Editor: There Are Lots of Minority Journalist Candidates

By: Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Believing it is possible is the first step in recruiting minority reporters and editors, says a newspaper editor whose program now finds more candidates than it can hire.

“The first thing is to be open to the idea that there are lots of potential candidates, a lot of potential journalists in minority communities,” John Thomson, deputy managing editor of the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, told the American Society of Newspaper Editors annual convention Thursday. “Once you do that, we found they suddenly appear.”

An ASNE survey presented earlier this week reported that the newspaper industry remains far behind its goals in minority hiring.

Thomson, among members of a panel about how to attract and keep minority journalists and readers, said he found that talking to high-school assemblies and college groups wasn’t nearly as effective as building a network between the staff and community.

That network includes recruits’ parents “who adore us because we’ve changed the lives of their sons and daughters who were flailing around, not knowing what to do until they ran into us,” he said.

Thomson said he brings would-be writers in for one-on-one meetings.

“That’s pretty big to a 14- or 18-year-old. And we treat them like the adults they want to be treated like, talk to them about their career potential,” he said.

“Then we look for the nearest $6-an-hour job to get started. It’s like handing them a bag of gold. That’s how we start them.”

A measure of the program’s success is that it now brings in more candidates than the Cox newspaper chain can handle, and more than 100 of the program’s graduates are now professional journalists, Thomson said.

Julia D. Wallace, editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, talked about a weekly section created to cover the many cultures of the area’s residents.

“Right before the war, we wrote about green-card soldiers — people who are not citizens but are fighting,” she said. Other stories have focused on “hip-hop around the world” and men who went to Russia to meet mail-order brides and then couldn’t bring them home because immigration rules tightened after the Sept. 11 attacks. “It’s a pretty eclectic section,” Wallace said.

After more than a year producing the section, “we’re connecting with more and more people, building more sources in our community and finding more to write about,” she said.

The section also has helped bring 25,000 copies into junior high-school classrooms, an area the Journal-Constitution hadn’t reached before, she said.

Pamela Newkirk, an associate professor of journalism at New York University, said editors and reporters need to understand that they cannot just dismiss different viewpoints emanating from different cultures.

“I think we’ve seen it most in the O.J. Simpson case — the way people looked at the same circumstances and came to different conclusions,” she said. “There was a tendency to look at people who reached those conclusions as crazy, irresponsible — something’s wrong with them.”

Because many minority journalists don’t feel they are being heard, “they’re leaving almost as quick as we can hire new ones,” Newkirk said.

She said many newspapers are still covering news “from the standpoint of the white man’s world.”

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