How a Twitter chat led to an online minority talent bank

Retha Hill made a little wave when she asked how it can be possible that digital media conferences have so few minority speakers. In an Idea Lab column, the director of the New Media Innovation Lab and professor of practice at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication offered her help and suggestions to any organizers who need ideas.

The wave grew on social media and Mark Glaser called a Twitter chat with the #MediaDiversity hashtag. Glaser, editor of PBS MediaShift and Idea Lab, invited Hill, PaidContent founder Rafat Ali and Doug Mitchell of UNITY: Journalism of Color’s “New U” Entrepreneur Fellowship Program. Glaser archived the Twitter chat at keepstream.

Emma Carew was on the chat and got a little swept up in the wave Hill started.

“People kept saying that there’s always this excuse that ‘We can’t find any qualified minorities,’ and I was really surprised at this,” Carew said in a phone interview. “If someone is in a position of looking for these folks whether for a panel or for a hire and you can’t find them on the Internet … ask around, for crying out loud.”

Carew, who on Tuesday (Jan. 25) moved from the reporting staff to home page producer on the Web desk at the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, has an interest in digital journalism. Also this month, she was kicked up to co-president of the Minnesota chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association after Thomas Lee moved out of that position to take a job in Ann Arbor, Mich., for Xconomy’s Detroit operation.

Carew is not the first person to take action after hearing that editors “can’t find anyone.”

In the mid 1980s, Ben Johnson and Mary Bullard-Johnson made waves with a 480-page book, “Who’s What and Where: A Directory and Reference Book on America’s Minority Journalists.” The problem was, it was awfully hard to update such things before there was the Web.

In 2002, Don Hudson, now the executive editor of the Decatur (Ala.) Daily, caught a wave and began compiling a list of top African-American editors for the National Association of Black Journalists.

“I keep my list to keep up with executives and to offer names of executives in the pipeline,” Hudson said in an e-mail. “It started out to show publishers and companies that there are people of color out there ready for the executive jobs.”

Carew, 23, said that after the chat several people agreed.

“This can’t end here with a Twitter chat,” she said. “We need action items to come out of it. Surely, I thought someone who has been in the industry for more than a year would do this, so I reached out to a few people who are my own age and mentors of mine.”

Others, including some who were in that Twitter chat, joined her to start the online talent bank. One architect has been Robert Hernandez of the Online Journalism Review.

“It is primarily a non-recruiting talent bank,” Carew said. “It’s for speaking and engagement” and to help minority journalists find each other when they move to a new town. It is focused on people who are involved in digital journalism. With Retha Hill’s original column, it is a partial answer to the question about where minority journalists are.

The fact that we have been asking and answering the same question for 25 years, like waves hitting the shore, says something sad about our progress.

An earlier version of this column incorrectly said Carew is president of the Minnesota AAJA chapter. She is co-president with Tom Horgen.

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