When Jackie Alexander, an assistant director for student media at Clemson University, led a workshop on identity at the College Media Convention in New York City this past spring, Candace Baltz was inspired.
“I had been looking for affordable educational opportunities around inclusion and diversity that we could send our professional and student staff to attend, but kept coming up dry,” Baltz, the director of Orange Media Network at Oregon State University, says.
Alexander, Baltz, and Rachele Kanigel — an associate professor of journalism at San Francisco State University — talked throughout the conference about how to tackle diversity and inclusion in college media. That’s how the Diversity Summit was born.
From Sept. 30 to Oct. 1, College Media Association and Orange Media Network at Oregon State University will host a weekend college media summit on diversity and inclusion. Organizers Alexander, Baltz, and Kanigel answer some questions about the summit and how those who can’t make it can catch up.
Why did you decide on creating your own summit rather than joining another college media convention?
Baltz: This summit will allow us to commit a substantial amount of time to examine multiple facets of a single topic. We couldn’t do that in a single 50-minute time slot, or half or full day pre-con. And even if we could fold each of the summit’s sessions over a four-day conference, we would be putting attendees in the difficult spot of picking whether to learn about removing barriers to inclusion or skills for doing their jobs. This is heavy stuff that deserves full attention without a competing schedule of other sessions in the same time slot.
Kanigel: Jackie Alexander and I and others have led diversity sessions at CMA and ACP (Associated Collegiate Press) conventions, but the issues often get lost in a big convention where we are talking about technology, careers, ethics, visual storytelling and other topics. These can be hard issues to discuss and we wanted to create a special space for processing the intense emotions that often arise when people talk about race, class, gender, identity, and others.
Alexander: It speaks to how important this issue is for our industry. Research has long shown that there is disparity in journalism and it hasn’t gotten much better over that time. It is such a pressing problem for our industry and society, that it deserved full attention in a single event.
What do you think is one of the biggest challenges facing college journalists when it comes to covering diverse issues?
Alexander: Fear. Students are afraid — to fail, to misspeak, to be rejected. Fear of others and fear of failure are the biggest challenges, but we believe that with the summit, we can help them confront and conquer that fear.
Kanigel: From what I’ve seen on my campus and heard from other campuses, a lot of student activists and organization leaders distrust college media and some won’t talk to reporters. It used to be that student activists wanted media coverage; now they sometimes block reporters from covering their events. They want to control the message and they have their own channels — social media, blogs, etc. — to get that message out. Some see college media outlets as part of the system of institutional racism, oppression, etc. (This Atlantic article has more about that.)
What do you feel is one way for college students to better serve diverse communities?
Kanigel: Reporters need to build trust with sources from different communities before they go out to report a story. My staff this semester is embarking on an outreach campaign where reporters and editors will approach different campus groups (including ones that often won’t talk to the campus newspaper) just to talk and find out what’s going on, what kind of coverage these groups would like to see, what’s missing from our coverage. Journalists need to listen and reach out before they need a quote on deadline.
Baltz: Get out and meet your community members where they are, and make a habit of checking in and building relationships with people from all parts of the community. Stop expecting people to come to you. That’s lazy and doesn’t work.
What about diverse college newsrooms and media outlets? How can schools get a variety of different students involved in journalism and media?
Alexander: Targeted recruiting from diverse groups is a start. It’s the easiest way to recruit, but students must stop recruiting just their friends. We use a program with our career center that provides paid on-campus internships where the department is only responsible for half of the students salary (less if they have certain financial aid packages). We intentionally hire diverse students for those internship positions.
Baltz: The first is to identify and remove barriers: Is your newsroom open to students from all majors and backgrounds? Are you sure about that? For example, is there an expectation that students provide their own equipment? Or already have experience? Or work for free? Or pay their own travel to conferences? All of these are fairly typical ways of operating within the tight budgets of college media, but these expectations are problematic when it comes to recruiting and retaining a diverse staff. Some of our best staff members are students who have no professional interest in media, but join because they see the value in sharpening skills that will help them in other professions. And that helps broaden the diversity within the newsroom and its coverage when the staff is made up of students from all majors and interests.
Why should students and advisers alike attend? Who are you hoping shows up?
Baltz: College media and professional media struggle to accurately cover historically underrepresented communities. And we struggle to adequately cover the social unrest around race, gender, class, and religion. We owe our communities informed, educated, and prepared journalists covering these issues, with newsrooms that reflect (and personally know) the diversity of the communities they serve. There will continue to be gaps at the professional level until we fix it at the college level. It starts with us.
Kanigel: We’re planning to touch on issues that haven’t been explored in-depth at any convention or conference before this. I think it will be a rich learning event for both students and advisers. I look forward to having people of different generations there because that’s another aspect of diversity. I think younger people and older people have somewhat different views on diversity issues and it will be great to see students, who are mostly in the millennial generation, and advisers, who tend to be older, share their experiences and perspectives.
How can people follow along if they aren’t in attendance? Will materials be available during or after the summit?
Baltz: Follow along with our hashtag on twitter #CMADiversity. We will be rolling video on the entire summit. We haven’t yet decided how to make that available later on.
Can a summit like this be done on a professional level? What steps need to be taken to get this done?
Kanigel: I’d love to see professional media really take on the issue of diversity in the newsroom. Currently, only 12 to 13 percent of newsroom jobs are held by people of color, according to ASNE, while people of color make up about 37 percent of the population. (Radio and TV are somewhat more diverse, according to RTDNA. I haven’t seen numbers for online media but lack of diversity is obviously a big problem in the tech sector.) I’ve talked to countless editors who say their staff is not as diverse as they’d like but I don’t see them making a concerted effort to change that.
Baltz: A summit like this needs to be done on a professional level. It starts with identifying what gaps we have in coverage, in staffing, and who the experts are in providing context, tools, ideas, and solutions. [We] prioritize newsroom convenience over accurately capturing the importance of the moment. So yes, our professional industry needs a summit, a hard look in the mirror, and an ongoing conversation on how we can do better.
…so give me a call, I’ll be happy to help.