Diversity at Work: Fresh ways to encourage & enhance journalistic storytelling from different perspectives.

Matt Lauer, Ann Curry

How race factors into the conversation about Ann Curry’s possible ouster from ‘Today’ Show

This week’s news of Ann Curry’s problems as co-host of NBC’s “Today” show makes my mind reel and my heart ache.

It makes my heart ache because, as the son of Asian immigrants, I’ve felt an instinctive pride as I’ve watched Curry’s slow and steady climb up to one of network news’ most high-profile jobs.

Finally, on morning TV, I could find someone who looked like me. I identified with her. I was inspired by her.

Now she is faltering and may even be forced out because of a decline in ratings.

No doubt, many factors lie behind the “Today” show’s drop in viewers. It now runs neck-and-neck with ABC’s “Good Morning America.” But some executives fault Curry, because the collapse has occurred in the year since she became co-host after replacing Meredith Vieira.… Read more


Monday, Apr. 02, 2012

How journalists can stop the spread of misinformation when reporting on the occult

Police in Fairfield, Conn., say new DNA evidence may help them catch the suspect who strangled a newborn boy and left his body by the banks of Lake Mohegan 26 years ago. But as police and reporters return the case to the public eye, they’re also resurrecting rumors that Santeria or Palo Mayombe were involved in the killing.

The infant’s body was laid on a piece of burlap pinned with crosses of St. Lazarus, surrounded by pieces of fruit, coins and food, according to police. Some inspectors claimed these were signs that the killing was part of a ritual, even though neither faith practices human sacrifice.

Police admitted the connection to Santeria was just a guess: “We called it Santeria because we had to label it something,” Fairfield Police Lt.… Read more


Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2012

AP Stylebook updates entry on racial IDs in news stories

On Tuesday, the AP Stylebook updated its entry on when journalists should publish information about a person’s race.

The update says that race is pertinent in stories about crime suspects who have been “sought by the police or missing person cases,” so long as “police or other credible, detailed descriptions” are used. When the suspect is found or apprehended, the update says, the racial reference should be removed.

Some news organizations use racial identifiers in crime stories, as the AP suggests, despite criticism. There are many times, however, when a source’s race is irrelevant and shouldn’t be included.

One of the challenges, said AP Deputy Standards Editor David Minthorn, is determining whether descriptions of suspects are accurate. “We have to use our news judgment on racial references, but if we have reason to believe that it’s from a credible, reasonable source and appropriate for the story, we would include it,” Minthorn said by phone.… Read more


Monday, Feb. 13, 2012


3 things journalists can learn from ‘Linsanity’

Like most sports fans (and many non-sports fans, for that matter), I’ve been caught up in Linsanity.

That’s the term fans use to describe Jeremy Lin’s stunning breakout performance as point guard for the New York Knicks.

For those who haven’t been following their social media streams, Lin emerged from the Knicks’ bench to dominate several games, including a 38-point, 7-assist performance against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Under Lin’s leadership, the Knicks are on a five-game winning streak headed into Tuesday night’s game.

What’s unusual about Lin’s story is that he is a Harvard graduate and an American of Taiwanese descent. There haven’t been that many Harvard graduates in the NBA. And, as best as I can tell, there have been only three or four Asian Americans in the league before Lin.… Read more


Monday, Nov. 21, 2011

How to interview, report on immigrants when you don’t speak their language

Growing up, I discovered the easiest way to get rid of someone soliciting from door to door: Just say your family doesn’t speak English. Most visitors turned away quickly.

Occasionally, a church group would really persist and invite themselves in. After some awkwardness, they managed to communicate with us, even though my parents’ preferred language was Vietnamese. They used me as a translator, showed books with photos and after patiently sitting around for a couple of hours, found out that my father did speak a little English, albeit slowly and shyly.

Many journalists could take some inspiration from those Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses who visited our North Carolina home. Immigrant communities are rich with stories, but reporters often cite language as an obstacle.

Tom Huang, assistant managing editor for Sunday and enterprise at the Dallas Morning News, told me that some reporters he’s supervised have assumed they wouldn’t be able to get much information.… Read more


Friday, Aug. 19, 2011

New Pew study confirms digital divide in mobile news interest

Someone once joked that my wife and I, then still both working for Newsday, were bridging the digital divide all by ourselves. Between the two of us, we own an iMac, two MacBook Pros, an iPad and two iPhones.

As black journalists with relationships forged in newsrooms and media organizations, most of our friends and associates, like us, are news junkies – and use mobile devices to stay informed, connected and productive.

But a report released this week by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, “How Americans Use Their Cell Phones,” suggests that most African Americans don’t use their cell phones for similar reasons.

Yes, the study says, blacks and Latinos have higher usage rates, compared with white owners, across a wide range of mobile applications.… Read more


Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011


Journalists value precise language, except when it comes to describing ‘minorities’

As journalists, we rely on details to enhance our stories. We “get the name of the dog” and try to be specific so we can offer clarity and tell the whole truth.

But when it comes to stories involving race and ethnicity, we’re anything but specific.

We often use the word “minorities” to describe anyone who isn’t white. It’s familiar and politically correct, but it does little to explain the people we’re referencing. And as people of color become a majority, the word is becoming increasingly inaccurate.

In response to Phuong Ly’s recent Poynter.org story about journalists’ use of “minorities,” one commenter called it a “dismissive” and “belittling” descriptive. Another said that people’s use of the word reflects “intellectual laziness.”

Merrill Perlman, a former director of the New York Times copy desks, told Ly that she has yet to see a good alternative for “minorities.” “Someone,” she said, “needs to invent a new word.”

Explaining what we really mean by “minorities”

There are some possible replacements for “minorities,” including AHANA — a term Boston College uses to refer to African, Hispanic, Asian and Native Americans.… Read more


Thursday, Aug. 04, 2011


As people of color become a majority, is it time for journalists to stop using the term ‘minorities’?

Is it time to stop using the term “minorities”?

The word has long been used to describe people who are not white. But changing demographics make the term outdated and oxymoronic.

Consider the word usage in these stories:

From the Associated Press:

For the first time, minorities make up the majority of babies in the U.S., part of a sweeping race change and growing divide between mostly white, older Americans and predominantly minority youths that could reshape government policies.

From KTLA-TV in Los Angeles:

Not surprisingly, most of the states that experienced growth in populations of minority children are the ones where white children are in the minority: California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi and Maryland.

David Minthorn, deputy standards editor at the Associated Press, told me via email that the wire service uses “minority” as it’s defined by Webster’s dictionary — a racial, ethnic, religious or political group smaller and different from the larger group.… Read more


Friday, July 01, 2011


Vargas’ essay renews attention to media’s use of ‘illegal’ & ‘undocumented’

Should journalists call Jose Antonio Vargas an illegal immigrant or an undocumented one?

Discussions about how to refer to an immigrant who isn’t authorized to live in the U.S. have popped up periodically in newsrooms. But Vargas’ recent New York Times essay — and his stature as high-profile, Pulitzer-winning journalist — has thrust the media into a bigger role in the debate.

In his essay, Vargas refers to himself as an undocumented immigrant. In a tweet last week, he noted that many people were tweeting about the controversial essay with the hashtag #undocumented immigrant. “Undocumented immigrant is trending,” he tweeted from his @joseiswriting handle. “So let’s drop ‘illegal’ and ‘alien.’” No person is illegal or an alien.”

Increasingly, immigration advocates are questioning the media’s language usage.… Read more


Monday, Apr. 25, 2011


Barroom meetings one way St. Louis Beacon engages people where they really are

When the St. Louis Beacon launched three years ago, its staff made a conscious effort to get out into the community. They wanted to engage with readers not just online, but in person — at museums, coffee shops and hipster bars.

The nonprofit site, which covers a range of topics in the St. Louis region, frequently hosts meetups for community members who want to talk about diversity. And it has created local partnerships that have enabled it to reach new audiences in-person, online and on air.

Recently, I talked with St. Louis Beacon Editor Margaret Freivogel and Associate Editor Robert Duffy to find out more about how the staff’s engagement efforts have helped both the site and the community.

Meeting with members of the community

Every other Monday, Duffy heads to a local bar to lead a conversation about diversity.… Read more