Not-Quite-Live-Blogging at Unity: How Race Has Changed America
Greetings from Chicago! I’m here at Unity, and didn’t get set up for liveblogging in time for this AM’s session on “Is Change in the Air: 1968 to 2008 and Beyond, How Race Has Changed America.” So I took liveblog-style notes and am just posting them now, so you can pretend ;). Hope to really liveblog starting tomorrow.
Basically, it’s 40 years since the Kerner Commission report, and this session sunk its teeth into what has and hasn’t changed since that national call to action on the race divide. Panelists were:
Felix Gutierrez, Professor of Journalism & Communication, USC Annenberg
Dori Maynard, President, Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education
Mark Trahant, Editorial Page Editor, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Helen Zia, Journalist, Scholar & Author, and former Executive Editor, Ms. magazine.
Catch the goodness after the break…
Representation in sourcing is a big issue - it’s not just about who’s reporting. POC are waaaay underreported. Blacks do a little better than others.
Why does this matter? Take recent Jesse Jackson/Obama generational issue - NYT quoted a bunch of white folks, no African Americans.
Recent story on Indian gaming quoted zero Native Americans.
No longer about access to jobs, more about representation, POC seen as troublemakers or “zoo stories” (Cinco de Mayo, Kwanzaa, etc.)
Still no employment parity. Very grateful to the folks who paved the way pre-Kerner. Kerner was revolutionary - it said there were two societies, separate and unequal, and that media was complicit in that division, and that was due to white racism, and something had to be done.
In 10 years we’ve only gained 2 percentage points rep in newsrooms - to 13%. POC will soon be majority in the country!
Newsrooms aren’t saying “diversity” anymore, they’re saying “calamity” -focused on business model only. VERY defensive about the suggestion of racism or bias - hard to even talk about it.
They need to see diversity as PART of a survival strategy business model! If POC aren’t seen as the survival of this industry, the old bosses will be dinosaurs soon.
What are we going to do to turn US around and not ride their backs into obscurity.
Our democracy is at risk if parity in representation doesn’t happen. The danger in unrepresentative media is that people will check out and not participate in the media. What that means is we don’t have a shared narrative.
If participation in the media isn’t effective, there will be other paths. How do we re-write the rules?
Q: What impact does Obama’s campaign have on this issue? There are more POC as analysts on cable now. Is that just temporary?
Dori: This reminds her of what started Kerner. We’re realizing we don’t have staffs that are competent in race and gender. If there were more POC folks at NYer, cover wouldn’t have happened.
Felix: Obama reminds him of POC journalists in 60s. He’s capable, but there’s a question mark over him, b/c the white establishment doesn’t know what’s truly significant about him and what’s not.
Mark: Ironic that people question Obama’s competency when we’ve just elected the worst pres in history
Helen: When someone like Obama becomes our candidate, the questions don’t go beyond race. There are many other ways of looking at the ways POC communities connect with Obama (immigration, etc.). It doesn’t make us human.
Q: 11% to 13% in newsroom — how much does it have to do with substandard education in POC neighborhoods?
Dori: Not much. We’re not heard in newsrooms, we leave at higher than average rates. Newsrooms promote people who look like themselves. Not enough POC in posistions of power for mentoring hiring training.
Q: Talk more about sourcing? Getting diversity of sources across the newsroom?
Helen: Goes back to how curious an editor or producer is about these communities. There’s too much basic ignorance. “We can’t find anybody. We don’t know anybody.” It’s about commitment in the newsroom, and lack of resources to fund getting to know communities.
Mark: Also, it’s a management issue. Requires holding people accountable. People have to be know they’ll be held accountable.
Dori: Internet means there’s no excuse for not developing sources in other neighborhoods and communities. If it’s not happening, it shows a lack of curiosity and journalistic principles.
Q: Felix: what advice would you give to young journos?
Felix: don’t let anybody limit your future or your vision of what you can be. Find allies. Doing it is better than studying it. Look for all opportunities to do it.
The industry financial issues that are happening now are a result of paying too much attention to tech and not enough to demographics.
Q: Dori - Did you look at the online world in terms of hiring and sourcing? Not a lot of POC running major online news sites.
Dori- Didn’t look at online media. They’re doing another study right now that will look at that. It’s true that the majors are very white, but the blogosphere is quite diverse and another entryway into journalism. My dream is that this will become the future mass media for the next generation.
Q: For whoever spoke on complicity - is current complicity more like ignorance, or is it still the same as in 60s?
Helen - there is complicity today. There’s no naming of the problem at all, which is worse than the 60s. “Let’s not talk about this” is almost a conscious policy. If you bring things up the editor gets angry.
The gap is not due to absence of talent, stories, or willing storytellers. It’s about the complicity of not doing anything about it. We must do something about it. What are WE going to do about it?
Felix: Complicity is now somewhere between lip service and benign neglect. Kerner put this on the national agenda. It set an agenda for the FCC (when it was really regulating). Foundations then stepped up. And corporations. Now, we don’t talk about it. POC are the conscious of the industry. We’re still playing Jiminy Cricket. The industry still doesn’t walk its own talk.
Q: For Helen. Diversity works as good business practice. Is Unity working on business plans to use to demonstrate this to the newsroom bosses?
Helen: An institute has been suggested to develop these sort of things. To my knowledge it doesn’t yet exist. I think it’s something we really have to do.
Q: Where do we go from here? What’s one thing each of us could do when we leave the convention?
Dori- We must realize how much power we already have. We need to support our own new media and consider how to grow it.
Mark - Measuring and using those measurements to hold the newsroom accountable
Felix - Each one reach one. Each one teach one. All organizing is local. Your boss may need some education. Do something where you reach one person at a time. Leave people with alternatives. Don’t box them in.
Helen - Try to replicate what we’re doing here at Unity. Create local groups that replicate the goals and actions of this large event, so that we can advocate for each other on the local level so that we don’t make the same mistakes as others have when we get power.