Inside Report: Diversity urged in media ranks, higher education

By johnny brooks

Assistant Metro Editor

Sally Lehrman, the Knight Ridder/San Jose Mercury News endowed professor in journalism and the public interest at Santa Clara University in California, wrote these words in an essay, “Achieving Academic Diversity Is Like Trying to Move Mountains,” in “Diversity That Works.” They came in a report and recommendations of a conference in May 2008 at LSU:

“Truth may differ according to where you’re standing during a car accident. It may differ according to the neighborhood you live in, whether you have a disability, whether your family crossed the border recently or generations ago. The ‘truth’ we tell as journalists and teachers deeply affects the broader social perceptions of truth. And as a result, it affects decision-making about institutions such as education, criminal justice and access to health care.”

The conference involved Lehrman and other educators or media practitioners discussing what could be done to encourage more diversity in higher education and in the mainstream media: newspapers, television and radio. Diversity covers race, but it also encompasses gender, religion, politics, disabilities, sexual orientation, education, income, socioeconomic status and intellect.

The “mountains” (the perceived roadblocks to achieving diversity in the media) and “the truth” (at least people’s perceptions of the truth) are the focus of a forum, “Diversity in Media: Covering the Total Community,” being presented Monday by the Baton Rouge Area Association of Black Journalists, LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication and Baton Rouge Community College.

Bryan Monroe, editor of CNNPolitics.com, will be the keynote speaker. A veteran journalist and news executive, Monroe led Knight Ridder’s efforts during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, helping the newspaper in Biloxi, Miss., publish throughout the storm and its aftermath. His and the team’s efforts were awarded the 2006 Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for Public Service.

Monroe will be joined on a panel by local media executives and by Josh Grimm, an assistant professor at LSU whose research focuses on representations of race in journalism. Maxine Crump, executive director of Dialogue on Race Louisiana, will be the moderator. The forum, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at BRCC, is free. The panel will field questions.

Forty-five years ago, almost two months before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, the Kerner Commission report was released. It recommended, among other things, that newsrooms do a better job of reflecting their communities in staffing, promotions and coverage by becoming more diverse. Mass communication/journalism was mostly operated, owned and represented by white men and women. That’s the case today.

According to surveys by the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the Radio Television Digital News Association, on average, racial minorities make up about 15 percent of U.S. newsroom staffs.

According to the 2010 Census, racial minorities make up about 36 percent of the U.S. population with that percentage expected to increase by mid-century. So one goal of the Kerner Commission and others has not been achieved.

Have you ever wondered why certain stories make the front page of the newspaper or the first 10 minutes of the television news, if they make it in the paper or on air at all? How does breaking news differ from developing news? Why aren’t all stories on the Web fair, balanced and accurate?

I will be attending the forum — where you can get answers to those and other questions — and that’s the truth.

Johnny Broooks is an assistant Metro editor at The Advocate and an officer with the Baton Rouge Area Association of Black Journalists. His email address is jbrooks@theadvocate.com.