousands of visitors have passed through the exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota.
Can journalists be objective? Many reporters say we have to be; others think it’s impossible. After all, we take our life experience, moral beliefs and social status with us into every interview, whether we intend to or not. But it’s safe to say that most journalists agree that we strive for balance, fairness and accuracy, all of which underpin our effort to provide objective news coverage.
Metaphors are such great friends to a writer. They help us make abstract concepts accessible and ideas more clear. But are metaphors really trustworthy? Linguist Otto Santa Ana studies the use of figurative language in the news media, and what he has discovered might surprise you.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, inclusion isn’t an ideal. It’s essential. Ten years after the 1992-95 war, citizens still struggle with the painful aftermath of inter-ethnic hatred. Journalists risk their lives when they challenge the status quo. “I have had direct threats, a gun in my mouth, they threatened my kids,” remembers Zoran Sovilj, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Kozarski Vijesnik.
Many newsroom managers make an effort to hire, promote and encourage people of all backgrounds to succeed. Yet, America’s newsrooms have remained mostly white and male. Why? Sociologists and psychologists have discovered hidden barriers that help explain the glacial pace of change within many an industry, even when the best intentions really exist.
Editor’s Note: This column was Excerpted from “News in a New America” and reprinted with permission of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The book is the third in a series of publications by Knight Foundation that examine key issues facing the news media.
Editor’s Note — In “News in a New America,” Sally Lehrman offers an analysis of news coverage and newsrooms in a rapidly changing nation. Based on more than 150 interviews of journalists, social scientists and media analysts, the book addresses such issues as how to identify unconscious stereotypes and bias in coverage and newsroom practices.
December 1st, 2005 • Quill Archives
Enjoy the Indian taco, but don’t stop asking questions
Last month I visited an Indian Taco fund-raiser for Indian People’s Action, an advocacy group in Montana, for a story. Parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, teens and small children gathered in a church downtown. They piled their plates high with fry bread, savory hamburger filling, lettuce and cheese and sat down at long tables to enjoy the feast.
Hurricane Katrina caught us at our best. And she caught us at our worst. Journalists stuck with the story with courage and commitment. They dealt with immense time pressures, physical deprivation and exhaustion. And just like others across America, journalists couldn’t help but be affected.
August 31st, 2005 • Quill Archives
Understanding the diversity in your community is key
Do you know who lives in your neighborhood? Your town? Your state? Your country? Bet the answer is “of course” — and well, “maybe not.” Many of us don’t get out much — unless we’re heading to an interview or the coffee bar down the street.
August 1st, 2005 • Quill Archives
Study: News outlets ignore booming Latino population
The demographic changes sweeping the country were vibrantly clear during the National Association for Hispanic Journalists’ recent convention in Fort Worth, Texas. The changes came across in panels on topics such as “No Niño Left Behind: Covering Education” and “HIV/AIDS in Hispanic Communities.”
June 30th, 2005 • Quill Archives
New America Award honors best of media collaboration
The ethnic media in the United States isn’t exactly new: The first-ever printed news here took the form of hojas volantes (flying pages) or relaciones (reports), small, bilingual booklets that kept people in the Spanish colonies up to date. Then, over the first half of the 19th century, newspapers sprang up to serve Latinos, blacks and American Indians, thus laying the foundations for U.S.
Maura Arzamendi, who was 10 years old at the time, desperately began translating from Spanish to English when her younger brother’s appendix ruptured. The monolingual emergency room staff had tried to send him home to sit out his “cold.” Jitt Smith once wrote down sentences such as “I am thirsty,” and “It hurts here” so that her mother-in-law could communicate with hospital nurses who didn’t speak any Korean.
When the president of Harvard University suggested that innate biology may hinder women’s abilities in math and science — or that perhaps they are unwilling to devote the necessary time to work, journalists reported the fallout with glee. We described the outrage of MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins, who said the remarks by Lawrence H.
When family physician Robin Councilman took her first job at the county medical center in Minneapolis, she didn’t expect to be assigned to a Hmong clinic. She had no idea which diseases were most common among the refugees or even how to talk about health with them.
This is an edited version of a story originally published by News Watch. The full piece can be found at www.newswatch.sfsu.edu. When VaxGen Inc. announced long-awaited safety and effectiveness data on its AIDS vaccine in February 2002, headlines varied wildly. “AIDS vaccine fails in studies,” trumpeted The New York Times.
“Asians?” The very suggestion of such a simplistic grouping was laughable to the reporter from China Radio International. And sure enough, the East Asia Journalism Forum erupted soon afterward at a proposal to highlight “Asian values” in its resolution to expand regional cooperation among journalists in the interest of peace.
Does a “diversity orthodoxy” pollute newsgathering and cost the media credibility? So says William McGowan, who charges that news companies, in their attempt to become more inclusive, have relied on sourcing quotas, pandered to minorities, and lowered hiring standards. These in turn have hardened into a bias against whites, he claims.