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Diversity Toolbox
How to Cross Your ‘Faultlines’

By Sally Lehrman

Why view the world in black, brown and white when reality is so much more varied? Reporters who understand the world solely through the prism of race not only limit their vision, but also often misinterpret what they are seeing, says Dori J. Maynard, president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland, Calif.

Maynard teaches journalists to look more deeply and effectively into society through a framework called “faultlines.” Her father, Robert C. Maynard, developed the philosophy when thinking about the frequent earthquakes in the state where he became the first African American editor of a major metropolitan daily, the Oakland Tribune. What are the chasms that seem to separate people in such resolute ways? What are the differences that, without relief from their pressures, can fracture our relationships and social structures?

By Dori Maynard

Look for the faultlines in your subjects, sources, and the topics of news stories and images.

— Race: African American, Asian American, Hispanic, Native American, mixed race, or white?
— Gender: Male, female, gay, lesbian, or bisexual?
— Class: High income, middle income, or low income?
— Generation: 0-18, 19-34, 35-64, or 65+?
— Geography: Urban, suburban, rural, neighborhood (which one?), other?

Robert Maynard said there are five enduring forces that shape lives and social tensions in this country: race, class, gender, generation and geography. Reporters who consider each one of these as they cover complex stories, he advised, can understand issues more clearly and build more accuracy into their work. And by acknowledging our own faultlines – the frame of reference for all of our own experiences – we can correct for missing pieces in the way we interpret an event or issue.

Dori Maynard would like to see the faultlines become as second nature to reporters as those old questions, “who, what, where, when, why and how?” “The faultlines shape our perceptions of ourselves, each other and events around us,” she says. “Use them as a checklist to help detangle what’s really going on.”

Maynard likes to point out that the metaphor of faultlines suggests accepting natural differences, rather than attempting to erase or ignore them. It also points to solutions that involve learning to understand relationships and perceptions, and so ease pressures between groups.

Individual journalists can use the framework to build more representative source lists and plan coverage based on the communities they serve. Newsrooms and organizations can use the faultlines framework for more honest discussion about highly charged issues because it emphasizes understanding, not necessarily agreement, she says.

Refer to the Maynard Faultlines when you need a quick checklist on accuracy or a brainstorming tool. Each time you write, consider the faultlines and ask just what the story is really about. Review your sources and consider whose voices are telling the story and whose have been left out.

It is our calling as journalists to include all of America in its history, Robert Maynard said. “This country cannot be the country we want it to be if its story is told by only one group of citizens,” he told a group of young journalists in his last public address. “Our goal is to give all Americans front-door access to the truth.”

Sally Lehrman writes about genetics, medicine and health issues for a range of publications and is national diversity chair for the Society.