The Nature of Journalism Courses Devoted to Diversity

By Ross, Felecia Jones; Patton, Jamila P. | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

The Nature of Journalism Courses Devoted to Diversity


Ross, Felecia Jones, Patton, Jamila P., Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


The mass media have been dealing with their role in a pluralistic society since the 1968 Kerner Commission report criticized the news media for presenting information from a white male perspective. Though the report focused on the portrayals of AfricanAmericans, the news media have also used it to gauge their progress in their portrayals and hiring of people from other racial groups.

Journalism educators actively began to address this concern when the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) in 1982 required journalism programs to make effective efforts to recruit, advise, and retain minority students, staff, and women faculty members. Known as Standard 12, this requirement was expanded in 1992 to include curriculum offering courses that prepares students "to understand, cover, communicate with, and relate to a multicultural, multi-racial, and otherwise diverse society" (Ruggles, 1993).

This research will focus on the courses devoted entirely to sensitizing or educating students about the media's relationship with groups that have experienced long-term discrimination and oppression; women, non-white racial groups, gays/lesbians, and the disabled. These are the types of courses that might be titled, "Race and Gender and the Media," "Race and the Media," "Diversity in the Media," or "Communication and Gender." This research seeks to find out the nature of such courses: What are their objectives? What must students do to earn a grade? What are the in-class and/or out-of-class activities? This research also seeks to find out the strengths and weaknesses of the courses and to assess the extent to which journalism programs are either offering such courses or integrating diversity issues into other journalism classes. For the purpose of consistency, and conciseness, the term minority will be used to refer to these oppressed groups, and the general term for these courses will be courses devoted to diversity.

The Kerner Commission was not the first group to evaluate the perfor- ''. mance of the press with respect to its treatment of minorities. During the 1940s, the Hutchins Commission convened to evaluate the roles and responsibilities of the press in a free society. Though the Hutchins Commission did not specifically name minorities, one of its recommendations was for the media to present "a representative picture of the constituent groups in the society" (Pease, 1993).

As the population becomes increasingly non-white, it is essential far the professionals charged with presenting society's realities to fully understand the diverse perspectives and concerns of people different from themselves. Furthermore, as minorities continue to assert themselves economically, as well as politically, the ability to connect with these groups becomes essential for the survival of mass communication businesses. Thus, it is hoped that journalism educators use the information from this research not only to strengthen their existing courses in diversity, but also to develop curricula that will prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of a pluralistic society.

Literature review

Most of the literature came from articles published in Journalism Educator from 1968, the year of the Kerner report, to 1997. The relevant literature included articles on how journalism educators taught classes devoted entirely to diversity, on how the issue of diversity was incorporated in other Journalism classes, as well as on how journalism programs were incorporating diversity issues into their curriculum.

Early courses tended to focus on the media targeted for a particular racial group. Levy's (1970) class titled "The Black American and Mass Media," compared the news coverage and overall characteristics (layout, sports, advertising, etc.) between mainstream and African-American newspapers. Polk's (1974) class familiarized students with nonmainstream publications such as those targeted for ethnic and religious groups, Native Americans, and labor unions. …

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