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SPJ's Diversity Blog » journalism | A Society of Professional Journalists Blog

Posts Tagged ‘journalism’


Lynching story fails to identify race of all involved

If we don’t know our history, it is said, we are doomed to repeat it.

The New York Times published a story Feb. 10 that revealed some of the ugly history of the United States of America. A new report documents the lynchings of 4,000 human beings, black people tortured and killed by mobs of white people in 12 Southern U.S. states.

These African-American citizens were attacked and murdered for minor offenses or for doing nothing at all. Some of the killings took place less than a century ago. The Times’ story noted that the organization that compiled the report, the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, plans to erect markers and memorials at the sites of these horrific injustices.

What the Times story did not note was the race of the perpetrators. Vox, and later, Jezebel, called out the nation’s leading newspaper for failing to use the word “white” in its story, as if white, Caucasian people are not a race.

“This sort of oversight is in no way something that only happens in The New York Times or that only happens in the media,” wrote Jenée Desmond-Harris for Vox. “But this is the most recent example of the clunky awkwardness that accompanies discussions about the ways white supremacy shaped our nation’s history.”

Desmond-Harris’ point draws out a common blind spot in our reporting on race. Because media workers overwhelmingly are white, we tend to consider white, Anglo people as the norm, and not as a race, which surely we are.

When we point out that innocent black people were killed by mobs who watched and taunted and don’t identify the race of the people who did the killing, we diminish our own role in the oppression. (Full disclosure: I am white).

A theory called incognizant racism asserts that whites often overlook the concerns and interests of non-white people in favor of their own values and advantages in society. In newsrooms, this incognizant racism can help to uphold the status quo, which continues to favor whites.

If journalists are to be the watchdogs of society, who uphold the truth, it is important that we tell the whole truth. That includes pointing out the role of white people in the sometimes horrific racial history of our nation.

Everbach_head shotTracy Everbach is associate professor of journalism in the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas.

Health Affects All Of Us: Covering the Affordable Care Act

A little over a year ago, I didn’t know much about health insurance, except that I had it. Well that all changed when I was assigned to cover the Affordable Care Act in 2013.

In Nevada, we have a state based exchange, and our state figures showed many Nevadans didn’t have health insurance, especially in the Latino community.

When the insurance came online through the exchange, the learning process started rolling.

Much like the reports we heard about healthcare.gov, there were also problems in enrolling through the Nevada exchange Nevada Health Link. The process moved forward, and people were enrolled, but not as many as projected.

There lies a situation yet to be uncovered. For those in communities across the country who chose not to enroll, or missed the deadlines, penalties are coming. It will show up when people start filing their taxes.

Courtesy: clipartbest.com

For those journalists assigned to cover the ACA or health insurance, the stories are numerous. It’s not too late to start, as open enrollment begins its second year.

Lower income communities will be impacted greatly by the new federal law requiring all Americans to have health insurance. Whether they buy a plan through the exchange in their state, or qualify for Medicaid, they must enroll.

To learn more about insurance issues, find the navigators, or insurance brokers in your communities. They can guide you to further understand the intricacies.

What are the efforts being done to disseminate this information in other languages? In Nevada, there was great need to explain and to help people enroll who speak Spanish.

This additional expense will impact families’ budgets, another factor to consider in decisions to enroll or not. Hospitals and doctors offices will also be impacted by the new influx of patients who are now insured.

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Courtesy: clipartbest.com

The issue is not without controversy. Whether people believe mandated affordable insurance is a dream come true, or is a bad idea, it’s still in effect.

Those involved with providing the insurance through the federal government, or through the individual states that wanted to operate their own exchanges, now have at least one year of experience under their belts.

With glitches, complications, and other frustrations that evolved during the first year of enrollment, government insurance leaders, and insurance carriers are hoping for a smoother ride with this second year rolling out.
Covering this activity has become a new beat in newsrooms and if your newsroom hasn’t designated a reporter to this topic, this would be a great beat to grab. The impact of insurance on the community is far-reaching, and the stories are numerous. Health affects all of us, and this is an arena that will continue to grow.

Sandra Gonzalez

Sandra Gonzalez

 

Sandra Gonzalez is former SPJ Diversity Committee Chair, and is a general assignment reporter at KSNV-TV in Las Vegas.

@SandraGonzalez2

sandragonzalezthereporter@gmail.com

 

 

Make Your Call on the Washington Football Team Name

american-football-151765_150The NFL’s Washington Redskins have been around since 1932. The team’s nickname has been discussed, disputed and disparaged for a long time as well. In writing this column, I debated whether to use it.

In mid-June, the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office announced that it was tearing up the team’s trademark registration, finding that it was “disparaging to Native Americans” and thus could no longer be given trademark protection.

Is avoiding the term advocacy?

Team owner Daniel Snyder is on the record saying he will never change the team’s name and fans and supporters – including some Native Americans – embrace the name. Journalists and media outlets have taken a stand on the issue themselves.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, the Washington Post’s Christine Brennan and NBC’s Bob Costas are some of the most prominent journalists who have called for a name change. On the other side, Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly has voiced support for the name.

The Pew Research Center reported last year that 76 journalists and news outlets such as The Oregonian (whose policy dates back to 1992), the San Francisco Chronicle, Slate and the New Republic have decided not to use the nickname. Poynter recently compiled its own list.

But is this kind of advocacy media outlets should be taking? Some argue that media outlets have always set a limit on terms that they consider offensive to readers, viewers and listeners. For example, refusal to use the n-word is nearly universal in American news media.

Others, though, argue that the term has long been part of the American lexicon, used by some Native Americans themselves. Changing it, they say, would simply give in to the “politically correct” police.

And yet opposition to the name from such organizations as the National Congress of American Indians and the Oneida Nation continues to grow – and is becoming more difficult for the news media to ignore.

If it offends, stop using it

So how should media outlets handle the Washington mascot controversy?

Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial page editor Mark Trahant, who is now the Atwood Journalism chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said it should be an easy call – if it offends, stop using it.

“With Washington you don’t have to go beyond the dictionary; (the) word is defined as a slur,” said Trahant, a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock tribe, in an interview via social media. “I remember repeating the R-word as a kid, early 60s. My dad told me that’s a word we don’t use. One test for journalists: Would you use the word in a community of Natives where you are not known? If no, then keep it out of sports pages.”

A Native American Studies professor and former journalism professor, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, wrote in an email that she believes the media’s role is to be a leader on the issue.

“What should media outlets do? The right thing,” she said. “I can’t believe there’s an editor alive who doesn’t know this term is offensive to many and for good reasons, both historic and contemporary. Hasn’t the public often relied on the media to set the moral high bar, provide guidance for ethical, responsible behavior and decision-making? Why stop short now?”

At the very least, every newsroom should have a brutally honest discussion about the name. More importantly – journalists must get beyond their comfort zone, take a stand and make a call whether or not to use the term.


Clyde Hughes is a freelance journalist based in Lafayette, Indiana, who wrote many years for the Toledo Blade. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites around the country and taught courses on covering minorities in the media and media ethics as an adjunct professor.

Donald Sterling: Not Just an Angel vs. Devil Story

There’s a lot that can be said of the saga involving Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. While the subject is a target-rich environment for news articles on diversity, sometimes we can get so homed in on the bad guy/good guy aspect that we miss other credible angles.

I attended a reporting on race workshop at the Poynter Institute in 2000 run by Keith Woods, who is now the vice president for diversity in news and operations at National Public Radio. One of the numerous takeaways I remember was that we as reporters often get locked into what he called “angel vs. devil” scenarios when reporting on race.

Reach for Complexity
The person making the perceived racial comment or taking the action is seen as evil, thus everything that person does or has done is viewed through that lens. Likewise, the victim of the perceived racial slight is almost always viewed more sympathetically, and is given a more supportive treatment. Woods tried to get us to step away from that paradigm and look at people involved in racial conflicts in all of their complexities.

That does not mean that Donald Sterling is not worthy of the critical reporting he has received. But reporters should not shy away from the complexities of the story. How does person who through his own words has such a negative view of African-Americans hire such a successful and strong-willed black coach as Doc Rivers? Or, on a more personal level, date a multiracial woman like V. Stiviano?

Likewise, how do we as reporters not critically look at Stiviano’s motives in recording Sterling?

Fresh angles on mental health, ethics

And how does our assessment of Sterling’s comments change if the “mentally incompetent” label sticks?

The initial reporting on the Sterling case brought up his contributions to the local branch of the NAACP and how the group had planned to give him a lifetime achievement award. I had a debate with other journalists on Facebook about this. Some believed the NAACP should never have taken money from Sterling. Others said fundraising is so difficult, especially for African-American and civil rights organizations, that Sterling’s generosity could be considered a “sin tax” and that the NAACP should have gladly accepted it.

That’s just one example of numerous angles that can be mined from the Sterling saga without getting into the “he said, she said” melodrama of the original story. At times we get so caught up in the tawdry details of the “angels vs. devils” that we miss other worthy topics.


Clyde Hughes is a freelance journalist based in Lafayette, Indiana, who wrote many years for the Toledo Blade. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites around the country and taught courses on covering minorities in the media and media ethics as an adjunct professor.

Affordable Care Act Deserves Attention While Congress Loafs (or Plots)

Who’s News is inviting top journalists and journalism educators to share their thoughts on inclusion in the news. Here, public radio journalist Cheryl Devall urges attention to the Affordable Care Act.

A recent newscast reminding me that Congress was off for its five-week summer Capitolbreak prompted me to sigh over the kitchen sink, perhaps like many a wage-earner sighed. In the world’s biggest economy, five entire weeks off the job is a luxury only lawmakers and the super-wealthy can enjoy.

Most folks with jobs in this country are lucky to land one paid week’s vacation, two at most, not to mention paid sick leave and holidays. On behalf of those hard-working people, elected representatives might want to think hard about the way they plan to spend this recess. The loyal opposition has ordered its troops to use their time strategizing and rallying constituents against the federal Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

The Republicans’ directive reminds me of a pivotal moment right after the unexpected death of Chicago’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington, on Thanksgiving eve 1987. As Chicagoans absorbed the shock and the mayor’s staff scrambled to arrange the equivalent of a state funeral, Washington’s adversaries spent the holiday weekend plotting to resume political business as usual as quickly as possible.

By the time people who’d loved Harold had dried their eyes, the fix was in. The opposition had effectively applied Mother Jones’ admonition, “Don’t mourn, organize,” for its benefit. In the next weeks, similar activities among U.S. House Republicans could help to derail this nation’s most vigorous effort toward healthcare equality – toward delivering people from the worry that a medical crisis may lead to financial ruin.

Seems to me that those who want to preserve Obamacare would do well to exchange time in their summer havens for a spell at the barricades. They might want to work on bolstering public opinion and deflecting attacks on the United States’ opportunity to join the rest of the industrialized world in making healthcare as much of a human right as generous paid vacation time.

Journalists can take advantage of the often-quiet month of August to re-introduce audiences to their neighbors of all colors whose lives could change for the better or worse with the Affordable Care Act.

We don’t have to look far. It’s a good guess that someone at next weekend’s barbecue, down the street or in the supermarket checkout stand (possibly at the cash register) has an affecting and illustrative story to tell.

That kind of journalism could help set the stage for an informed and lively national debate as summer recedes and representatives return to Capitol Hill.

The writer is a veteran public radio journalist who lives in Los Angeles.

Journalists visit UNLV: say embrace our own diversity

(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.

UNLV's SPJ Chapter had broadcast news journalist Chris Saldaña and reporter Antonio Planas visit to discuss diversity in the news.

UNLV’s SPJ Chapter had broadcast news journalist Chris Saldaña and reporter Antonio Planas visit to discuss diversity in the news.

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)

 

Using More Women As Sources

When I began studying journalism at the graduate level in the late ‘90s, I realized I had been blind.

As journalists, we don’t think much about the sources we use in stories every day; we just try to cover the news and meet our deadlines. But actually studying the content of newspapers, online news and broadcast news can be eye-opening.

Overall, repeated studies show, women make up 33 percent of news sources in the United States, even though they make up 51 percent of the population. In front-page news, women constitute only one-fourth of the sources.

A well-circulated graphic during the 2012 election season showed that women were not even the majority of sources in coverage of so-called “women’s issues” such as abortion, birth control and women’s rights.

The only type of news in which women sources are equitable to men is in features and lifestyles sections.

Why is this a problem? When women are marginalized, it makes it more difficult for them to gain power in society.  The lack of women sources also affects women journalists and their ability to be taken seriously in covering hard news.

Women continue to make up only about 37 percent of newspaper and online newsroom staffs, according to the American Society of News Editors, and about 40 percent of television newsroom workers, according to the Radio Television Digital News Association.

With cutbacks in newsrooms, change has been slow. These percentages have remained steady since the 1990s.

Awareness is the first step. After that, both male and female journalists can make an effort to include women sources in their stories.

How to find them? Here are some links that will help:

SheSource.org: Affiliated with the Women’s Media Center, it offers female experts on a wide range of topics. They are available to comment or to be booked on broadcast shows.

The Op-Ed project: An educational and practical project designed to increase women’s voices in opinion pieces and other commentary.

Women in Media and News: Works with journalists to increase women’s presence in the news media.

 The Gender Report: Monitors coverage of gender in Internet news.

Everbach_head shot

More efforts and organizations are out there. Please add them—and yourself—to the conversation.
Tracy Everbach, Ph.D., is associate professor of journalism at the University of North Texas. She also is a former newspaper reporter for The Dallas Morning News and Boston Herald.

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.

ABC News Fellowship: Journalists of Diverse Backgrounds Apply Now

abcABC News is starting a fellowship program aimed at preparing up-and-coming journalists for television news.  The news network plans to choose participants from a variety of different  racial, ethnic, socio-economic and geographic backgrounds. Each fellow will work closely with an experienced ABC News mentor.

I have high hopes for this fellowship.  Kudos to ABC News for making an effort to find fellows from diverse backgrounds.

The chosen fellows will be offered:

  • Rotation among several ABC News departments and broadcasts.
  • Development of editorial, news gathering and production skills.
  • Work closely with assigned news mentor at ABC.

ABC News President Ben Sherwood says the network is committed in recruiting, developing, empowering and promoting the industry’s future leaders.  The news network hopes to start this program on July 2, 2012.

What you need to qualify:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Solid writing skills
  • Shooting and video editing experience
  • Minimum two years experience
  • Proficient in Spanish is preferred

Fellows will be employees of ABC News for one year.  For more information: ABC Fellowship.

Rebecca Aguilar is an Emmy award winning freelance reporter based in Dallas, TX.  She’s a board member with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and SPJ Fort Worth Chapter. She’s also the vice chair of the SPJ Diversity Committee.

 

Trayvon Martin Shooting Death: Evaluating and Improving Crime Reporting

Photo Courtesy: Paul Weiskel

Once again we find ourselves caught short. Why did it take news media across the country a couple of weeks to notice that a black teenager had been shot by a vigilante in a gated community? In our sometimes clumsy efforts to catch up (see NBC’s hideous editing error), some accuse the media of hyping the racial element.

That’s absurd, and here’s why. When three-quarters of black people surveyed consider racial bias a factor in the killing and in the non-arrest of the shooter, you’d better believe race is important to this story. It’s no secret that black parents fear for their children, knowing that suspicion routinely follows young males with black skin, wherever they are.  In a study of unconscious racial reactions, experimental psychologists found people of all backgrounds more likely to “see” a weapon in a black person’s hand when it’s actually a harmless object like a can of soda.

Distressingly, our own work is part of the reason why.  Decades ago, communication theorist George Gerbner first described the “Mean World Syndrome.” In his studies, he discovered that people exposed to heavy doses of violence on television developed an overblown sense of danger and fear about the world around them. Despite our best intentions, we’re part of that picture.

In the crime stories so favored by the local news, multiple studies have found that race plays a predictable but inaccurate role. White people disproportionately play the victim. People with darker skin disproportionately flash on the screen as suspects. News audiences have become so conditioned that even when no suspect is shown at all, viewers assume one — and he is black.

In one influential study, Frank Gilliam of UCLA and Shanto Iyengar of Stanford University altered the suspect’s race in crime news clips that they showed to about 2,300 participants. In the test group whose clip included no suspect at all, 44 percent recalled seeing a black perpetrator. Regular news watching also increased audiences’ support for punitive remedies to crime.

Separately, researcher Travis Dixon, now also at UCLA, found that African Americans are consistently overrepresented as perpetrators in local crime news. Not surprisingly, he also found that regular crime news watchers tended to perceive black people as violent.

Photo Courtesy: Paul Weiskel

In this moment, it’s important for the news media to step up to our responsibility to cover and spur conversation about America’s racial climate. Let’s also use this moment to consider hard questions about how we help to create it.

Digging Deeper into a Story

Some things you can do, based on experimental psychology research and other sources:

  • Avoid snap judgments in your reporting; that’s when reactive biases are most likely to emerge.
  • Form anti-bias strategies, like consciously pursuing stories about young African American men who are heroes or protectors of safety.
  • Evaluate crime stories by the level of community impact, and place them in social context of root causes and potential solutions.
  • Cross-check victim/perpetrator ratios by race within your own news reports. Do they reflect actual police statistics?
  • Check your sources. Are you including perspectives across the fault lines of race, gender and age? Who is the affected community? Is there more than one?

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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