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The first step is to identify minority talent pool.

SEEMS TO ME THAT before the National Conference of Editorial Writers can seriously contemplate boosting its minority membership, the organization must first turn its attention to the minority hiring of the nation's 1,500 daily editorial pages.

In preparation for this piece, I spent more than two weeks talking to people in the industry from the east coast to the west coast and points in between, trying to get a better handle on the landscape for minority editorial writers.

I started with NCEW headquarters. Unfortunately, the staff there had no statistics on the percentage of minority editorial writers working today. I was, however, referred to the American Society of Newspaper Editors and to the former chair of NCEW's Minority Affairs Committee. Additional conversations steered me to the National Association of Black Journalists and an Arizona researcher, plus a couple of other contacts.

I didn't hit pay dirt until I talked with Neil Foote, ASNE's minority affairs coordinator. He was in possession of a 1990 NABJ membership directory, which separately listed black editorial writers. A total of 49 people were logged, the majority of whom were employed by big city newspapers. Several of them, as you might imagine, have since changed jobs.

Surely the list is outdated and incomplete. But with the exception of the Arizona researcher, who I'm told is conducting a thorough census, it's all the industry has to go by.

This, my friends, is not good. It's not good for a lot of reasons.

How can NCEW credibly attempt to bring more minorities into its fold without having a fix on what kind of pool it has to draw from? As I understand, NCEW has no plan to do the kind of survey the Arizona professor is attempting, though it has tried to gauge its minority membership in the past.

Now, allow me to address the overriding issue of minority participation in NCEW. I think the main obstacles to participation are the same for minorities as they are for everybody else. The heart of the organization appears to be the annual convention.

When you're dealing with people who work in small, labor-intensive environments, as editorial writers do, only one of those people generally can attend the convention each year. I talked with an Ohio editorial writer who told me that in nine years he has attended just one NCEW conference. Such infrequent contact doesn't do much to build a relationship or a strong body.

I have a parting suggestion about how NCEW can at least build relationships between editorial pages outside of the convention. This thing we have going of sending off pages for critiques to the anonymous folks who occupy God's biggest mailing list just isn't working. Everybody knows that.

Why not match two staffs on a six-month basis to do the exchanges? That would build a relationship. That would generate some meaningful contact.

Finally, the National Conference of Editorial Writers offers one of the most professionally substantial conventions I've ever attended or witnessed. I went to my first one in October in Lexington, and it was nothing like a vacation from work. There were plenty of relaxing and enjoyable moments, but mostly it was oriented toward improving the work of editorial writers and pages -- just as it should be.

As a newcomer to the profession and the organization, I submit that NCEW has a good thing going. But it has some important challenges ahead that will require bold leadership. I look forward to seeing the organization grapple with these challenges.

NCEW member Caroline Brewer is an editorial writer at The Jornal-Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind.
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Title Annotation:In Search of Diversity: The Masthead Symposium; increasing minority membership
Author:Brewer, Caroline
Publication:The Masthead
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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