(Guest Blog by Pashtana Usufzy/UNLV SPJ President)
As president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Society of Professional Journalists, I find myself in charge of planning quite a few events. When the time came to hold our first member meeting of the spring semester, I desperately needed ideas. While clicking on every link on the SPJ website, I ran across a copy of the organization’s mission.
Hoping for ideas, I read through it.
We’d held a meeting on service a few weeks earlier, and a First Amendment discussion seemed a little intense for the first meeting. (“Here’s your pizza and soda. Now, quick, which freedoms are guaranteed by the First Amendment?) I kept scrolling down — “foster excellence … inspire successive generations … encourage diversity in journalism.”
Diversity — now that I could work with.
The topic stood out. UNLV has consistently been ranked as one of the most diverse college campuses in the country. We have students from every walk of life. We represent numerous countries, religions, ethnicities — different genders and sexual orientations. It made sense for our chapter to ask: Where’s the diversity in the local journalism field? What role does that play in the politics of the newsroom, and is our news as inclusive as it should be?
Our board members went to work. We began planning and advertising a discussion on the diversity of our community and our local news market. I invited Antonio Planas of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Chris Saldaña, a local broadcast news personality, to be our speakers.
On the day of, I was nervous. Our meeting didn’t have a huge turnout; I blamed myself for picking a Friday morning meeting date and expecting college kids to be awake. The members who were there, however, wanted to get the meeting going, and our speakers said the students deserved their attention.
We didn’t draw in a classroom full of students, but our speakers made such a tremendous impact upon the students who did attend.
Planas and Saldaña played off of each other so well. They discussed their own experiences as Hispanic journalists covering the news. They talked about missteps by reporters in covering our city’s diverse population, and they told us to embrace our own diversity and bring it to our reporting.
They described efforts to make colleagues aware of potentially offensive characterizations of minorities, but they also described how important it is for all groups to participate in the discussion on diversity.
They asked each student: Who are you, and what kind of diversity do you bring to the table?
I’ll admit it: I sometimes have a hard time speaking up in a newsroom full of much more experienced writers. Saldaña and Planas assured me that my opinion could help shed light on an overlooked group. It’s better to speak up, they said, than to be embarrassed by an inaccurate story or have your news organization appear out of touch.
They emphasized that we as journalists must examine the diversity of our environment, especially in a state with such an increasingly diverse population.
As student SPJ leaders, we try to bring the lessons SPJ emphasizes to the attention of our campus. We want members to get a taste of the professional world, but we also hope they’ll discover a bit of the kind of journalist they’d like to be. Our speakers that day helped us accomplish our goal.
Our attendees stayed afterward to discuss how they felt about the panel. Our small group of students could now raise questions, share its views with others.
Most importantly, the discussion could keep going, and that meant more to us than anything.
(Pashtana Usufzy/UNLV SPJ President organized this event earlier this Spring)