Trayvon Martin case reminds us that media coverage needs diversity

In a recent column, I wrote about a forum held Monday by the Tampa Bay Association of Black Journalists that focused on the media coverage of Trayvon Martin's death.

The reaction from a couple of readers, albeit respectful in its inquiry, struck a chord.

"Can you imagine the uproar — the hullabaloo, the lawsuits — if someone wanted to start an ASSOCIATION OF WHITE JOURNALISTS? And I have no doubt that you would be at the forefront of any displays of outrage, and probably rightly so. . . . Aren't you and others promoting the furtherance of the very thing you should be lobbying and fighting against?"

The short answer is no. Although I'm not an active member, the TBABJ opens its membership to all people, and it does have white members and supporters.

It does not exclude white journalists. Rather, its mission focuses on increasing diversity in local media outlets and helping the press cover people of color more accurately by promoting best practices.

TBABJ conducts a number of seminars and those seminars welcome every journalist. On the local level, it also works with other organizations that share its perspective.

Newsroom diversity remains an important goal of the association and its parent organization, the National Association of Black Journalists. That focus goes beyond just helping people of color gain employment. It's about helping all journalistic decisionmakers understand the complexities of covering minority communities.

Greater understanding could have helped media outlets avoid some of the mistakes made in the coverage of Trayvon Martin's death.

These points have been made before and easily extend to other ethnic-centric organizations. The NAACP includes members of multiple races, as does the National Urban League.

You don't have to be a minority to promote equality and fairness.

Still, that message hasn't reached everyone. Typically, people who object respond to this line of sound reason by saying, "Why can't we just all be Americans?"

However, that notion sounds like a desire to sanitize all the groups striving to maintain cultural connections. That would only detract from what makes America the great melting pot.

The ideal approach is not to abandon what makes us unique but to bring that flavor to the mix and share our differences with each other and our children.

TBABJ annually gives scholarships, creating a bridge between past generations and today's youth that helps them better understand the sacrifices made by those who came before them.

The more today's young African-Americans know about our history and how far we've come, the more they will appreciate and take advantage of the opportunities given to them today.

By the way, some of the recent scholarship winners have been minorities but not African-American.

To extend the point, look at the groups that settled in Ybor City. The Italian Club and the Cuban Club began at the turn of the 20th century when the cigar industry boomed, and although those times have passed, the third- and fourth-generation families maintain those clubs as a means of sharing their history.

It's possible and, in fact, necessary to maintain a cultural connection to your roots and be a proud American. Everyone benefits when we do.

I attended Festa Italiana last month and absolutely loved it all, including the performers singing in Italian. To see people of all colors and backgrounds join in a chorus of Volare captured an American spirit while underscoring our diversity.

Perhaps a T-shirt said it best: "Made in America With Italian Parts."

That's all I'm saying.

Trayvon Martin case reminds us that media coverage needs diversity

05/10/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 10, 2012 4:30am]

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