Newspapers to Mark ‘Time-Out for Diversity’

By: Deborah Kong, AP Minority Issues Writer

(AP) With special reporting assignments, training sessions and critiques of their own newspapers, journalists across the country will begin a weeklong effort Monday to focus on diversity in their coverage.

The premise of Time-Out for Diversity and Accuracy, now in its fifth year, is that a newspaper cannot be accurate unless it fully reflects the community it serves.

Newspaper newsrooms and Associated Press bureaus around the country are participating in the project, a joint project of the Associated Press Managing Editors and the American Society of Newspaper Editors diversity committees. Their partners are the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, the Freedom Forum, and the Society of Professional Journalists.

Time-Out “has really helped people think about diversity as a core journalism value, as opposed to something nice to add on,” said David Yarnold, editor and senior vice president of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News and APME’s diversity committee chair. “It’s taken root in many newsrooms, but I think that journalism has a long way to go.”

This year, organizers are providing new diversity tools, including a video that features the Poynter Institute’s Keith Woods offering advice on how to write respectfully about race and ethnicity, former ASNE president Diane McFarlin discussing hiring and retention, and Yarnold talking about how to create a newsroom committed to reflecting a diverse community.

Participants also can use the Maynard Institute’s new online software to check on how often minority voices get into their newspapers. And they’ll also be directed to the SPJ’s Internet database of diverse sources, called the Rainbow Sourcebook.

Including the many voices of a community is “just good journalism,” said Suki Dardarian, the Seattle Times‘ assistant managing editor/metro news and APME’s chairwoman of journalism studies. “It’s also critical to our survival as an industry.”

During the week, the Mercury News plans to assess photos that have appeared in the newspaper — studying the age, race, and gender of the subjects, among other things — and to watch Woods’ portion of the video, Yarnold said.

At the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss., staffers will write stories about a neighborhood they’re not familiar with, said Dorothy Wilson, the managing editor. The stories, to be written by the paper’s reporters, editors, designers, and copy editors, will examine what a neighborhood is noted for, who lives there and who its well-known residents are.

Wilson said the stories will help the newsroom better understand the community and build the paper’s source list.

The Associated Press is undertaking similar efforts at state bureaus throughout the country. In Kansas City, Mo., for example, editors will review the past year’s feature stories to track how many were written about various minority groups. They’ll compare the findings to the racial and ethnic composition of Missouri and Kansas. The bureau also plans to invite a local Muslim community leader to speak to staffers about Islam.

The Great Falls Tribune in Montana is planning a training session led by the Great Falls School District’s director of Indian education.

“The big thing for us is just that we serve our readership,” said Associate Editor Tom Kotynski, noting that the state includes seven reservations and a large, urban American Indian population.

In Denver, much of the focus will be on the Hispanic community, which accounts for almost a third of the city. A Spanish-language instructor, who teaches classes to some Denver Post staffers, will talk about how to approach people of Hispanic descent for news stories. And those who attend lunch at a Mexican restaurant on Friday will be required to speak Spanish, said Carla Kimbrough-Robinson, associate editor/staff development.

The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester, N.Y., will hold workshops encouraging staffers to brainstorm about how they should approach stories featuring diverse members of the community. Daily reviews will assess whether minorities are included in the paper, and staffers will add 60 names to the newsroom’s electronic minority source guide.

The Dayton Daily News in Ohio plans to hold a newspaper-wide seminar discussing diversity in recruiting and in the newsroom.

Some newspapers have scheduled their Time-Outs for other weeks. The results of what newsrooms did will be compiled and presented at the annual APME conference in Phoenix this fall.

“It’s really gratifying, the number of newspapers that look forward to this week as a time to take stock,” Yarnold said. “I’m looking forward to the day when they take stock every day.”

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