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Diversity In the Newsroom

The Phillipian Looks Inward
By Thomas Smyth, In-Depth
Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Why does The Phillipian have only one non-white member of its four-person Upper Management, with similar statistics for the rest of the board?

And more importantly, what effect does our under-representation of racial diversity have on the newspaper?

These two questions have come up again and again in the past week as News reported on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Editorial Board (distinct from News) wrote editorials on diversity, and this section, In-Depth, assembled a package on racial diversity here at Phillips Academy.

This In-Depth looks almost exclusively at race – a narrow view of diversity on campus which does not represent the full legacy of Dr. King. But race is also much easier for us and for our readers to identify in a front-page photo than geographic origin, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation.

I don’t have all the answers, and I also have a conflict of interest as one of this year’s CAMD Scholars. But being an editor at The Phillipian has produced a few insights on why the newsroom is mostly white and what that means.

First, there’s the tendency of newspapers to think mostly about now, often about yesterday and only rarely about the future. (This is also why the internet has shocked the news industry.) We are often too busy getting the paper to press each week to notice issues that need to be addressed, like running seven headshots of white students out of eight total interviewees in last week’s Commentary feature on English 100.

Second, our entire board – across sections and up and down the masthead – faces a challenge in recruiting. Our hope is that the newspaper itself will attract Commentary submissions, News writers, photographers and other contributors. At the club rally we hold up signs and yell louder than the clubs right next to us, but obviously the success of this approach has been mixed.

As In-Depth points out this week, shortcomings in racial diversity are by no means a problem that affects just The Phillipian. But that’s no excuse for us. We project our view of the world, and especially of Phillips Academy, much farther into the community than do the all-white portraits hanging on the walls or buildings all named for white men. The Phillipian has a responsibility to reflect the values and perspectives of the entire community, not just students in the basement of Morse. We – students, faculty and staff – are all stakeholders in Andover’s story. The Phillipian must write that story.

So how does the lack of racial diversity at The Phillipian hurt the paper itself?

The first impact is in coverage. Our news coverage over the past year has under-played or not reported stories about CAMD, where hundreds of students stop by every week, while other clubs (Model United Nations, of which I’m Co-President) have received disproportionate coverage.

The second and larger impact is in sourcing. Reporters for the paper, especially those who are new, tend to talk to the students nearest to them. A pool of mostly white writers has, in my experience, led to an over-representation of white sources in the paper each week.

For example: the first week back, we began what was meant to be a series on new students’ adaptation to Phillips Academy. But we dropped the series after the first week because, after the paper was published, we realized that all four of the students selected were white.

Again in a series, “Dreaming of Phillips,” the first two students that the paper selected to follow through the application process were white. The launch of the series was held a few weeks while we found a diverse range of applicants that better represented the student body applying to go here. I would argue that because of conscious thinking about how we would cover the diversity of prospective students, we came up with a much richer story in the end.

The Phillipian did do a good job this year at representing Phillips Academy’s diversity in its lead front-page photos, getting faces from across the community to fill the frame.

So how can this newspaper actively pursue racial diversity in the newsroom?

I’ll recruit for The Phillipian at a CAMD event this weekend, hopefully not for the last time. I think The Phillipian is beginning to be a more inclusive, more community-focused newspaper, and the next board is much more aware of challenges like racial diversity than we were. Ultimately, diversity in the newsroom and diversity of coverage should go hand-in-hand to create a better newspaper.

Thomas Smyth is the Executive Editor of The Phillipian. He conducted research on issues of diversity as a CAMD Scholar last summer. Some subjects in this column, such as the distinction between the newspaper and individual reporters, are left intentionally ambiguous to protect the privacy of reporters. The views represented in this column are Smyth’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of The Phillipian.

 

http://www.phillipian.net/articles/diversity-newsroom

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