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Jan. 27, 2016, 10 a.m.
Reporting & Production

Vice is offering a summer fellowship program for students from “underrepresented communities,” the company announced Wednesday.

Through a partnership with the New York–based nonprofit Center for Communication, two students will spend eight weeks working at Vice this summer. The participating students will receive a $5,000 stipend and their travel and housing expenses will be covered. Vice is also covering the Center for Communication’s administrative costs.

The Center typically works with community organizations, community colleges, and smaller universities — specifically those in the State University of New York system — to attract applicants to its programs, and it plans to use those mechanisms to draw attention to this program as well.

According to the American Society of News Editors’ 2015 newsroom census, 12.76 percent of journalists in daily newspaper newsrooms were people of color. That percentage has held steady between 12 and 14 percent for more than a decade even as newsrooms as a whole continue to contract, ASNE said.

A number of different initiatives have sprouted up in recent years to improve newsroom diversity. For more than a decade, The New York Times has run its Student Journalism Institute for students who are members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalist. Other news outlets run similar programs.

There’s also the Back in the Newsroom program, run by the International Center for Journalists, which lets professors from historically black colleges and universities learn new skills by working in newsrooms across the country. There are also more grassroots efforts such as Writers of Color, which aims to help minority writers find opportunities.

Still, it can be difficult for people of color to break into newsrooms. DeWayne Wickham is the dean of the Morgan State University journalism school — one of just five j-schools at the 107 historically black colleges and universities in the United States — and he explained this struggle in a recent interview with my colleague Laura Hazard Owen:

Wickham: If everybody who has a commitment to diversity would just put a little bit of money into programs where you can make a difference, we would, I think, see greater progress in terms of the integration of newsgathering operations than we do. We’ve gotten funding from the Knight Foundation, Hearst Foundations, the Arca Foundation in Washington, D.C., and the Open Society Foundation [which is allowing the journalism school to give a $10,000 annual journalism prize, the Vernon Jarrett Medal for Journalistic Excellence]. But we have not hit the motherlode.

Here’s what’s distressing for me. I’ve got a program of almost 500 students. Ninety-five percent are African-American. Every year, my program is among the top four or five in the nation in terms of the total number of blacks who receive degrees in journalism and communication. But the programs that receive the lion’s share of the dollars in journalism education — and some of that is specifically targeted for diversity — don’t rank in the top 20, sometimes not even in the top 30, in terms of producing African-American graduates with degrees in the profession.

It wouldn’t make sense anywhere else. It wouldn’t make sense if we were talking about commodities, or oil, or selling televisions or refrigerators. But somehow, it makes sense in journalism education to put the money disproportionately into schools and programs that cannot attract and do not graduate blacks in significant numbers, at a time when everyone in the industry who looks at employment would tell me that the greatest loss of jobs over the last 15 to 20 years has occurred among African Americans.

Owen: What are some of the schools that are getting that funding?

Wickham: They’re very good schools and they all have very good programs. Arizona State: Great program. USC: Great program. What they do, they do very, very well, and I think very highly of the work they do there. But [historically black colleges and universities] have a unique role at a time when cities are burning, when people are demonstrating in the streets.

Folks are being surprised by this continuing wave of discontent in the African-American community, and one of the arguments that I make to these people, is: In 1968, the Kerner Commission told us that one of the causes of urban unrest that led to rioting in that decade was the failure of media to pay attention to the issues of black folk across this country. That continues to be the problem today. You don’t have to be black to cover these issues, but certainly, it helps to expand the diversity in newsrooms and in newsgathering and social media organizations, so that there is not only diversity among the people, but diversity of thought and consciousness.

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