Journalism Educators Must Leap Diversity Hurdles

Article excerpt

Editor's Note - In "News in a New America," Sally Lehrman offers an analysis of news coverage and newsrooms in a rapidly changing nation. eased on more than 150 interviews of journalists, social scientists and media analysts, the book addresses such issues as how to identify unconscious stereotypes and bias in coverage and newsroom practices. The book also provides ideas to enhance journalism education, day-to-day coverage and hiring practices, and features an extensive diversity resource guide.

In this excerpt, Lehrman examines the hurdles journalism education must overcome in order to teach students how to cover an increasingly diverse country.

Ralph Izard had grown up knowing few African-Americans. Then his high school in southern West Virginia was integrated. The young man got a job cleaning up the black campus that was merging into his own. "It really hit me: My school building ... was a palace compared to theirs," he says.

Later, when Izard traveled around the globe as a journalism educator, he was stunned at how little he knew about other people's lives.

Tomorrow's journalists shouldn't have to work with such a handicap, but based on the track record of today's colleges and universities, they could very likely start out that way. In most journalism schools and departments, students will meet mostly white people. Their professors will be mainly male. Many students won't experience America's diversity until they step into a professional newsroom or out to report a story.

Newsrooms across the country clamor to hire graduates who can cover a multicultural society. Yet journalism schools themselves frequently fail to meet their own diversity standards: Only about 100 of the nation's 450 journalism and mass communications programs are accredited. Of those that are, in accrediting reports over the 15 years leading up to 2003, more than one-quarter of those cited for noncompliance missed the mark in diversity.

The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications created this standard because it believed the media must reflect and serve the diversity of America. The council requires schools to hire women and faculty members of color. They must seek a wide mixture of students, and in their teaching choices, professors must expose their charges to a spectrum of issues, voices and views.

But the nation's journalism school faculty does not reflect the nation's population. For the past two decades, less than one out of every 12 full professors in journalism and mass communication was someone of color. Journalism and mass communication programs include a smaller proportion of faculty of color than the overall makeup of most four-year colleges nationwide.

Women make up about 40 percent of the teaching staff in journalism and mass communications, although usually at lower ranks and rates of pay than male faculty. Still, two of every three students in these programs are female - taught by a faculty in which nearly two of every three teachers are male.

"I wish we were doing a lot better," says Jerry Ceppos, former vice president for news at Knight Ridder and immediate past president of the council. "We kind of know the way to do this: Have good critical mass on your faculty, and in every syllabus have specific items that deal with diversity."

Recruiting women for faculty should be easy, says Lionel C. Barrow Jr., immediate past chairman of the Commission on the Status of Minorities for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. About 60 percent of doctoral graduates in 2003 were women. "Are we ready to hire them?" Barrow asked in his August 2005 chairman's report.

The pipeline for professors of color needs more attention, Barrow says. Only about one in five receiving doctoral degrees were students of color, and of those, very few were African-American or Latino.

"We should, we can, and we must do better than that," he wrote. …