Race and Reporting: After Matter, Tips and Comments

Here are a few things left in the notebook from Institute
for Justice and Journalism’s seminar at Harvard for its 2005 racial justice
fellows.

‘Covering Race Beyond the Box’: Newsrooms
are facing increasing financial and staffing pressures, making it harder at
some newspapers for reporters to get stories about an issue as complex as race
into the paper. This panel of reporters and editors discussed tactics to
overcome that obstacle.

Mae Cheng, an editor at Newsday and president of Unity:

  • Write
    “bite sized stories on the same topic” instead of the five-day project.
  • Repackage
    these stories after several months, in print or online, to get a
    cumulative effect.
  • Develop
    partnerships with ethnic or alternative media.
  • Use
    different story forms. “We may need to get off  our high horses and blog.” If “our
    ultimate goal is to be conscience of society” then use whatever format is
    available.
  • Do
    some “happy” stories.
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Friday, Sep. 23, 2005

Journalism, Race and Katrina: Connecting the Dots

From Tim Porter: That the U.S. news media was under-reporting the extent of poverty in America before Hurricane Katrina brought it into everyone’s living-room is known.


That the news media attention span is about the length of a sweeps period is known, meaning the sudden appearance of the permanent underclass on the daily news menu will be temporary.


That the racial divide in this country, narrowed in the last half-century, exists still in subtle but insidious forms, many fostered by the stereotyping of the news media, is known.


Given that, two sets of panels at the Institute for Justice and Journalism’s gathering at Harvard for its 2005 racial justice fellows attempted to make sense of the pre- and post-Katrina news coverage.


The lessons of Katrina for journalists extend far beyond New Orleans and Biloxi and Pascagoula. They are applicable to the full breadth of journalism done daily everywhere in the country and go to the heart of the journalistic mindset – what Jay Rosen calls pressthink – that molds our values, decisions and definitions about what is or isn’t news. Read more

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Thursday, Sep. 22, 2005

When Journalism Meets Advocacy

From Claudia Meléndez
Salinas
:
Sally (Lehrman) makes a very good point when she implies that we,
as journalists, end up “covering up” instead of covering race. What I have to
say in my defense is that when I’ve wanted to talk about racism or segregation
or bias my editors have always asked me to attribute my comments – and that’s
when I run into trouble. Frequently, I know people feel there’s prejudice or
bias against them but they don’t want to be quoted saying that. Some editors
prefer reporters not to write with authority, which eliminates my ability to
say what I’ve experienced about race even if I find nobody to attribute it to.

I was struck by the similarities between Roxbury and the
Alisal, one of the communities I cover in Salinas, Calif. The Alisal is poor,
populated mostly by immigrants, with high crime rate and low property values. Read more

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One Neighborhood, Many Stories

From Tim Porter: Massachusetts Avenue connects the ivied walls of Harvard to the gates of a former urban Hell.


The avenue runs from Cambridge to Boston, bisecting the sprawling MIT campus, crossing the Charles River, skirting the 52-story Prudential Center, leaving downtown and less than two miles farther forming the eastern boundary of one of the city’s most notorious neighborhoods, Roxbury.


Using the phrase “urban hell” to describe Roxbury’s past is not hyperbole. In the 1960s and 1970s, after the post-War white population had moved to Boston’s burgeoning suburbs, Roxbury took on a different complexion – black African-Americans from the South and brown immigrants from Cape Verde, a group of North Atlantic islands west of Senegal.


Property values plummeted, victim of a society that associated people of color with a neighborhood in decline. Building owners couldn’t sell or refinance, so they burned – and burned and burned. Hundreds of Roxbury homes and apartment buildings were torched for insurance money in those decades. Read more

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Race, Class and Katrina Webcast


From Steve Montiel:
Two discussions today on “Race, Class and Katrina” will be webcast as part of the IJJ’s gathering at Harvard of its 2005 racial justice fellows. The topics, times (EDT) and panelists are:

  • Context and Consequences (1:15 p.m.-2:30 p.m. EDT): Ellis Cose,
    Newsweek; Lani Guinier, Harvard University; and Bob Giles, Nieman
    Foundation.
  • Journalistic Challenges (3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. EDT): Martha
    Mendoza, Associated Press; Bryan Monroe, Knight Ridder; Erna Smith,
    USC Annenberg School for
    Communication; Kevin Weston, New California Media/Pacific News Service,
    Victor Merina, USC Annenberg’s Institute for Justice and Journalism.

The panels will address questions such as:

  • What did we learn from Hurricane Katrina about race and justice in America?
  • How can these lessons strengthen journalism about justice and injustice?
  • What do journalists need to know to report accurately and authoritatively about race and poverty?
  • What questions should reporters and editors be asking to help the
    public understand and care about the complexities and consequences of
    class-based racism in a new world?
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Collision with Complexity

From Keith Woods: We watched the movie “Crash
last night as part of our larger mission of pushing the discussion down
to the personal, to the visceral. I’d seen the film in the theater
before and remember how anxious it made me feel. This time, I watched
it in Poynter’s amphitheater with a different trepidation.

Not that I was worried about how the
journalists would react, though it’s funny how much more aware you are
of nude scenes or the number of times actors say the f-word (impossible
to count) when people are in your building watching a movie that you
recommended.

My worry, though, was that I would feel
like a sucker, like a lightweight, new arrival to the race
conversation. Because I really liked the film the first time. I thought
it had achieved a measure of profundity you so rarely see in movies about race. Read more

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Good Quotes, Better Lessons

From Tim Porter: Journalists receive less training than their peers in any other profession, due in part to the news industry’s lack of investment in it. It’s natural, then, for journalists to rank training even higher than more pay as their top priority.


Still, I’ve always thought training was a poor word for what journalists need. I prefer learning – or education. Training is to learning what typing is to writing. It’s a sterile word, invoking memories of safety drills, driver’s ed or learning the commands for that new front-end system. Learning, though, involves creativity, stretching of the mind and mastering new skills. It’s professional growth.


A great thing about journalists is that when they get togethers they learn from one another. Peer to peer. That’s a huge benefit of professional development programs like the Poynter Institute and the Institute for Justice and Journalism.


Kay Mills has been doing journalism for 40 years – from Chicago to Baltimore to Washington to Los Angeles – and she’s still learning, from other professionals and from other journalists. Read more

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Wednesday, Sep. 21, 2005

Covering Race — or Covering It Up?

From Sally Lehrman: Listening to the discussion about the biological non-reality of race (led by  Harvard School of Public Health professor Ichiro Kawachi), I wonder if the idea may be all too easy. If we can just wipe away race, won’t racial bias fall away with it? If we realize that race isn’t a biological fact, won’t the social hierarchies based on race finally disappear?


Well no, as our speakers (at the IJJ fellows conference) on health disparities so clearly showed. But I wonder — do we journalists sometimes wipe away both race and racism in the hope that they will go away? Do we avoid using terms like “segregation” or “bias” or “privilege” in favor of more comfortable terms –”disparities,” for instance? Do we talk about individual acts of prejudice or hostility, instead of the social and cultural institutions that help make racism a reality every day? When we cover health, crime, housing and finance, how often do we point out or even look for inequities based on race? Read more

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Reporting on Race and Health

From Tim Porter: First some data:

  • About
    17.5 percent of American adults don’t have health insurance. If you’re
    Hispanic, though, the number is 35 percent; African American, 22.8
    percent; white, only 12.7 percent.
  • The
    life expectancy of an American male is 73.4 years. But if you are a black
    man in Washington, D.C., it’s only 57.9 years – less time alive than in
    Ghana, Bangladesh or Bolivia.
  • American
    minorities less likely than whites to be treated well for heart disease, receive
    kidney dialysis or transplants or get sophisticated HIV treatment. They
    are, however, more likely than whites to receive “certain less-desirable
    procedures,” such as having a leg amputated for diabetes.

Does this racial disparity in health care sound like news?
Certainly it does – and the U.S. press has been writing about it. A search of
Lexis-Nexis on “health care and racial disparity” produces hundreds of
newspaper stories, including many referring to the report from which the above
information came, of “Unequal Treatment,” a 2002 study by the
Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences. Read more

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Tuesday, Sep. 20, 2005

Is ‘Minority’ Still a Valid Term?

From Heidi Pickman: After hearing this morning from the IJJ
fellows how issues of race had affected their journalism and, later, listening
to a presentation by Brian Smedley on racial and ethnic health care
disparities, I had two thoughts I want to share:

  • Erase “MINORITY” from our vocabulary.

It occurred to me while listening to one of our speakers
that the word minority should be erased from our vocabulary. 

For one, changing demographics in many places are rendering
the traditional interpretation of minority moot.  For example, when talking about minorities in
Los Angeles
, that mean Anglos as well as African Americans.  When we talk about racial injustice, we
aren’t talking about discrimination against white people.  FYI: LA’s population is approx. 47% Latino,
33% Anglo, 12% Asian and 9% African-American. 

Second, play word association with the word “minority.”  You say “minority” I think … minor, less
important, underdog, “not the winner.”

Suggestions for
other words?

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