Upshot of covering race seminar at SPJ/RTDNA: Journalists who get race right, get more accuracy, fairness
I just finished co-leading a fun seminar on issues of covering race with Poynter Institute instructor Kenny Irby at the Society of Professional Journalists/Radio-Television Digital News Association conference in Ft. Lauderdale.
And after sharing thoughts and tips with about two dozens journalists from as far away as Idaho and California, we learned a few important things:
True objectivity may be impossible, but fairness is essential.
A focus on journalism values of accuracy, fairness and open-mindedness can make coverage better.
The four biggest obstacles to quality journalism across difference -- fear, lack of understanding, avoidance and reflex -- work to cloud those issues, especially for journalists who haven't thought a bit about these issues in advance.
Working with Kenny, who leads the diversity programs at Poynter, we looked at a news story from Baton Rouge Louisiana, where a man was charged with a hate crime after yelling racial slurs at a black woman who was monitoring cleanup after Hurricane Isaac.
I noted that the story didn't say what nationality the man was -- he looks white, but the story never says so. I also noted that there was initial confusion over George Zimmerman's ethnic background when he was first arrested for shooting black teen Trayvon Martin, because police assumed the Hispanic man was white.
Look over video of the spitting story, aired on WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge, and ask yourself, what racial issues and journalism codes come to mind while watching this?
We also talked about coverage of the Trayvon Martin case, noting that many outlets were scrambling to cover his death many days after the shooting, mostly due to comments from his family. I noted that, in missing person cases, people of color sometimes seem to have trouble getting attention from the press, except in stories about how the media is ignoring the story.
Sherri Williams, a multimedia journalist and adjunct professor at Syracuse University, was kind enough to live tweet the session. I pulled her tweets into a Storify document you can read below: