Just as professional newspapers need different voices to tell community stories, so do school media. Having publications that reflect, as accurately as possible, the full picture of the school and its community requires diverse student media participation. A diverse staff offers various viewpoints and is more likely to cover a broader range of topics.
A 2012 American Society of News Editors survey showed the percentage of minorities in newsrooms had declined since 2010, even while the percentage of minorities making up the total U.S. population increased. Because many of today’s most pressing news topics (immigration, poverty and crime, for instance) reflect issues of culture and race, diversity among the journalists who cover these stories can mean greater sensitivity and understanding of the nuances involved.
To promote opportunities for media diversity, the administrator and adviser should look at barriers to class admission that might intentionally or unintentionally keep certain groups of students out of the media classroom – prerequisites, grade requirements, etc. Educators should not abandon high standards, but talented students contribute to media in a variety of ways. For example, if class prerequisites are a barrier, perhaps the adviser could consider a “pre-publications boot camp” or specific project training for individual tasks such as page design or copy editing. Or, novice students could pair with advanced publications students for mentoring and skills training.
Accessibility is important for quality journalism programs and for supporting diversity throughout the student body. When diversity is valued — indeed, sought — in the newsroom, it becomes a key element of decisions on coverage and editorial leadership. In addition, some media organizations host summer workshops, provide scholarships and offer internships specifically targeted at minority groups. For example, the Dow Jones News Fund offers free workshops each summer for minority students interested in journalism careers, with additional scholarships awarded at the end of each program.
But diversity goes beyond recruiting and supporting a diverse student staff; coverage must be fair, balanced and accurate. Student media should share different viewpoints, portray a wide variety of students doing interesting activities and serve as an open forum for student opinion with numerous opportunities for feedback. Student media sometimes turn into play-by-play of the most popular students, so best journalism practice encourages stories that cover all students. Diverse student coverage showcases individuals’ unique gifts and contributions to the student body.
Diversity and stereotypes
Coverage should avoid perpetuating stereotypes of any group, whether it’s the cheerleaders or devout Muslims. Some topics are overdone, especially in the generic approach (Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Women’s History Month), so students should find local angles that show compelling stories about people. And staffs should find ways to reflect their schools’ diversity. Polls should reflect the composition of the school community. Photos should show new faces on nearly every page. Media might publish stories in multiple languages with English translations.
Student media advisers should spend time in diversity training with their staffs. Workshops are available, as are other resources. The Southern Poverty Law Center offers a variety of teaching tools, including Teaching Tolerance magazine and Simon Weisenthal Center for Tolerance. Diversity training is important, especially if during the course of a school year students find themselves covering sensitive racial or intolerance issues.
Diversity training could include:
Bringing in guest speakers who have either covered sensitive issues or been the subject of such media coverage;
- Conducting an open, adviser-mediated discussion on what topics are most sensitive at the school;
- Developing a story checklist for covering sensitive and diverse topics;
- Providing team-building exercises that require staff members to work together to solve problems.