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Pushing for change: educators find new ways to teach diversity and multiculturalism in journalism schools.

Venise Wagner was unprepared for student reaction to covering race.

The assistant professor of journalism at San Francisco State University (SFSU) assigned her Civic Journalism class last fall to develop a project on Bayview Hunter's Point, San Francisco's largest predominantly African-American community.

The first assignment was to cover a meeting of residents and activists who expressed concerns about racism and environmental injustice in the low-income neighborhoods where some 35,000 blacks, Latinos and Asians live. Wagner hoped the discussion would lay the groundwork for the larger reporting project.

But despite the outpouring of community sentiment, only a few students incorporated race as an important element of the story. As she pushed students to report what had occurred at the meeting, tension mounted in the class. Finally, in one class, students acknowledged they were uncomfortable reporting about racial issues.

"Some white students said they did not know how to write about racism in that they [did not know] it existed in society" said Wagner, a former reporter for the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle.

Wagner said she used the experience as a basis for class discussion about the role of race in the community and that most of the students later "came around" to understanding the importance of race to the Bayview Hunters Point story. But she said the students' initial uneasiness in covering the community's concerns was a stark reminder that the knowledge and skills required to report stories about diversity and multiculturalism are not well developed in today's journalism students--or in the news industry.

Wagner is among many educators and industry leaders who say that preparing students to cover a country and world that is increasingly multicultural and diverse is journalism education's most pressing and vexing challenge. The nation's journalism schools have made progress in recent years in developing courses and curricula to address diversity, but news coverage that accurately reflects society will continue to be elusive unless schools move much more aggressively, educators and industry leaders say.

Progress has been hindered by issues of how and where to incorporate diversity into the curriculum, difficulties in forcing students out of "comfort zones," faculty resistance to addressing race and ethnicity in the classroom, and poor leadership.


Many educators and industry professionals are sharply critical of journalism education and say efforts to date are insufficient to ensure that journalists are prepared to report news that is shaped by a wide range of racial, cultural and other differences. They argue that schools need a more structured approach and a greater commitment to teaching students about diversity--and that anything less jeopardizes accurate, fair and balanced coverage.

"For far too long, the issue of diversity [education] has taken a back seat in journalism schools," said Sherrie Mazingo, Cowles Media Fellow at the University of Minnesota's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. "We are continuing to talk about this issue, and that is good. But how long is the talk going to go on before journalism education takes more aggressive action?"

Jerry Ceppos, Knight Ridder's vice president for news and president of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC), said "journalism education needs a new push and focus that places diversity at its center. Neither journalism education--as the pipeline for most new hires--nor the news industry (in educating and training professionals) has a record to be proud of."

ACEJMC sets standards for the review of schools that seek accreditation. Ceppos has served on the council for a decade and also heads the Journalism Education Committee of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Ceppos emphasized that while the successes in diversity and multicultural education at schools are many and commendable, failures are common. He said programs are stalled due to a lack of focus, creative ideas and leadership as well as budget cutbacks. "Change will take focus and enormous energy in the face of those who say it cannot or should not be done," he said. But Ceppos insists "No journalism school can say today that it is doing a good job unless it is meeting the diversity criteria established for accredited programs."

Caesar Andrews, editor of Gannett News Service and a member of ACEJMC, said that schools are doing more to advance diversity than ever, but that the main Failure at most schools is that "diversity has not been properly seeded in the curriculum. That is where programs have control, and the truth is that (curriculum) is really more important than anything else."

Andrews said schools "should be driving this (diversity) home in the classroom but are not making the connection to content in topics discussed and course work.... I am amazed at the laggards--by the institutions and departments that do not seem to grasp what this (diversity) is all about."

Mercedes Lynn de Uriarte, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas-Austin, said a "more searching dialogue about diversity must take place for journalism education schools to move beyond the status quo" She is the lead author of a study released in March and funded by the Ford Foundation that takes journalism education as well as the news industry to task for its diversity failures.

De Uriarte said journalism education has failed to provide--through course requirements and content--the intellectual diversity students need as a foundation to cover the complexities of race and culture. Schools also have turned a simple problem into a complicated one, she said. Diversity "does not take money for travel or consultants," she said. It does require self-education on the part of individual faculty, commitment by more than one or two people in programs, leadership and accountability, de Uriarte said.

Gerald J. Baldasty, professor and chair of the University of Washington's Department of Communication, said: "Everybody has lots of good reasons why they have not done more, reasons why they cannot do more and really good reasons why more cannot be done more quickly. But when it comes down to it, those are excuses. For us to be having this conversation in 2003 is the real indicator of where we are--not where we should be"


Educators and news professionals who were interviewed by Quill acknowledge that the diversity dilemma begins at the most basic level: how broadly "diversity" should be defined in preparing the next generation of journalists. Many of those interviewed say there are several important distinctions in society, but the priority should be educating students to cover differences in race, ethnicity and gender.

"Some have argued for a broader definition, but I am inclined against that," Ceppos said. "The news industry and journalism education have not succeeded with the original problems (in reflecting race, ethnicity and gender) so we want to keep the focus there.... To some extent, some of the other (diversity) issues such as class rise out of ethnic and racial problems."

But others ask why journalism education shouldn't also be focused on educating students to cover other groups that are diverse--for example, religious groups, gays and lesbians, or the disabled.

According to the 2000 census, one of five individuals in the country has a physical or mental disability. Yet Suzanne Levine, executive director of the National Center on Disability and Journalism (NCDJ), said journalism education has paid scant attention to disability coverage.

"It is important to know how disability issues affect society and what kind of questions to ask--about tax dollars, health care policy and civil rights," said Levine, who hopes a broader definition of diversity will emerge. The NCDJ provides resources for journalism educators, students and reporters about covering the disabled.

Everette Dennis, Felix Larkin Distinguished Professor at Fordham's Graduate School of Business, said journalism education and the news industry "should look afresh at the expanding definition of diversity. The population is getting older, and other changes in world demographics need to be addressed. If race, ethnicity and gender are the only focus, other critical subjects could go uncovered by the news media." Dennis is a former president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and former senior vice president of The Freedom Forum.


For those J-schools that have deemed to incorporate more multicultural (some educators prefer the terms intercultural or cross-cultural) training into their programs, the challenge is to find the best way to work the new material into the curriculum. Educators are quick to point out that diversity is about more than just curriculum--it is an important consideration in hiring faculty and staff and student recruitment, for example--but changes to the curriculum are the most obvious and direct place to start.

Many schools have added stand-alone courses that focus on race, ethnicity, culture or gender. These classes, which may or may not be electives, allow students time to fully explore how societal differences can impact reporting.

But while those courses are important, some educators insist that diversity should be a component of every reporting course as well as those that are more conceptual.

"We have ghettoized diversity into these [stand-alone] courses; that makes no sense," said Baldasty. "No one would say that ethics should not be a part of every course or the First Amendment, (but diversity) goes by the wayside." In too many instances, educators only "add on" a discussion or two rather than emphasizing diversity as a core competency, he said.

According to findings published in the Spring 2003 issue of Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, more than half of the accredited journalism and mass communications schools Infuse diversity in some classes, while fewer than half have standalone courses. Of the approximately 450 journalism programs in the country, slightly more than 100 are accredited by ACEJMC.

A number of schools have begun to incorporate diversity ideals throughout all levels of the curriculum. David Boeyink, an associate professor in Indiana University's School of journalism, described the trend as an attempt to instill the values of diversity in students "so that [their] knowledge, writing and reporting reflect the differences in perspectives and cultures in society and become a natural part of just doing good journalism."

Indiana is developing a "model" journalism curriculum to educate journalists and journalism educators, and Boeyink said diversity is one centerpiece of the revised program. The new curriculum will be launched formally in about a year. The changes are part of an overhaul that began in the mid-1990s under a $1.5 million grant to the school from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Boeyink has helped for three years to teach the "Diversity Across the Curriculum" seminar at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla. The program is for journalism educators who want to learn how to infuse diversity into courses. Established in 2001, the annual seminar in part grew out of an alliance with Indiana ha building its diversity curriculum.

At Northwestern State University in rural Natchitoches, La., journal ism the faculty emphasizes and encourages diversity content and reporting across courses--beginning with first-semester freshmen who are introduced to issues of race and culture.

Advanced students who work for the student newspaper and radio station produce news stories and packages on the Natchitoches community, where students have begun to cover beats. One 15 minute television documentary recently reported about the lives of Latino migrant workers who work on poultry farms in the area and language barriers for school-age children of these immigrants.

Mary Brocato, a white female and assistant professor who joined the NSU journalism faculty four years ago, said, "The aim of weaving diversity into all courses we teach has been a philosophical decision. We (the faculty and administration) have identified ways step-by-step in which we can sensitize students and make them gradually aware of what diversity is. We are committed to the goal that diversity should become part of the persona of students."

Brocato assigns her students to so-called "listening posts" in the community to identify stories. She said she sends students to locations "where they feel very uncomfortable"--a local bar where gays or lesbians gather, an after-school club for children from low-income families or a juvenile corrections facility.

Brocato said she learned specific methods of including diversity throughout her courses at the first Poynter "Diversity" seminar. "I came back on fire with ideas about diversity. I was no longer committed (to diversity) ha the abstract," she said.

Because all four full-time faculty members are white in a program where a third of the 250 students are African American, the department has hired an African-American affiliate faculty member who travels from Shreveport to teach classes and provide mentoring and other opportunities for students.

SFSU journalism department chair John Burks said that program has worked for two decades to layer diversity and multiculturalism into the curriculum. In the introductory writing course, SFSU students are exposed to reporting techniques that cross race and culture. In advanced courses, students are expected to interview racially and ethnically diverse sources for stories--a Hispanic police officer, an Asian-American elected leader, an African-American community spokesperson.

In one required course, students must cover urban issues in San Francisco, Oakland or another large jurisdiction as well as a neighborhood that is culturally or ethnically different from the student's own. Students take a course called "Ethnic Diversity and U.S. Journalism," in which they examine stereotyping and issues of representation in news coverage. Magazine students go in teams into ethnically dense neighborhoods to write profiles about the experiences of immigrants since coming to the United States--as well as stories of the life they left behind.

SFSU's student body is almost 65 percent non-white, and about half of the journalism majors are non-white. Burks stressed--as did many educators--that programs must emphasize diversity as a priority in the education of not only white students, but all students.


Many of the topics that arise when discussing diversity--race, religion, cultures--are difficult to talk about. These can all be sensitive areas, and faculty and students alike come to the classroom with a whole set of biases and preconceptions that make productivity a challenge.

Students often are uncomfortable talking about race, which makes faculty members reluctant to push such discussions. "Faculty members may not feel they have an ability to facilitate and diffuse discussions that can explode," said SFSU's Wagner.

When the University of Missouri's School of Journalism created a required course about diversity in 1996, it was arguably the first large school to do so. Two years ago, the faculty considered dropping "Cross Cultural Journalism" as a requirement.

"The course has been unpopular because it forces students to examine assumptions that most people in society rarely examine. These are painful subjects for (students) and most Americans," said Dean Mills, dean of the school of journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Students perceive the course as about social justice or political correctness, he said. "And most (students) think they already are politically correct." Course evaluations indicate student uneasiness with the topics, Mills added. After some discussion, the faculty voted to reaffirm the course as a requirement.

Many educators who have had success teaching diverse and multiculrural reporting classes say it is crucial to push students outside of their comfort zone.

Mindy McAdams, Knight Professor in Journalism at the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida (UF), taught a required course for online media majors at Florida. Students in the class produced Web packages based on interviews with the university's international students about cultural or adjustment issues.

The online reporting students in fall 2002 interviewed 70 students from 32 nations. Each student was required to interview five sources. Those sources had to come from at least three different continents, and only one of the five could speak English as a native language. Because many UF students speak Spanish, students could interview no more than two students who spoke any one language. None could have a U.S. pass port, which ensured that the sources were international.

The online students "complained and had to listen more carefully" to understand people from other nations who had thick accents, but McAdams said they got much better with practice.

"If we allow students to get away with interviewing sources and doing stories on people and communities only like them, the practice will persist when they go into newsrooms," she said.

At Towson University in Baltimore, Md., advanced journalism students in print, broadcast, photojournalism and documentary classes produce converged Web packages titled "Baltimore Stories." The packages cover inner-city areas such as Fells Point (a Latino community), Little Italy, or Pimlico (a predominantly black neighborhood).

Thom Lieb, professor of journalism and new media at Towson, said students in the first class two years ago came back from downtown neighborhoods having interviewed almost all white sources--evidence that students tend to look for the easy path to covering stories and for sources who look like them.

"We did not anticipate we would have to do all the hand-holding we did," Lieb said. But since then, with additional structure and guidance from faculty teaching the course, students have produced much improved packages that include "representative sources and provide a closer look at inner-city communities and the people who five there," he said.

Students in the foundation reporting course at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism have for some years been assigned to a neighborhood beat--among them Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. Students write about crime, schools, neighborhood issues and people who are widely varied in race, ethnicity, class and religion.

Carla Baranauckas, assistant to the editor of The New York Times' Continuous News Desk, has helped to teach the course as an associate faculty member at Columbia. She said many students are intimidated and reluctant at first when sent on their own into communities. But as students build confidence and gain experience, "they become extremely attached to their neighborhoods and develop an appreciation for those who live in these communities and for those various cultures," Baranauckas said.

Columbia's students produce a weekly newspaper, Bronx Beat, that is distributed to about 10,000 residents, officials and organizations, and the school offers several courses in race and ethnicity and cross-cultural reporting, in one class about coveting religion--an increasingly important issue in the diversity spectrum--students go abroad each spring break to learn how to report about religion for diverse readers. The class has traveled to Israel, Russia and the Ukraine in recent years.

Educators and professionals stress that diversity issues in journalism schools mirror those of the news industry, where many professionals have a lack of comfort with coverage of race, ethnicity, class and culture.

SFSU's Wagner said her students' uneasiness with race helped her understand why newsrooms have been slow to respond to the industry push for improved coverage that would reflect more of society's differences. "I had to say, 'ah-ha, this is why professionals have trouble. They do not know how to do this.'"

But while the challenges are substantial, educators and industry leaders say the investment by schools in diversity education will pay off. "We will have a whole new generation out there of professionals who have the knowledge and skills to make this [diversity] work," Wagner said.

Online resources

The following are Web sites for educators and professionals who want to learn more about diversity issues.

Poynter's Online Diversity Resources provides information about diversity issues in the newsroom and in education, including the "Diversity Across the Curriculum" seminar.

The Freedom Forum provides a variety of training and other opportunities for journalists and partners with journalism schools in offering programs for students.

The News Watch Project, located at SFSU, monitors diversity efforts in newsrooms and in education.

Diversity Disconnects study, by Mercedes Lynn de Uriarte, examines diversity issues in the news industry and in education. arte/diversity_disconnects.pdf

Latinos and Media Project provides information about issues related to Latinos and media.

Black College Wire showcases news stories by students at historically black colleges and universities. BCW is a new partnership of the Black College Communication Association and the Maynard Institute, and it is funded by the Knight Foundation.

National Center on Disability and Journalism is a resource for professionals and educators about disability issues.

June Nicholson is an associate professor in the School of Mass Communications, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va. She is chair of SPJ's Journalism Education Committee.
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Title Annotation:includes list of online resources
Author:Nicholson, June
Publication:The Quill
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2003
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