By: David Noack
ASNE, APME assess diversity, accuracy at papers
Two national organizations of newspaper editors are calling on the nation’s newsrooms to see whether their news coverage accurately reflects the community they serve.
The American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) and the Associated Press Managing Editors (APME) at a recent press conference at the National Press Club unveiled a campaign called “The National Time-Out for Diversity and Accuracy.”
The project seeks to have editors and reporters, during the week of May 17-21, take a hard look at the news-gathering process, from covering certain news events to who gets called for a comment.
The groups say that including all segments of the community in news coverage makes for more accurate reporting.
All of the country’s 1,489 daily newspapers are being asked to sign up for the project by April 15 and return the survey form describing the discussion and results by May 28. The results of the survey will be unveiled at Unity ’99, a conference of minority journalists set for Seattle from July 7?11.
“We need to take the unprecedented step of asking every American newsroom to take a time-out during the week of May 17 to discuss diversity in coverage as a core journalism issue,” says a letter sent to editors.
David Yarnold, managing editor of the San Jose Mercury News, says the campaign is taking a different tack in the diversity debate. He says that newspapers that better reflect the community they cover are more accurate in their reporting.
“We want to reframe the issue of diversity as an issue of accuracy. And we’re suggesting a definition of diversity as rich as America: it’s inclusive of race, gender, socioeconomic status, political persuasion, religion, and sexual orientation,” says Yarnold, APME’s diversity chairman.
Pam Johnson, the president of APME who is executive editor of The Arizona Republic, says the project’s goal is to give editors and reporters “the time to stop and think before they make the decision about what they are going to cover out of a council meeting or work session or another institutional body. Our reflex, developed over years and years of deadline work, is to go to the comfort level where we have the sources, have the people, know the issues,” says Johnson.
She is hoping to get at least 100 newspapers to participate and fill out the survey, which will be available in May on the ASNE and APME Web sites.
Johnson says another goal is to build a body of information of efforts that worked elsewhere that can be shared among editors.
Tim McGuire, editor of the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis who is also an officer of ASNE, says his newspaper will certainly participate in the project.
“I think that anything that focuses us on serving our diverse communities better is a great idea,” says McGuire.
The two groups say they are not seeking to create quotas or quick fixes.
“The goal is an earnest effort at being more accurate. In many cases, structural fixes (beats, teams, shifting focus to different city council districts) or heightened consciousness (What mall does a reporter visit to do a trend story?) can result in tremendous change,” says the letter to nation’s editors.
Already about 50 newspapers, along with 43 domestic bureaus of The Associated Press, have signed up for the project.
The issue of newsroom diversity was a goal of ASNE in 1978, to make minority representation in newsrooms equal to that in the population by 2000. That would be about 25%. Ethnic diversity has increased from about 4% of newsroom employees 20 years ago to about 11% today.