Keith Woods


The Dean of Faculty, Keith teaches reporting on race relations, editing, persuasive writing, ethics and diversity. He's a former reporter, city editor, editorial writer and columnist at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, La.

What Does the Future of Diversity Look Like?

Whither goes diversity in the age of layoffs?

Even in this season of conventions featuring journalists of color, the question seems overshadowed by the rising ranks of the unemployed. People who have spent decades advocating for justice, fairness and accuracy in U.S. newsrooms are preoccupied with cutting staffs, rethinking coverage, or knitting their own parachutes.

And in the enterprising universe of dotcoms dotting the landscape of journalism’s uncertain future, the spirit of diversity is taking a beating. So we’re left to ponder a different question with new urgency: What does diversity look like going forward?

Given what’s happened to mainstream journalism, I know this much: the answer has to be different than it used to be. In more optimistic days, we’d focus our attention on traditional newsrooms and push for greater hiring and broader coverage. Read more


Rocky Ends Publication Today After Nearly 150 Years, Poynter Offers Assistance

The Rocky Mountain News gave the people of Denver nearly 150 years of storytelling. The journalists gave the newspaper four Pulitzer Prizes. The last of those major awards, in 2006, was for feature writing and photography in “Final Salute,” a stirring account of how a family and the military handle the death and burial of a soldier.

Great stories like that one have not only informed and moved the public, but they have helped Poynter and others teach students and professionals how excellent storytelling is done. You can find the evidence in the 2006-2007 edition of our anthology of award-winning work, “Best Newspaper Writing,” which teaches lessons from both the photography and writing of “Final Salute.”

The Rocky also helped Poynter directly two years ago by contributing to the “Eyetracking The News” publication, which is still teaching journalists in print and online how readers navigate their work. Read more


Reaction to NY Post Cartoon Signals Americans on Alert for Signs of Racism

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The folks at the New York Post are sure making it hard to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Their apology for all the anger and resentment that flowed from Sean Delonas’ recent cartooning catastrophe might be summed up this way: “Sorry if you were stupid enough to be offended. And if you were trying to make political hay of this, fuggetabout you (if you catch our drift)!”

I believe the word here is ungracious. I’ll get back to why that might be important.

But was the cartoon, morphing the story of a gunned-down rogue chimpanzee with news of the just-signed federal stimulus bill, an act of racism? Racially insensitive? Racially provocative? Intentionally ambiguous?

I don’t think so.

Like many people outside of New York, I learned about this first via e-mail. Read more


If Obama Wins, Race Has Its Place in Coverage

If Sen. Barack Obama is elected president, there’s little doubt that the historic nature of his victory will belong in the lead of any story. But it would be hard to argue –- given his record-obliterating fundraising, the vast diversity of support and the oft-praised community organizing — that it was his race that propelled Obama into the White House.

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Spacer SpacerIf Sen. John McCain wins the election, launching Gov. Sarah Palin into history as the first female vice president, it may prove that some white voters could not get beyond pedestrian bigotry or their own ignorance to vote for Obama. Read more


How Change Looks in America

Back in March of 2007, I was sitting on my bedroom floor making robots out of Legos with my 6-year-old when Barack Obama took the podium at the Brown Chapel AME church in Selma, Ala. It was a significant moment in the making of the Democratic contender and, depending upon what happens on November 4th, possibly the making of a president.

I told Noah, my youngest child, that we’d have to take a break from the construction project to listen to the speech.

“We wanted to watch this because that man is running for president,” I explained.

“Cool,” Noah said, hardly looking up.

“Do you think he can win?” I asked.

He shrugged.

My little test was over. I thought, for a moment, that he’d see the profound significance of my question –- a black man running to become the 44th president of the United States; the first time it’s even looked remotely possible. Read more


New Orleans: Largely Absent from Political Talk

The confluence of anniversaries and events seems beyond earthly explanations, doesn’t it? Sen. Barack Obama speaks of his monumental first on the same day that, 45 years ago, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said the words, “I have a dream.” And a day later comes the anniversary of Katrina, the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history, a day given new profundity because another storm now threatens New Orleans.

Steven Gray of Time Magazine ties together most of these pieces in a personal essay with a political edge. He is a native of New Orleans, seeing the presidential campaign and the storm anniversary through the eyes of his mother and family members who are now preparing for whatever Gustav brings. He begs the question of Obama: Where does New Orleans fit into the plan? Read more


Campaigning for Better Coverage of Race in the Presidential Election


The historic 2008 presidential primary season is over. Another unprecedented campaign lies ahead. Take a breath. Then make a vow to handle one of the hottest issues in the campaign — race relations –- better than ever.

Clearly we’re not done with the subject. We may be spared the clumsiness of Sen. Joe Biden’s inarticulate racial compliments over the coming months.

Read more

The Messy Truth of Race, Rape & Class

By Keith Woods

“Beyond Rape: One Survivor’s Story,” by Joanna Connors, The Plain Dealer

“Telling Our Own Stories, Becoming Better Journalists,” by Mallary Tenore, The Poynter Institute

In her remarkable story, “Beyond Rape: A Survivor’s Journey” Joanna Connors, a reporter at The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, writes about her experiences getting raped. But the story isn’t just about rape. It also addresses important issues of race and class.

The essential tension resides in a simple and explosive event, now 20 years old: A black man raped a white woman. The history of that potent narrative is packed with truth and lies, racist injustice and racial suspicion, cliché and mythology.

This story lurches powerfully into race in the first of five chapters, as Connors speculates that she might have run away in the awkward moments before David Francis attacked her had it not been for the fear that she’d appear racist. Read more


News Flash: Not All Black Voters Think the Same

By Keith Woods

I appeared the other day on a segment of the NewsHour with the University of Pennsylvania’s Kathleen Hall Jamieson and The Wall Street Journal‘s Gerald Seib to talk about how race is being handled in coverage of the presidential nominating process.

I raised two issues (I could think of 20) journalists need to take up, particularly covering the democratic primaries: dumping the race and class euphemisms that serve as proxy for a real discussion about these defining issues, and parsing the racial voting patterns in a way that’s more thoughtful and accurate.

We talked about some of those euphemisms: Soccer moms, NASCAR dads, lunch bucket Democrats, blue collar workers — used as substitutes, in one construction or the other, for white people. Read more


Forty Years Later: Is Race Still in Vogue?

By Keith Woods

It’s hard not to see the symbolism and irony of the moment. An explosion of stories about racism and race relations, then this anniversary. It’s been 40 years since Martin Luther King Jr. went to Memphis to help black garbage men fight for human dignity. Forty years since he was assassinated. Four decades for journalists to cover, even lead a nation that still hasn’t overcome.

And here, 40 years later, columnists are duking it out over whether Vogue magazine meant anything racist by putting a snarling black basketball star, LeBron James, and smiling white supermodel Gisele Bündchen on its cover. Cable television is still showing incendiary snippets from the dated rant of a politically connected preacher. And in the wake of Sen. Read more

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