Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

“Too many young journalists who have managed to find a way into the news business are getting chewed up and spit out too soon, feeling isolated and burned out. The rate of survival in journalism is too low.”

Courageous professional journalists of color and their allies have for years called out news organizations for their workforce homogeneity and prevalent culture that ignores, undervalues, and/or stereotypes marginalized communities.

Journalism students have joined this fight. In 2020, we saw numerous examples of students taking a stand. Forty-three student journalists quit the NYU student newspaper after a racially charged clash with their academic adviser. At Arizona State University’s journalism school, a newly hired dean had her job offer rescinded after two dozen of her former journalism students told ASU’s student newspaper that she engaged in behavior they found racist and discriminatory. College students at many universities, including my own, have been publicly cataloging moments of racist micro/macro-aggressions and displays of white privilege from their professors.

In 2021, I predict more journalism schools are going to face a reckoning with racism and diversity.

If journalism culture needs to change, then higher education journalism programs can no longer perpetuate the status quo.

Anyone teaching journalism in this moment of racial reckoning should reacquaint themselves with The Kerner Commission Report, published 52 years ago, which specifically pointed to “white-oriented media” as a source of racial animosity: “The press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and white perspective. That is no longer good enough. The painful process of readjustment that is required of the American news media must begin now.”

J-schools are tasked with training the next generation of professionals to fill the ranks of newsrooms. That makes them just as responsible as news organizations to reflect the increasingly diverse populations they aim to serve — with an inclusive faculty, adjuncts, student body, and curriculum.

The next generation of journalists will be key to a functioning democracy. Journalism programs, both large and small, must do better to recruit a more diverse pool of young people who can learn to be courageous, articulate, and responsible journalists.

And journalism educators should not only be helping to steer young people into the industry, but supporting them so they can thrive. Too many young journalists who have managed to find a way into the news business are getting chewed up and spit out too soon, feeling isolated and burned out. The rate of survival in journalism is too low.

When I entered the news business in the early 1990s, I landed in a newsroom through a diversity push. No one in my mixed-race family had ever worked in journalism. I got my job through a combination of hard work, mentoring from my college professors, networking, minority job fairs, my discovery of the Asian American Journalists Association, and luck.

As news organizations have trimmed their workforces due to falling profits, diversity efforts have largely fallen by the wayside, especially in local news. Sadly, focus on diversity seems to come and go depending on the news industry’s bottom line. The academy has no such excuse.

When the voices of underrepresented groups are missing from the news, coverage can’t help but become limited in perspective. When news coverage is less representative, it is less interesting and less valuable. Everybody loses.

It will take time, toil, and resources to change the status quo in newsrooms and in journalism programs. There are some bright spots, though. One is the Freedom Forum’s Power Shift Project, which has been training journalism educators like me to help create workspaces free of harassment, discrimination, and incivility and “full of opportunity for those who have been traditionally denied it.”

My own university is also in the process of hiring an anti-racism and anti-bias interdisciplinary cluster of seven new faculty members, including one based in Journalism. It’s an exciting opportunity for a wide swath of students to learn from an accomplished journalist whose work is rooted in confronting racism.

This recent tweet by a journalism student should put all journalism schools on notice: “Minorities, especially Black students are not to simply fill a quota. Our stories matter. Our pain matters. And if that pain is being caused by professors of this institution, it should be known…and it should be known LOUDLY.”

Journalism schools can do better. And we should.

Marie K. Shanahan is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Connecticut.

Courageous professional journalists of color and their allies have for years called out news organizations for their workforce homogeneity and prevalent culture that ignores, undervalues, and/or stereotypes marginalized communities.

Journalism students have joined this fight. In 2020, we saw numerous examples of students taking a stand. Forty-three student journalists quit the NYU student newspaper after a racially charged clash with their academic adviser. At Arizona State University’s journalism school, a newly hired dean had her job offer rescinded after two dozen of her former journalism students told ASU’s student newspaper that she engaged in behavior they found racist and discriminatory. College students at many universities, including my own, have been publicly cataloging moments of racist micro/macro-aggressions and displays of white privilege from their professors.

In 2021, I predict more journalism schools are going to face a reckoning with racism and diversity.

If journalism culture needs to change, then higher education journalism programs can no longer perpetuate the status quo.

Anyone teaching journalism in this moment of racial reckoning should reacquaint themselves with The Kerner Commission Report, published 52 years ago, which specifically pointed to “white-oriented media” as a source of racial animosity: “The press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and white perspective. That is no longer good enough. The painful process of readjustment that is required of the American news media must begin now.”

J-schools are tasked with training the next generation of professionals to fill the ranks of newsrooms. That makes them just as responsible as news organizations to reflect the increasingly diverse populations they aim to serve — with an inclusive faculty, adjuncts, student body, and curriculum.

The next generation of journalists will be key to a functioning democracy. Journalism programs, both large and small, must do better to recruit a more diverse pool of young people who can learn to be courageous, articulate, and responsible journalists.

And journalism educators should not only be helping to steer young people into the industry, but supporting them so they can thrive. Too many young journalists who have managed to find a way into the news business are getting chewed up and spit out too soon, feeling isolated and burned out. The rate of survival in journalism is too low.

When I entered the news business in the early 1990s, I landed in a newsroom through a diversity push. No one in my mixed-race family had ever worked in journalism. I got my job through a combination of hard work, mentoring from my college professors, networking, minority job fairs, my discovery of the Asian American Journalists Association, and luck.

As news organizations have trimmed their workforces due to falling profits, diversity efforts have largely fallen by the wayside, especially in local news. Sadly, focus on diversity seems to come and go depending on the news industry’s bottom line. The academy has no such excuse.

When the voices of underrepresented groups are missing from the news, coverage can’t help but become limited in perspective. When news coverage is less representative, it is less interesting and less valuable. Everybody loses.

It will take time, toil, and resources to change the status quo in newsrooms and in journalism programs. There are some bright spots, though. One is the Freedom Forum’s Power Shift Project, which has been training journalism educators like me to help create workspaces free of harassment, discrimination, and incivility and “full of opportunity for those who have been traditionally denied it.”

My own university is also in the process of hiring an anti-racism and anti-bias interdisciplinary cluster of seven new faculty members, including one based in Journalism. It’s an exciting opportunity for a wide swath of students to learn from an accomplished journalist whose work is rooted in confronting racism.

This recent tweet by a journalism student should put all journalism schools on notice: “Minorities, especially Black students are not to simply fill a quota. Our stories matter. Our pain matters. And if that pain is being caused by professors of this institution, it should be known…and it should be known LOUDLY.”

Journalism schools can do better. And we should.

Marie K. Shanahan is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Connecticut.

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