Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures
In our annual journalism edition, we always take a look at how the industry is faring on the recruitment and retention of minority journalists. This year’s American Society of Newspaper Editors’ annual newsroom census reports a nearly half of one percentage point increase in diversity in U.S. newsrooms, making it the third consecutive year that the organization has reported a nearly half a percentage point increase in the number of minorities on staff at U.S. daily newspapers. Needless to say, the minority journalism associations are not impressed with these numbers, and the data for minorities in the broadcast news work force does not look much better.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and or innovative approaches, which is just what the Freedom Forum has done. The Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation “dedicated to free press, free speech and free spirit for all people,” has taken on the task of diversifying American newsrooms by training primarily mid-career adults to be journalists. For 12 intense weeks, the Diversity Institute fellows are trained by and exposed to the best in the field and then are turned over to a sponsoring newspaper to begin their reporting careers. Many of the participating newspapers, prior to the arrival of their institute fellow(s), did not have the benefit of having a journalist of color on staff. The institute, which has now produced approximately 40 new journalists, is a good example of what can be achieved when there’s genuine commitment to diversity.
During the last few years, the media have been busy reporting on their own journalistic failings, from the Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times to the recent departure of former USA Today war correspondent Jack Kelley for his fraudulent reporting. Many minority journalists have noted that people, and in many cases the news media, were quick to blame affirmative action in the Blair incident, making that particular story about race. But when journalists such as USA Today’s Kelley or Stephen Glass, formerly of the New Republic, get caught for plagiarizing or just the good old-fashioned fabrication of stories, the internal investigations cite a “culture of fear” in the newsroom or better yet, and probably the most honest explanation, lax fact checking allowed these journalists to go undetected for as long as they did. Dr. Lee Thornton, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland, ironically the school Blair and Kelley attended, weighs in on the role journalism schools have in repairing the bruised image of the news media.
Finally, we say farewell to associate editor Robin Smiles who is leaving us to dedicate more time to her doctoral studies. I’m sure many of you have been in Robin’s shoes and understand the balancing act of career vs. academic pursuits. But at some point, all of us have to surrender to the people and or projects that need us the most at that particular time. Robin has been an invaluable member of Black Issues’ editorial team for three years. We wish her only the best, and we’re confident that someday she’ll be able to say she not only edited the magazine, she was featured in it. You can read more about Robin’s journey to the Ph.D. in the “Last Word.”
Hilary Hurd Anyaso
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