A newspaper is a mirror for a community. If the paper does a poor job covering certain segments of that community, those readers may feel ignored or rejected.
In fall 2014, NIU undergrads were …
58.8 percent white
16.5 percent African American
14.6 percent Hispanic
5 percent Asian
1.7 percent nonresident aliens
Graduate students were …
64.9 percent white
6.1 percent African American
5.8 percent Hispanic
4.2 percent Asian
17.0 percent nonresident aliens
These stats are taken from the NIU Data Book.
Diversity represents one of the biggest challenges for editors. The following are some areas that can help a newspaper better reflect its entire community.
It means including a variety of voices in all news stories — not just those dealing with diversity issues. This will help the newspaper be a truer reflection of its readers.
Example 1: A reporter and a photographer cover football tailgating. Knowing that this event involves a cross-section of NIU, they find a variety of people to talk to and photograph — people of different races, ethnic backgrounds, Greeks and non-Greeks, people of different ages.
Example 2: A reporter is doing a story on NIU tuition increases. Since any news story is most effective by focusing on the people it affects, the reporter interviews several students. She makes sure at least one of those students is of a race or ethnic background different than her own.
The natural tendency for journalists — and people in general — is to talk only with people who look or speak like them. Northern Star reporters and photographers must consistently step outside their comfort zones and approach a cross-section of people.
– Are you approaching people of many races and ethnicities? – Are you being careful not to stereotype by your choice of sources?
Diversity of thought:
Often, journalists will do a good job of diversifying their sources racially and ethnically, but they neglect to look for, or recognize, diversity in point of view.
Example: A journalist who leans one way politically may fail to see an entire other side to an issue, and sometimes he/she may completely misunderstand and/or misstate that side’s point of view. The result is lost credibility, and accusations of biased journalism.
You can avoid this problem by reading news from a variety of sources, to educate yourself from more than one perspective. For example, read the editorial pages of both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Both have excellent writing and arguments, but often from different ends of the political spectrum.
The Inter-Race Institute, in a 2003 study of news coverage in Minneapolis-St. Paul, concluded:
“It is not enough to do positive stories on the African American community during Black History Month or Indian History Month. Rather, reporters should have a deep understanding and level of trust in the community so that positive stories are happening all year.”
Reporters, photographers and editors must recognize stories that are important to various racial / ethnic / religious communities — and not just during pre-programmed weeks or months. This boils down to good beat reporting. The people on your beat can alert you to story possibilities. Reporters and editors should keep phone and email lists of sources in various groups. And then, each semester, keep expanding and updating that list for the benefit of your successors. These lists are only useful if they are kept up-to-date.
Not worth covering? Not every event, program or meeting is worth sending a reporter and/or photographer. But, a good newspaper still will give its readers easy-to-understand ways to get their news in the paper.
– People should know whom to call or email with news.
– The newspaper should have easy-to-follow forms available — both online and on paper — for submitting news items
– Deadlines should be clear … and if people turn in their material on time, they should have reasonable assurances that it will be published
in some form.
– The paper and Web site should offer daily advice about how to get news items in the paper.
– If items such as photos are lent to the paper, they should be returned promptly after they are published.
– Bottom line: Someone thought this news was significant enough that they contacted the newspaper. What message does the paper send if this news is ignored? What message does the paper send if it finds space for this news — either through coverage or a brief?
Of course, not all news stories are “good news.” But when a newspaper does a good job of covering everyday life in its community, bad
news like crime or scandal gets a less-suspicious reception from readers.
Racial identification: guidelines
By Keith Woods / The Poynter Institute
Used with permission
The use of racial identifiers in the media was for decades a means of singling out those who were not white. The practice helped form and fuel stereotypes and continues today to push a wedge between people. We can handle this delicate material better if we flag every racial reference and ask these questions:
Is it relevant?
Race is relevant when the story is about race. Just because people in conflict are of different races does not mean that is the source of their dispute. A story about interracial dating, however, is a story about race.
Have I explained the relevance?
Journalists too frequently assume that readers will know the significance
of race in stories. The result is often radically different interpretations.
That is imprecise journalism, and its harm may be magnified by the lens
Is it free of codes?
Be careful not to use welfare, inner-city, underprivileged, blue collar,
conservative, suburban, exotic, middle-class, Uptown, South Side or wealthy
as euphemisms for racial groups. By definition, the White House is in the
inner-city. Say what you mean.
Are racial identifiers used evenly?
If the race of a person charging discrimination is important, then so is the race of the person being charged.
Should I consult someone of another race/ethnicity?
Consider another question: Do I have expertise on other races/cultures?
If not, broaden your perspective by asking someone who knows something more
about your subject. Why should we treat reporting on racial issues any differently
from reporting on an area of science or religion that we do not know well?
Identifying people: Black or African-American? Hispanic or Latino/Latina?
Follow the Northern Star’s stylebook when possible. If you’re still unsure,
ask the source which he/she prefers.
Spotting red flags: Some photos or cartoons reinforce negative
Example: A Star editor once caught and removed – on deadline
– a feature photo of an African American male student holding a plastic
pistol for a video game. The photo was to have run next to an unrelated
Sometimes it’s a good idea to run questionable material past a member
of the potentially offended group and get that person’s opinion on whether
the material should be published.
Photo identification: It is important to identify all of the people
in any news photo, but it is critically important when identifying members
of minority communities. Why? Because not identifying the person in a photo
sends a subtle message to readers that the person wasn’t important enough
to be identified.
“I try to cover life as it is, not as we would wish it to be. There
is a tendency among white liberal editors and reporters to revert to what
I call gee-whiz stories about minorities, stories that have a message,
hidden or blatant, that says, ‘They are real people, just like us.’ Conversely,
there is sometimes a tendency among minority journalists to do ‘advocacy’
types of stories, stories that paint a particular under-represented group
in a purely positive light. … I simply try to do what I think is honest
journalism – truth-telling.
– Alisa Valdes, reporter, The Boston Globe, quoted in “Reporting
and Writing: Basics for the 21st Century,” by Christopher Scanlan.
Many newspapers do a terrible job of covering religion in their communities.
This despite the fact that a high percentage of readers say religion news
is important to them. College students’ interest in religion has increased
in recent years, too.
What are some ways newspapers have failed at religion reporting?
- Doing just the predictable holiday stories — usually assigned at the
last minute. Yom Kippur … Ramadan … Ash Wednesday … etc.
These stories generally read like a National Geographic article about a
foreign culture, simply explaining what the holiday means and how people
- Presenting a story as if there are only two sides. Religion stories
often have far more. Example: A church may have an official position on
gay marriage, but its members may be divided into several distinct opinions.
- Presenting religious people as fanatics. Sometimes the loudest voices
are the only ones the press pays attention to. Generally, there are far-more-intelligent
voices on just about any issue if you look for them.
- Failure to realize that faith often shapes people’s actions. Not just
terrorists, but regular, everyday people of any religion. Many stories
from just about any beat have religious angles that reporters often miss.
How can a newspaper improve its religion coverage?
- As with other beats, look for trends and look for stories about people.
- Background yourself, especially on religions other than your own.
- Build a stable of smart sources.
- Don’t rely strictly on clergy for quotes. Talk to regular people, too.
Can a reporter who is religious cover religion news without creating a conflict of interest?
Can a sports fan cover sports? Of course. A reporter with deep religious faith will understand issues far better than a reporter who isn’t religious at all.
Reporters on any beat do need to recognize their biases and make every
effort to write a fair and balanced story. Example: A reporter who is a
devout Christian is assigned to do a story about a new Muslim group on campus.
The reporter simply writes a fair story and lets readers draw their own
A true conflict of interest would occur, say, if a reporter who is part
of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship were assigned to cover an event sponsored
by that group. Those situations should be avoided, just as with any other
Because 42 percent of NIU undergraduate students are not white, the Northern Star should strive for a similar percentage among its employees — particularly among news employees who will cover the campus community.
Why this is important: Imagine picking up your daily newspaper, knowing that none of the people who wrote or edited that paper are the same race, ethnicity or religion as you. Would the paper feel like “your” paper? Would you trust what it says about your community?
NIU’s anti-discrimination policy (see separate section) prohibits making any employment decision based on race, color, national origin, sex, religion, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, veteran status, sexual orientation, political affiliation or any other factor unrelated to professional qualifications.
For the Northern Star to reflect its community, it needs a wide variety of talented student journalists. It is student managers’ responsibility
to recruit, train and retain this diverse staff.
No Northern Star employee should ever be able to say he or she did not receive the training needed to succeed in the job. The Star is in constant training mode. Managers and advisers must learn what type of training employees need and then provide it.
Of course, there may be other reasons employees do not succeed: lack of time, lack of talent or lack of interest in pursuing journalism, to name a few. But if managers hire carefully, and are clear about the Star’s expectations for employees, the number of employees who leave for those reasons can be minimized.
The Northern Star’s office atmosphere plays a huge role in whether talented students will stay here. Beware of cliques, and of people feeling left out — of news decisions and of general newsroom conversations. This leads to people feeling like they don’t fit in … and before long, they leave. The Star should be an atmosphere where any dedicated staffer can rise through the ranks. Every employee has a stake in making that happen.
Tips for staffing news coverage:
Reporters: If you have the cultural affairs beat, give special attention to the groups you have no personal affinity with. Don’t simply cover the groups you feel more comfortable around.
Editors: Beware of the trap of, for example, only assigning Latino reporters to cover Latino events. This may place the reporter in a tough position with sources who may expect him/her to serve as a sort of public relations officer for a group.