Sep 3, 2004 in UNITY 2004

Journalism Education Gets Failing Grade in Diversity

by Dawn Withers

If grades were given for diversity, the highest grade journalism education would receive is a C-, according to a panel of experts speaking last month at the UNITY Journalists of Color Convention in Washington.

A lot of the panel's discussion focused on the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) and the failure to penalize journalism programs that repeatedly fail to meet ACEJMC's diverstiy standard.

The lack of adequate education in diversity has profound consequences for journalism as it struggles to maintain and expand audiences in an increasingly multi-racial, multi-ethnic society, according to panelist Mae Cheng, assistant city editor with Newsday New York City edition.

I just want students who are comfortable covering [communities of color], she said. But many of the student interns at Newsday interns have shown trepidation when asked to cover communities of color, she said.

Cheng was joined in her critique of diversity in journlaism education by Cristina Azocar, director of the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University; Lillian Dunlap, media consultant with Strategic Insight and a former faculty member at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, and Selene Phillips, an assistant professor of communications at the University of Louisville. Ave Greenwell, an associate professor at Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, moderated the panel.

To address the problem of journalism programs continuing to fail to meet the diversity standard, a resolution was presented to ACEJMC board of directors by its task force on diversity. The resolutions asks that if a journalism program fails to meet the same accredition standard during two consecutive evaluations that department will either not receive accreditation or receive it on a probationary basis. The resolution has yet to be approved by the board of directors. The diversity requirement was also moved up the accreditation standards list from 13 to three.

The panels also criticized the accreditation process for its high costs. For a journalism organization like the National Association of Black Journalists to sit on the ACEJMC accrediting council, they must pay $5,000, an amount organizations like NABJ have a hard time raising.

Cheng, who served on an acceditation evaluation team. said the journalism program she visited handpicked many of the students she spoke with and she could not access other students.

Cheng said she was alarmed by the outmoded attitudes toward diversity that she heard educators express at an accreditation training session she attended. She said she also was concerned about the relative lack of diversity of the evaluation teams.

She said journalism programs could do more to recruit students and faculty members of color, change the curriculum to reflect diversity in every class and encourage greater use of organizations like the American Asian Journalists Association for guidance on coverage communities of color.

The panelists used grades to quantify their impression of journalism education's diversity efforts. Dunlap, who leads Poynter's annual Diversity Across the Curriculum workshop for journalism educators, gave journalism education a C-. She said she thought the grade was fair because progress has been made and more people are training and talking about diversity but that's still not enough.

The harshest evaluation came from Azocar and Phillips, who expressed dismay at the lack of effort and progress in journalism education, giving a D+ and F respectively.

ACEJMC has been working on this and the plus is for that, said Azocar. Azocar also criticized the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the organization of educators in journalism and mass communication, for holding its conference in Toronto during the same week as UNITY.

Phillips said she gave journalism education a failing grade because few programs recognize the importantce of diversity and few good efforts to address this shortcoming exist.

Diversity efforts are often left to those who care, said Azocar. Professors need to be evaluated on diversity because if it is not, they wonít do it because they are too busy.

The panelists said that if change is going to happen in journalism education students need to be asked to evaluate whether their professors value diversity, universities need to support UNITY or its member groups by having faculty members attend and participate, the curriculum needs to reflect diversity and throughout curriculum diversity needs to be stressed as a core journalistic value.

You donít have to be an expert in diversity, said Dunlap. You have to be willing to take on the learning for what you donít know.