Node Your Homework
Title: Response Paper 2
Class: Culture of Journalism (JOUR 120a)
Prof: Michael Socolow
Date: 24 October 2002
Notes: There are several defects in this paper. It switches to the first-person a few times. Its scope is very narrow as befitting the assignment. This professor likes lots of textual references and backup for any point, so the level of independent thought is somewhat low. Compounded with the late-night write, and you have a paper that is not one of my finest, probably not even "good," but interesting because the understanding of the issues of objectivity and fairness and the difficulties in implementing them seems to be somewhat lacking from E2. This essay is narrowly focused to deal with the specific issue of racial representation in the newspaper sphere, but the lessons can be applied elsewhere (hence putting it in this node, one that disputes the effectiveness of "diversity").
Response Paper 2
Starting in the 1960s, the mainstream press began to realize that certain stories were not being covered, most prominently the stories of the underprivileged, the inner city, the less educated, and the minority population. With this realization came a drive to diversify newsrooms and fill holes in news coverage. This admirable drive continues to be stifled by a dearth of qualified minority journalists. Despite this ongoing impedance, news organizations press on, and rightly so, in attempts to create parity between the newsrooms and the communities they serve. As explained by both Vanessa Williams in her “Black and White and Red All Over” and Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in their The Elements of Journalism, this drive for diversity should in no way be limited to questions of racial quotas. The drive to diversify the newsroom must be seized as an opportunity to maintain a wide range of views, beliefs, and understandings in order to provide the best coverage to the community.
Williams makes a strong case for the potential for harm to society when newsrooms do not demonstrate a wide range of opinion and thought. By failing to provide accurate, thorough, and balanced coverage, the press, "has abdicated its responsibility to foster an exchange of information and perspectives that is so necessary in a democracy" (Williams, 101). Of course, in theory, a good journalist of any background should be able to cover anything (Kovach, 105). However, with any culture comes certain unintentional bias and skewing, viz:
I think the vast majority of journalists are white and middle-class and that they bring their experiences and prejudices to newsrooms where there are few, if any, checks and balances in the form of journalists who come from different racial and class groups. (Williams, 105)
Kovach and Rosenstiel echo
this sentiment. While they are careful to point out that observable traits serve as "a crude proxy" for ideas, they do believe in the need for many kinds of diversity: intellectual, age, class, gender, religion, and sexual orientation (106). This diversity of thought, culture, and background allows reporters and editors to challenge each others' assumptions and perceptions, resulting in more alanced
With these motivations and goals in mind, news organizations have considered and tried several methods to implement newsroom diversity. Note that this talk of newsroom diversity is, for purposes of this paper, distinct from talk of diversity in sources and the many caveats and cautions that come with what I would call "sourcing by number," or determining sources based solely on filling racial quotas. We are speaking here of diversity in terms of those who report and distribute the news, and we must make a careful distinction between the word "diversity" with its many connotations for both the left and the right and the concept of diversity as it is defined here – as simple social "variety".
Methods of implementation include bonuses for editors based on meeting diversity goals, yearly targets and projections, grants and scholarships for aspiring minority and underprivileged reporters, and internship programs in newsrooms. The ultimate goal of this diversity search is, "to create an intellectually mixed environment where everyone holds firm to the idea of journalistic independence" (Kovach, 108).
It has been difficult for some organizations to meet their targets, but, according to a recent Boston Globe report, much of this is based less on the availability of talented reporters and more on the attitudes of news organizations. Says the Globe, "the hidden variable may be the motivation to change." As of yet there have been no economic effects, positive or negative, on newspapers with better diversity, but some editors argue that their news coverage has improved.
Regardless, the perceived difficulty of having a truly diverse newsroom is not a valid argument for not having one. The Boston Globe quotes Joe Grimm of the Detroit Free Press, a paper that has surpassed its goals for diversity. "A lot of newspaper goals are pretty lofty. One is truth. If we decided that truth is unattainable, that we shouldn't go for it, we'd be in a mess." It is precisely this attitude that seems lacking in some more conservative news organizations, organizations that feel that racial minorities will "color" coverage with liberal viewpoints (See William McGowan, Coloring the News). I would argue that denying coverage from all angles of an issue such as bilingual education or AIDS based on the perception that it is an "immigrant" issue is the worst kind of bias and, dare I say it, racism. These attitudes to me are just ample evidence of the great need for additional diversity in the newsroom.
The most important goal in diversifying the newsroom must be to preserve a commitment to the core values of journalism. Kovach and Rosensteil believe that this thinking is possible within the framework of diversity. Reporters, they assert, can maintain their journalistic values while still having cultural and political views. “When that happens, racial, ethnic, religious, class and ideological backgrounds inform their work, but do not dictate it” (Kovach 107). They call this need for social connection “engaged independence,” the idea of a reporter being dedicated to informing the public about news and issues without being a direct activist.
Diversity as a goal is laudable and as practice is attainable if pursued actively over several years. Why when would one not want it? The Globe reports that only a handful of papers have signed on to the various grant programs that would allow them to hire minority reporters. Williams suggests that many editors see diversity as "something that has to be done to satisfy belligerent interest groups," rather than,
an opportunity to educate their communities and engage new readers. If we don't change our attitudes and practices, newspapers will find it difficult to maintain credibility and relevance in rapidly changing communities and, as a result, newspapers will find it difficult to survive. Diversity is not about being politically correct or caving in to special interest groups. It is about newspapers being just plain correct in reflecting the diversity of their communities and acting to protect their own interest. Otherwise, we will be the ones stuck in a gilded ghetto, cut off from and ignored by a new multicultural country. (115-116)
has a knee-jerk reaction to any liberal-sponsored idea that they see as infringing on basic liberties and practices in favor of propping up alternate ideologies for the purpose of "political correctness
." I would argue, and I think both Williams and Kovach and Rosenstiel would agree, that this issue is not about any of that. It is about basic fairness, and the idea that everyone deserves to be represented in the news, regardless of any outside factor. One of the best ways to do this, although not the only way, is to make sure that a fair proportion of each group is allowed and encouraged to contribute to the news environment. We must remember that America
is a land of immigrants, a land of diverse cultures and values and morals, and that we can only have true representative democracy when all groups have a voice such that the groups in power can recognize their existence and their needs.
The current trend towards newsroom diversity is one of many very needed steps towards a more democratic and representative society.
Williams, Vanessa. "Black and White and Red All Over" The business of journalism :ten leading reporters and editors on the perils and pitfalls of the press /edited by William Serrin. New York : New Press, c2000.
Kovach, Bill. The elements of journalism :what newspeople should know and the public should expect /Bill Kovach & Tom Rosenstiel. New York : Crown Publishers, c2001.
Dedman, Bill. "Newspapers fall short of diversity goal" Boston Globe Boston : Globe Newspaper Company, c4-11-2002.