Small Daily Leads In Diversity

By: Mark Fitzgerald

Diversity, as Betty Barker Smith of The Baxter Bulletin is fond of saying, “is not a destination, it’s a journey.” Then again, the 11,456-circulation Bulletin’s hometown of Mountain Home, Ark., probably isn’t the first destination that occurs to ambitious journalists of color. While the Ozark vacation spot has its charms, racial and ethnic minorities make up a scant 2.9% of its population.

Yet the Gannett Co.-owned Bulletin boasts a diverse newsroom that would make far bigger newspapers green ? or black, brown, red, and yellow ? with envy.

This year, the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) named the Bulletin the top winner in its inaugural “Diversity Pacesetter” awards for the newspaper’s so-called “diversity index.” This measurement compares a newsroom’s percentage of minorities to the percentage of minorities in a paper’s circulation area, with a score of 100 signifying balance.

With a newsroom that is 35.7% minority in nearly all-white Mountain Home, the Bulletin had an industry-high diversity index of 1,231. By contrast, daily newspapers overall have an index of 41.2.

So how has the tiny Bulletin been able to succeed in diversifying its newsroom while editors at big-city papers despair of ever reaching parity with their communities of color? Publisher Smith says the Bulletin emphasizes cultural differences in its editorial staff ? and reaches far and wide in recruiting outside the paper: “We’ve crafted a culture that recognizes diversity, and celebrates it.”

There are formal efforts such as an in-house diversity committee, and outreach to Arkansas journalism schools and associations of journalists of color. The paper’s other departments embrace the same view, she adds: “It’s as important in customer relations as it is in the news columns.”

On a less positive note, Kandra Branam, the paper’s managing editor, recently pleaded not guilty to charges she harbored her brother while he was on the lam, and warned him as police were circling in on him. Branam, 43, was released on a $5,000 bond after turning herself in May 16. She was suspended as managing editor, and Cheryl Whitsitt was named acting managing editor.

According to an account in the Bulletin, the charges against Branam center around allegations that the journalist helped her brother ? who was wanted in Colorado ? elude authorities as he stayed at her house, and after he was arrested under a false identity. Police say the fugitive, Thomas R. Wells, was wanted for failing to report to a correctional program. He allegedly was living at Branam’s house since late summer. Court documents allege telephone records show she called her brother’s cell phone after police visited her home. Ultimately, he was arrested.

Branam attended this year’s ASNE convention to accept its diversity award.

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