Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Diversity is the key to accurate and fair reporting

Taylor Petras

Inclusiveness and diversity are a vital part in achieving an accurate and fair news outlet or organization. It is our duty as journalist to represent and include our readers or viewers regardless of race, age, gender or sexual identity. To do so, we must not assume that our audience only consists of the white-middle-class-straight male.

Inclusive Language

I was taught not to make these assumptions during my job as a campus tour guide as well. A member of OU’s LGBT Center taught us about inclusive language. For example, I cannot assume that people accompanying the prospective students on the tour are their mothers and fathers. They could be grandparents, aunts and uncles, or not even related to them at all. Therefore, to make everyone feel included on the tour it is best that I refer to them as parents or guardians and not as Mom and Dad. Also, I cannot assume that the students all have the same sexual identity. So, again, to make everyone feel included on campus, I always point out that Ohio University has gender-neutral housing. This simply means that everyone living in that residence hall is open and comfortable with all sexual orientations.

Minorities in the Media

These same concepts should be applied in the newsrooms. However, with some progress of accepting different sexual orientations in society, it seems that the representation in the media has not quite caught up. Christine Haughney, a writer for The New York Times, just recently wrote an article about how many news organizations are unwilling to change Private Bradley Manning’s gender title from a he to a she. I believe many of our news organizations and their editors are still uncomfortable with representing the different sexual orientations that are not viewed as the norm in our society.

This applies not just to sexual orientations but to race as well. I found it very unique and inspiring how Nightline senior producer RichardHarris went out of his way to cover the midnight release of the Harry Potter book in a town of different races and cultures. As a journalist, it is easy to get in the mundane habit of going to the same sources for a story. Due to time constraints and deadlines, going to the same source or professional is sometimes the easiest thing to do. To achieve an honest and fair representation of all races and cultures, we must sometimes go out of our way and do a little extra work to make this happen.

Poor Representation of the Poor

The media’s misrepresentation of the poor has dated back over half a century. Starting back in the 1950s the general representation of the poor people in America was predominately African Americans. However, research has shown that this representation was false, unfair and did not accurately portray the different races of the poor population of the time period. It was interesting to read how society and the media’s sympathetic moods to the economy and the people affected by it affect who would then be portrayed in the images across national magazines. The sympathetic moods would show mostly White Americans in the pictures, whereas the more hostile stories would portray African Americans.                                                            
Photo Courtesy: The Golden Parks Foundation

As professional journalists, it is our responsibility to leave our stereotypes and subconscious thoughts at the door upon entering the workplace. We must report accurately and fairly to represent all the different races, genders and sexual orientations that our society has developed over the last several decades. We’re not all White, we’re not all straight and we’re not all living in the middle class suburbs. Our country is a diverse melting pot of cultures, and it is one that we must embrace. To achieve this diversity it begins with a diverse newsroom. The more representation across cultures and races telling stories and making decisions together, the better portrayal of diversity that organization will achieve.

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