Newspaper image via flickr user Jon S under a Creative Commons license, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

published on November 11, 2021 - 11:38 AM
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Local and national newsrooms have long seen a lack of diversity, but the Journalists of Color program is trying to change that.

Journalists of Color seeks to equip people of color with journalism skills, funding their education through program sponsorships in an effort to increase diversity in local newsrooms.

The education is a multi-faceted effort on behalf of The kNOw Youth Media, Fresno State and Fresno City College. It takes a maximum of eight students a year as a cohort to educate on types of stories to write, grammar, style and photography.

The mentorship program helps students connect with professional reporters during their years working toward a degree. The hope is that by maintaining connection and relationships with people in the workforce, these students will successfully find jobs in the Central Valley.

“So much of one’s ability to successfully enter this profession is contingent upon relationship and who you know and having clips and opportunities to do real work and demonstrate your abilities,” said Kathleen Schock, host of Valley Edition for KVPR and journalism faculty at Fresno City College.

Students can start as young as seniors in high school, and will funnel through higher education to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism. The program has already attracted sponsorships, including from Microsoft, the program’s most substantial sponsor yet. Other entity sponsorships include the California Endowment and the James B. McClatchy Foundation.

Microsoft’s sponsorship gives the foundational financial support for the program to be successful, said Jim Boren, director of Institute for Media and Public Trust and Fresno State journalism professor.

The money goes toward program operations and The kNOw Youth Media, a program under the Youth Leadership Institute and the anchor for Journalists of Color.

The kNOw Youth Media is a nonprofit youth journalism hub that teaches extracurricular journalism classes weekly for 14-to-24-year-olds. As a subset of the weekly classes, those who are a part of kNOw Youth can join the Journalists of Color Program. Right now, three high school seniors and two college freshmen are part of the inaugural program. The five students in the Journalists of Color Program meet once monthly.

Boren said the idea for the Journalists of Color Program came from his time as editor at the Fresno Bee.

“We wanted to find a way to have more qualified candidates of color apply for jobs,” he said.

Schock and Boren decided to utilize their positions as educators to better the incoming workforce. Schock is also on the steering committee for the Journalists of Color program.

“I was approached by Jim Boren last summer in the wake of a lot of civic unrest and questions about equity following the death of George Floyd,” Schock said.

He approached her with the idea of creating a pipeline of people who are trained to report by the time they graduate from college. Most newsrooms desire to represent a more diverse population, but it’s a question of whether those individuals are out there and trained for the job, Schock said.

She graduated with her Master’s Degree in journalism in 2002. She started in an NBC program in New York designed to recruit journalists of color.

“Certainly there were a lot of conversations about the need to have newsrooms reflect the communities that they serve, but it is a conversation that I think was a bit young at the time,” Shock said. “It wasn’t as sophisticated as it’s become today.”

Today, it’s not newsrooms’ willingness to hire a diverse workforce — it’s the resources to do so. Journalism is reimagining its business model in most cases, all while in an evolving world where information is free flowing, which is one problem. Another is the breakdown in trust between the public and reporters.

Hiring people who look like the communities they serve could be a tool to help rebuild some of that trust, she said.

When Boren retired and went to teach at Fresno State, he knew that if there was a training program for journalists of color in the community, there would be more qualified candidates available.

“If we start out with young people and keep training them over a long period of time, we are going to have qualified journalists of color — an entire pipeline that would be available to be hired by local news outlets in Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley,” Boren said.

A study performed by Gallup found that among those who say news organizations should hire for greater diversity, highest priorities went to hiring based on race and ethnicity, political views, income, age and gender. Among the 35% who voted race and ethnicity as the highest priority for diversity, 56% of the vote came from Black voters, while 26% of the vote came from white voters.

“I believe, and I think most news leaders believe, that your newsroom should reflect the makeup of your community, generally,” Boren said.

If students graduate in Fresno with a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism, they are also more likely to stay in Fresno. The goal is to have eight students each year enter the program, and end up with 40 students altogether within five years. It’s funded for the first three years, but until the cost levels out after five years, it will increase gradually every year.

“The community that you come from tends to be where you get your story ideas. And so I think we’ll have more stories that’ll cover the entire community and all parts of it,” Boren said.

Most journalists try to do a good job of covering minority communities, Boren said, but it’s not the same as being planted in the community.

“You have journalists who live in those communities, who understand the nuances of issues and can reflect those,” Boren said.

It would also increase trust in the media, said Johnsen Del Rosario, program manager for The kNOw Youth Media. When people in the newsroom look like those in the community, there’s a better sense of relationship.

“Media is not the enemy here, and right now I think that’s how a lot of people view the media,” said Del Rosario.

Del Rosario said that culture could play a role in steering students away from journalism. Many parents, especially those who have immigrated, hope for their children to get into the sciences, which could be perceived as more stable jobs than the arts.

“And frankly, I think it’s finally time. Like, we can’t continue to have people who are not of color continue telling stories about people in communities of color, because they really don’t get that understanding,” Del Rosario said.

After the students complete the program, following through to earn degrees, local newsrooms are looking to hire those that come through the program.

“I have talked informally to local newsroom leaders and they said that if the program generates qualified journalists of color, that they will commit to hiring them — because they’re all looking for them,” Boren said.

 


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