Expanding Coverage of Diversity beyond Ethnicity and Race

Article excerpt

Many journalism educators are seeking better knowledge about how to train students to be effective in writing about diverse peoples and viewpoints. In this effort, three documents lay the groundwork for diversity reporting -- the Hutchins Commission and Kerner Commission reports as well as Standard 12 of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC).

In 1947, the Commission on Freedom of the Press in its report, A Free and Responsible Press, recommended that the news media foster discussions on salient social issues while making sure they presented the views of the different sectors of the population. For journalists, this meant, "the projection of a representative picture of the constituent groups in society." At the heart of the Hutchins Commission report was the concern that democracy could not work effectively if the media failed to represent diverse social groups, not only weaknesses and vices, but their "common humanity."

Two decades later, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders created by the Johnson administration examined the causes of the civil unrests and riots in United States cities during the mid-1960s. Its report, commonly known as the Kerner Commission Report for its chair Otto Kerner, pointed out that a fundamental problem of news media had been their "failure to report adequately on race relations and ghetto problems." The commission found that television and newspapers portrayed a world which was "almost totally white, both in appearance and attitude." In their coverage of African Americans and the inner cities, the media had not shown blacks in routine contexts and everyday affairs, and they did little to provide depth to racial issues and to promote an understanding of what it could be like to live in the poor neighborhoods of the country. Some specific journalistic practices were considered problematic. For example, in the coverage of the inner cities, very few diverse sources were used as journalists relied disproportionately on police and other officials.

Numerous recommendations were made by the Kerner Commission to improve coverage. Among the suggestions, the commission called for an intensified effort by the media industry to recruit and hire African Americans. In addition, it urged the media to make contacts and find more sources in the inner cities; the observation was made that the black media could be especially helpful in this endeavor. Finally, the Kerner Commission stressed that African Americans and their lives had to be integrated into the different sections of television and newspaper news and that they should not be disproportionately present or absent in any specific kind of news.

Finally, just as the Hutchins Commission and Kerner Commission reports were crucial documents for the national media -- pointing out problems and suggesting changes in the ways news is produced-the Standard 12 resolution written by the Accrediting Council has important repercussions for journalism departments and education. The initial resolution written in 1984, titled "Minorities and Female Representation," sets goals for departments as far as recruiting and retaining minority students and faculty. In 1992, Standard 12 was revised and a new component was added emphasizing the curriculum. In short, the curriculum had to "`prepare students to understand, cover, communicate with, and relate to a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and otherwise diverse society"' (Ruggles,1993). Standard 12 also called for "innovative and creative" ways for achieving these goals. After revisions to Standard 12 in 1997, the emphasis remained on preparing "students to serve... a diverse society" (ACEJMC, 1997).

Despite the variety of reports and recommendations, studies have found only minimal improvements in the diversity of the media and journalism education (Izard, 1990; Lawrence, 1990; Weaver & Wilhot, 1991; Wilson & Gutierrez, 1995). …