On The Rocks p. 17

By: Ron Chepesiuk and Larry Timbs Crash courses to train minority journalists hover near death;
lack of money, not lack of success, is the main problem sp.

AN INTENSIVE SUMMER workshop that has trained nearly half of the minorities in newspaper newsrooms around the state is near death at the University of South Carolina.
Meanwhile, a similar workshop at Ohio University was suspended again this year ? after helping people of color find jobs in America's predominantly white newsrooms for six years ? and efforts to resurrect it have failed since funding from the Freedom Forum forced its suspension in the summer of 1994.
Both workshops were designed to train minorities as entry-level newspaper journalists, in keeping with the American Society of Newspaper Editors' 16-year-old goal of increasing minority representation in newsrooms to the proportions of the society overall.
Despite the goal, and the industry's frequently stated intent to have newsrooms mirror the populations they report on, both workshops have struggled for funds after seed money from newspaper foundations dried up ? largely because newspapers themselves failed to pick up the slack.
The South Carolina workshop has been and continues to be supported by Knight-Ridder Inc., owner of papers in Columbia and Myrtle Beach, S.C., and in Charlotte, N.C.; McClatchy Newspapers, owner of dailies in Rock Hill, Hilton Head and Beaufort, S.C.; and Cox Newspapers' Atlanta Journal and Constitution in Georgia. But this year, newspapers that had supported the workshop dropped out, McNeely said earlier in the year.
Freedom Forum, the Arlington, Va.-based foundation that supported both workshops, set out to put the Ohio and South Carolina workshops "up and running. But it was never our intention to provide support to keep them running into perpetuity," said spokeswoman Cheryl Arvidson. The foundation, whose wealth stems from the newspaper empire of the late Frank Gannett, expected the newspapers that benefit from the workshops would fill the breech.
Though Freedom Forum has "shifted its priorities," it still funnels over $1 million a year into programs geared toward minority journalists, Arvidson said, citing the Chips Quinn newspaper internship program, which trained 46 minority college students this year.
Morris Communications, the Augusta-based owner of 30 papers and a former supporter of the USC workshop, concluded it could no longer justify a big corporate donation for a workshop helping less than a dozen candidates, even though some ended up at Morris papers.
Morris human resources director Bill Beauchamp said further corporate support hinged on the "exposure" the company could get from it ? but did not preclude individual Morris papers from contributing.
Moreover, the South Carolina workshop, perhaps the oldest and largest of its kind, is having trouble attracting applicants.
"I'm really disappointed this year because the number of applicants was down considerably from the other years, even though we did the same amount of publicity and promotion," said Pat McNeely, director of Multicultural Newspaper Workshop, a 10-week program offered every summer since 1987 at the University of South Carolina's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.
McNeely, who is also associate dean of the j-school, had received only two applications by the end of last March, when it normally receives 50 or more, despite heavy publicity for the May 29 startup. That alarms McNeely and others who have worked on the program, which has served 119 graduates, most of them black and working at daily newspapers.
"In other years, our program didn't have enough money. Now we not only do not have enough money, we have fewer applicants," she said.
While unable to explain the lack of applicants, she suggested it might be tied to the commitment required: College students and grads spend 10 hours a day for eight weeks in the crash course, then do a two-week newspaper internship. Tuition, housing and books are free, and students get $15 a day for food and expenses.
A lot of people who requested applications could not spare the time because of jobs or kids, McNeely said, so the program went ahead with six participants, all black, or about half the number in 1994, and tried to recoup the costs of $7,000 to $8,000 per student later.
Problems aside, the workshops work.
"Currently, we have two graduates of the University of South Carolina program working for us," says Orage Quarles III, publisher of the Rock Hill, S.C., Herald. "I know we have had two or three others working for us in the past. It's an excellent program."
It's also the only one of its kind left since Ohio University's workshop, patterned after USC's, went dormant in 1994, said Judy VanSlyke Turk, dean of USC's j-school.
"There are some smaller-scale, less ambitious programs I've heard of, but nothing that is a residential, intensive, start-from-scratch effort aimed at college grads without journalism education or experience," VanSlyke Turk said, adding that the University of California at Berkeley originated the concept about 15 years ago, but then halted its program when others started.
Skeptics need look no further than Colette Jenkins, a 1990 Ohio workshop graduate who shined as a writer at the Akron Beacon Journal in a 1993 series on race relations that went on to win a 1994 Pulitzer Prize.
Jenkins is exactly the kind of talent the OU workshop was created for, J. Frazier Smith, a Dayton Daily News copy editor and former workshop director, wrote in the ASNE Bulletin last year, and exactly the kind of journalist that "too many cynical reporters and editors, and, yes, some publishers, dismiss as being too much of a long shot."
Aspiring minority journalists who hope to follow Jenkins' path won't have the same help available unless the workshops find some help, and soon.
"There's a very good chance this is our last year. We all recognize that," McNeely of USC said.
"If we don't get some help, the program is dying this year."
So why won't an industry less than half way to its goal of 20% minorities in U.S. newsrooms jump at the chance to support such a project?
According to McNeely, some newspapers ? including those that have generously supplied journalists as instructors ? support other programs, some run their own minority programs, and some have to search for money in increasingly tight newsroom budgets.
Quarles, one of a handful of African-American publishers at mainstream dailies, said, "Hopefully, the industry will recognize the program is in trouble and could go. It's a good idea for maintaining diversity in the newsroom."

Same story

The story is much the same in Ohio. Postponed this summer for the second straight year, the Midwest Newspaper Workshop for Minorities will continue its fight for survival, vows Ralph Izard, director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University in Athens, home of the workshop.
Citing figures that show about 65% of participants working for newspapers around the country, Izard said the program has been "too important to the lives of too many people for us to allow it to die without a struggle."
He said the university is willing to continue its $20,000 contribution, but the program needs $65,000 more to resurrect the 10-week residential workshop, which is free to participants and pays $50-a-week stipends.
For the nation's newspaper corporations, $65,000 is little enough, "but it's an investment that will produce results in the industry for years to come," Izard said.
Izard, for one, is persistent and hopeful. "I am not giving up on this thing," he said.
"We're going to continue to work on it, and right now I am planning for a 1996 revival. It's been successful and we grieve over, what shall I say, its temporary passing."
Newspaper-related foundations principally supported the Midwest workshop, but it also got money and in-kind support from newspapers, which supplied teachers and accepted interns. But foundations are more prone to fund new efforts than to pay for old ones year after year, Izard said.
"I'm not blaming the foundations for wanting to step back. But the fact is they stepped back, and we were not able to fill the gap with direct industry support, and so we're in this hiatus," Izard said.
Even with the program in a moribund state, and without advertising, mouth attracted at least 30 inquiries this year, he said.
He may have to put the squeeze on some friends in the industry for money, Izard said, "But I refuse to admit that it's dead."
?(Timbs is an associate professor of mass communication, and Chepesiuk teaches journalism on the faculty, at Winthrop University, Rock Hill, S.C.) [Caption]


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here