UNITY 12 audience says online news must add color, offers structural remedies

Photo Courtesy: Jackson DeMos, USC Annenberg School

The train has left the station – and the good ol’ boy network is recreating itself. That was the call to action voiced by a disgruntled audience member at Digital & Diversity, a town hall at UNITY ‘12 on what diversity means in the digital age. Despite new tools, technologies, and business models, newsrooms are nearly as monochrome and male-dominated as a quarter century ago, participants said.

White male entrepreneurs seem to enjoy implicit favor in venture funding and grants, they observed. Worse yet, the high-speed, high-volume news environment is prone to offensive slips like ESPN’s infamous headline, “Chink in the Armor” — a reference to NBA star Jeremy Lin and an uneven stretch of games for his New York Knicks. Merely through inattention to inclusion, old hierarchies and habits have come right back.

The troubled digital space, though, still holds great opportunity for creating more honest, inclusive coverage, some speakers pointed out. Groups who feel shut out from the news can tell their own stories. Identity-specific news outlets and blogs such as Latina Lista, Native News Network and Pam’s House Blend can quickly hold other journalists accountable, improving the quality of the context we all offer. Partnerships across race, gender and sexual orientation bring stronger, more interesting ideas into everyone’s content.

There’s still time to reshape the news, some speakers proposed, by weaving inclusion right into the structure of news gathering and delivery. Audience members identified six key areas for attention:

• Build inclusive coverage into journalism programs from introductory courses on up.
• Ensure that journalism education and internships are available across the demographic spectrum, through grants and fair application processes.
• Press funders and venture capitalists to reinvent applications and decision-making processes so that entrepreneurs from all backgrounds get an equal chance.
• Encourage other types of support for journalists of color, LGBT entrepreneurs and women to own their own news outlets.
• Obtain a commitment by existing news outlets – whether online only or legacy – to an inclusive management and staff, and track their progress.
• Insist on ethical coverage that pays attention to inclusivity and fairness, and ask hard questions about representation and accuracy.

Focus on a broken system, the audience insisted, not piecemeal problem-solving. About 100 attendees raised concerns and proposed solutions at the session, which was opened by Bill Celis, associate director and associate professor at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. I helped guide the conversation with Dori Maynard, president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland, Calif., and Evelyn Hsu, the Maynard Institute’s senior director of programs and operations.

Resources:
UNITY/McCormick Foundation Electronic Clearinghouse for News Diversity
ASNE Newsroom Census (See online category)
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics Digital Journalism Ethics Resources
The Maynard Institute for Journalism Education
Santa Clara University Journalism Program
USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Code

 

Sally Lehrman is a member of the SPJ Diversity Committee. She holds Santa Clara University’s Knight Ridder — San Jose Mercury News Endowed Chair in Journalism and the Public Interest. Sally is also an author and independent journalist who specializes in covering identity, race relations and gender within the context of medicine and science.

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