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Minority voices sound like one hand clapping.

THE ONLY NCEW conference I've attended was in Orlando in 1990, at a time -- and in the state -- where the debate over 2 Live Crew, censorship, and obscenity in music was at its peak. That issue was woven into the year's program and became a centerpiece of conference debate.

It was an incident related to that topic that came to mind when I was asked to write about NCEW from a minority perspective.

One of the invited speakers in Orlando, a white woman, had veered off from the legal ramifications of suppressing raunchy lyrics to disparage rap music in general, mocking it as having no redeeming musical or social value.

It was the sort of sweeping generalization -- about an important strand of contemporary African-American culture -- that one wouldn't expect to go unchallenged if said about classical music. I looked around the room, expecting a rebuttal from someone with a better grounding in rap than I had, but there was none. The overwhelmingly white, middle-aged group apparently didn't relate to rap. So I said something.

Where is the voice of diversity?

But the incident spoke louder about the lack of minority representation than the mere absence of faces of color in attendance -- although that, too, was notable. If this group represented the nation's opinion-makers and agenda-setters, then where was the voice representing young African-Americans among them?

Granted, that was in 1990, but I suspect things haven't drastically changed since then. I also suspect that in the under-representation of minorities, the organization is just slightly worse off than are editorial pages generally.

It goes without saying that editorial writers of color miss out on an important opportunity to network, and exchange information and ideas and career-related contacts when they're not in organizations like NCEW. But equally significant is how badly the organization and its members miss out.

That deficiency is reflected in the missing perspectives on a whole gamut of issues -- from rap music to the death penalty, from the presidential campaign trail to the L.A. riots, to international affairs. Since the exchange of new ideas on such issues is an integral part of what members take back from NCEW conferences, everyone misses out when the perceptions of people of color are not part of the mix.

That's an extension of the inadequate representation an editorial page gives its readers when there are no people of color helping to shape editorial positions, assign op-ed pieces, or write columns. It's no secret that institutional opinions are shaped by the backgrounds and world views of those who write them.

Part of the problem -- the lack of minorities on editorial pages generally -- isn't entirely within the power of NCEW to fix, although the organization has been making a concerted effort to recruit more minority members and include diversity sessions at many of its get-togethers. Morgan McGinley, who headed NCEW's Minority Affairs Committee for six years, says he's not satisfied with the numbers.

Even with more editorial writers of color joining the ranks, they are often the most recent hires and therefore less likely to be selected by their newspapers for NCEW memberships, or to attend the conferences. To address that problem, some enlightened editorial page editors have established rotating memberships and send their writers on a revolving basis. That's how I was able to attend while employed at The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y. Other ways of drawing in minorities may be for NCEW to offer minority scholarships for attending the convention, foreign tours, and other seminars.

There are signs that things are improving. It's becoming common for editors to seek out minority and female candidates when there's an editorial page opening. Sometimes that means looking in non-traditional areas, like alternative newspapers or Hispanic or African-American publications. The organization has come a long way in increasing the ranks of women as members and officers, so there is reason to be optimistic that it will also become a more multi-cultural organization.

NCEW member Rekha Basu is an editorial writer and columnist at The Des Moines Register.
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Title Annotation:In Search of Diversity: The Masthead Symposium; minority issues in the National Conference of Editorial Writers' conventions
Author:Basu, Rekha
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Previous Article:Join hands with other organizations.
Next Article:Pull outsiders in through window of opportunity.

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