Maynard: ‘Give All Front Door Access to the Truth’

By Gregory E. Favre

Thirty years ago, when Robert C. Maynard examined the portrait of American newsrooms, he saw a canvas that was essentially white, and he heard editors lamenting that they couldn’t find qualified journalists of color to hire.

So Maynard and a group of colleagues started the Institute for Journalism Education, an Oakland-based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing opportunities for minority journalists in newspapers. It was renamed in 1993 in honor of Maynard. And today Maynard’s daughter, Dori, carries on her father’s work as president and chief executive officer of the Institute.

“Starting the Institute removed the phrase, ‘We want to hire people of color, but we can’t find qualified people’ from the lexicon of the newsroom,” Dori Maynard said in a recent interview.

There is no question that in the past three decades much progress has been made in diversity of staffing and of content in newspapers, but there is still much to be done.

And Dori Maynard, who became the first woman to join her father as a Nieman Fellow, is on the front lines continuing the fight for the goal Bob Maynard spoke about in his last public address before his death in1993.

“The country cannot be the country we want it to be if its story is told only by one group of citizens. Our goal is to give all Americans front door access to the truth.”

“This presidential election shows the need for diversity,” Dori Maynard said, citing the story of Jesse Jackson criticizing Sen. Barack Obama.

“That story has been covered in a superficial way. And it shows the generational differences. There are some black bloggers who are saying that Jackson needs to sit down, he is in his sixties and that is not the way we look at things.

“There are all kinds of things we are missing in the coverage. Take the Rev. Wright story. If we had more diverse newsrooms, we wouldn’t be surprised by what goes on in black churches. We would know more about those churches. We would know more about ministers and what candidates they endorse. And that includes ministers such as John Hagee and Rod Parsley. The stories have not been put into perspective.”

One of the problems at this moment in history, of course, is the drastic economic news that has cast a cloud of despair and disillusionment over newspaper newsrooms. “It’s been tough raising money,” Maynard said. “The money from newspapers and newspaper foundations is disappearing. We will have to find others that care about social justice and democracy.

“We can’t let up on our efforts. Some foundations say that if newspapers won’t contribute for training, let them suffer the consequences. But it’s just not the newspapers suffering. We all will suffer, especially people of color who are portrayed inaccurately on a daily basis. We have to see that all communities are covered in a fair way and we have to help all people make informed decisions.”
 
Maynard believes that the current economic conditions are causing the industry to pay less attention to diversity and that this will “create a spiral effect and will push away more potential readership at the industry’s peril.”

“My father would not be surprised by the state of newspapers today,” she said. “He anticipated the shift to online in the early 1990′s. He was talking then about convergence, how the news would be bundled differently. He saw it coming.

“He would be disheartened that the news industry didn’t pick up on the changes quicker and didn’t do more to hold on to their franchises.”“The last diversity figures for new media are 16 percent, slightly better than newspapers.”

Bob Maynard was a high school dropout who went on to a distinguished journalism career. He covered civil rights and urban unrest as a national correspondent for The Washington Post, was that newspaper’s ombudsman and later became part of its editorial page staff. He made numerous appearances on network television and in 1979 became editor of the Oakland Tribune.

He and his wife, Nancy, bought the Tribune a few years later. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for its coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake. The Maynards sold the paper in 1992.

“I was raised by two optimistic people,” Dori Maynard said, “so I am guardedly optimistic about the future of journalism. I just hope we can find new models to do journalism in the public good.”

But whatever models follow, Maynard wants to do whatever she can to ensure that the staffs and the content reflect the diversity of our communities and the country.

“When you look at the generational shift of how young people get their news we have to make sure that the new media doesn’t look like the old media. The last diversity figures for new media are 16 percent, slightly better than newspapers, but not by much. We need to step up our efforts.

“We have to make sure that people have the skills and the mindset to work on all platforms and that they can think strategically. We must have filters. It’s not an issue of the survival of journalism. It’s about what skills will be needed to be a journalist in the future. Being a journalist is still an exciting and valuable job.”

After three decades of existence the Maynard Institute remains a leader in helping to make the portrait of America’s newsrooms multicultural. It has programs in copy editing, leadership, entry management and others and conducts fault lines workshops. Many of its graduates, such as Carolina Garcia, editor of the Los Angeles Daily News, and Milton Coleman, deputy managing editor of The Washington Post, have become leaders in the industry.

“I was talking to a group of journalists yesterday,” Maynard said, “and two or three had been on the verge of leaving the business. But after going through the training program they now want to stay. Giving them the tools to do their craft, as well as some political tools, they can now plot their career advancement.”

On the day he quit school at age 16, Bob Maynard told a sister, “My credentials will be my work.”

His dream has given hundreds of others the way to earn their credentials. And now his daughter is the keeper of that dream.

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