Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Columnists and the Minority Population

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Columnists and the Minority Population

Article excerpt

NSNC convention attendees hear about ways they can improve their coverage of America's diverse communities

IF COLUMNISTS WANT to do a better job covering minority communities, they might try writing fewer columns some weeks.

This suggestion came from Portland Oregonian editorial page editor Robert Landauer during a recent National Society of Newspaper Columnists convention session in Portland.

"If you write three or more columns a week, you have my sympathy," Landauer told NSNC attendees. "You don't have enough time for tough, sensitive subjects. If your newspaper cares about getting into other communities, they should let you write one column [some weeks] so you can do your homework."

Landauer said it is important for columnists to do reporting when writing about minority issues - or when writing about anything else, for that matter.

"The surest way to lose your vitality as a columnist is to become a thumbsucker and forget you're a reporter," he declared.

"Opinion writers have to do reporting and interviewing," agreed Oregonian assistant city editor David Austin, the session's other panelist.

Austin went on to note that many local white columnists cover minority matters inadequately or not at all. He said one problem is a mind-set that sees "minority issues as simply minority issues rather than inclusive community issues" of relevance to everybody.

"There are a ton of stories out there about regular people who look different but they're just like us," Austin added later in the session.

New York Times columnist Diane Ketcham, speaking from the audience, said some white columnists hesitate to write about minority-related subjects because of a worry that they, rather than the content of their pieces, may "become the issue."

Oregonian copy editor/columnist Osker Spicer, also speaking from the audience, said columnists who back up their opinions with good reporting have less to worry about when it comes to reaction from minority readers.

"Good reporting will reveal the truth," he remarked.

Austin noted that minority communities usually appreciate it when columnists at least make an effort to write about them.

"Absolutely the greatest cruelty is to ignore people," observed Landauer, who said this alienates minority communities and hurts newspapers, which lose even more potential readers at a time when circulation is already lagging behind population growth. …

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