Commit to and plan for diversity: we've provided our readers a steady diet of diversity; consequently they focus more on a columnist's point of view. (Diversity of Opinion).
On the opinion pages at the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York, sticking to that formula has resulted in a culture change. Diversity is an expectation, not just during annual Martin Luther King celebrations or Black History Month in February, but day in and day out.
As editorial page editor the past 10 years, I've made diversity a part of the fabric of our opinion pages. No longer does my phone ring, for instance, when more than one syndicated columnist who happens to be African American or female appears on the same day. I like to think that's because we've provided our readers a steady diet of diversity over the years. Consequently, they focus more on a columnist's point of view.
There also is usually a diverse mix of essayists and letter writers on our op-ed page. And I make a concerted effort daily to touch a broad base of reader interests in our three daily editorials.
Here's what works for me:
Editorial writers understand that attention to diversity and issues affecting people of color is a priority -- a top one. They know that they're expected to consider the implication of issues for the broadest range of people. People who might ordinarily be overlooked typically have a voice in our discussions.
Like most newspapers, we want to attract more younger readers. So it's not unusual to see editorials on a regular basis that comment on, say, hip-hop music or young working mothers.
I choose columns daily from several wire services and a stable purchased separately. Special buys don't get preferential treatment. I don't schedule certain columnists for certain days; they all must compete for the three slots we offer daily.
As I make the selections, I look for pieces that are topical, of course. But I also think about how that next day's page will look. I want a good mix of race, gender, and subjects. Occasionally, that may mean three women or three columnists of color. A page could consist of Leonard Pitts, Michelle Malkin, and Ruben Navarette. But almost daily, our readers, who are heavily white in our region and 60% minority in the city of Rochester, can expect at least one columnist of color.
I've found that the Progressive Media Project, which specializes in providing minority voices, is a dependable source for diverse viewpoints. Recently I used a piece that was written by a Latina woman involved in a strike by janitors in Boston. Reader response was terrific.
Our op-ed or Speaking Out page is one of the newspaper's most popular. It's a full page (no ads) that usually features three daily essays from readers and letters. In many ways, this page is our community's public square. Because that's so, I believe that it's important to reflect the total community So while we have no problems getting regular submissions, there continues to be a problem getting pieces from people of color. And we're actively working on it. In fact, there are now more of these pieces than ever. One reason that's so is that people of color see themselves on our pages more often. Consequently, more unsolicited essays from this segment of our readership are being submitted and published.
Too, the Speaking Out editor understands that she can't simply stand by the fax machine or await e-mail or regular mail from our black, Latino, Native American, and Asian readers. She has to go after them. That means visiting schools and community groups and working the phones to get these submissions.
Occasionally, we place a box on the Speaking Out page that asks readers to respond to a particular topic. While the response is generally good, typically there are few people of color in the pack. This situation calls for affirmative action. The Speaking Out editor is expected to find people of color to add to the mix. It's understood that a special page featuring reader responses with photos of people all of the same race or gender is not acceptable.
Including diverse voices is a critical part of the planning process for special projects. From day one, we're thinking how we can mix it up. Most recently the editorial board completed a major project that focused on Medicare and retiring baby boomers. It was no coincidence that African Americans and Latinos were featured throughout our week-long report. It was planned. And though the execution wasn't easy, the result was well worth the effort. The total Rochester region was reflected in our work.
Editorial boards that truly want to be in touch with their communities must be committed to diversity. A nod here and there is just that--a nod. It's transparent; it's insulting. Make diversity a priority.
NCEW member James F. Lawrence is editor of the editorial pages of the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York. E-mail him at Jlawrence@Rochester DandC.com
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|Author:||Lawrence, James F.|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2002|
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