What's Wrong With This Picture, Part II

Still No U.S.-based Journalists of Color Speaking at Future of Journalism Confab

I took some flak today from organizers at a journalism conference in New York City who told me that my blog post yesterday on the absence of people of color among the contingent of U.S. journalists at the conference was misleading.

The two-day conference, held at Columbia University, was called "Enlarging the Space for Watchdog Journalism: Countering Threats, Supporting Innovations," and was co-sponsored by The Open Society Institute, The Fund for Independence in Journalism, The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

Organizers pointed out that there were many journalists of color on the conference panels including Harinder Baweja, Gustavo Gorriti, Kwame Karikari, Yuen-Ying Chan and Daoud Kuttab.

These journalists are based, respectively, in India, Peru, West Africa, Hong Kong and the Arab region.

The closest the conference came to including a U.S.-based journalist of color among its panelists and speakers was Sheila Coronel, who is the director of Columbia University's Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism. Coronel, who was one of the main conference organizers, is from the Philippines and played a key role in the downfall of the Marcos regime.

It was enlightening and valuable to hear the perspectives of visiting journalists, who face unfathomable challenges in trying to investigate and report the news. But their presence did not mitigate the lack of U.S.-based journalists of color.

Among the 40-odd panelists and other scheduled speakers, there was not a single African American, Asian or Latino journalist based at a U.S. publication, news-generating organization, law firm or fundraising entity.

While it's true that diversity was not the theme of the conference, I find it more than a little disheartening that at a time when news outlets are struggling to capture readership and viewership, so little attention was paid to the vast and growing number of Americans who are not white.

The only person I heard raise the question of diversity over the course of the two-day conference was Arlene Morgan, associate dean of Columbia's J-School, and director of the school's annual "Let's Do it Better!" Workshop on Journalism, Race and Ethnicity.

Morgan, who was an attendee and not a panelist, asked a panel of five white males (with a white female moderator) if and how they were reaching out to the growing immigrant and minority populations in their communities.

Andrew Donohue, editor of Voice of San Diego, an online investigative publication, said he'd just won a two-year grant from the Knight Foundation to report on communities that are under-represented in the media.

Brant Houston, the Knight Chair for Investigative and Enterprise Reporting at the University of Illinois, said that the organization Investigative Reporters and Editors is launching a series of workshops with ethnic media newsrooms, which have traditionally been weak when it comes to watchdog journalism.

I was glad to hear about both of these projects. "Innovation" won't mean a thing if journalists fail to reach out to communities of all colors.