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Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Diversity Toolbox

Award entries reflect diversity in coverage

By George Daniels

One of the privileges of serving as SPJ’s Diversity Committee chairman came earlier this year in a big UPS box. It was full of DVDs, newspaper clippings and CDs with news stories that explore and expose issues of importance to immigrant or ethnic communities living in the U.S.

In that box was some of the best work of 2010 from television and radio stations, community and major metro daily newspapers, and magazines that decided to address issues facing those who are historically under-represented in news coverage.

I consider it a privilege to be among those on the committee that reviewed the more than three dozen entries for our New America Award, which was established only six years ago.

Recognizing diversity

SPJ is not the only national organization that honors news organizations for their exemplary coverage of diversity. For 12 years, our conference partner this year, the Radio Television Digital News Association, has teamed up with the groups in the UNITY Journalists alliance (Asian American Journalists Association, Native American Journalists Association and National Association of Hispanic Journalists) for the RTDNA/UNITY Award, which spotlights organizations’ ongoing commitment to covering the cultural diversity of the communities they serve.

The National Association of Black Journalists, which withdrew from UNITY earlier this year, also holds its own awards ceremony during its annual convention.

So when my predecessor, Sally Lehrman, teamed up in 2005 with the SPJ Awards Committee to establish the New America Award, they knew it would be a challenge to get news organizations to submit entries for yet another contest.

Seventh award winner goes cross-platform

This year’s winning entry, “Civil War Kids: Young Somalis in Minnesota,” was produced by Minnesota Public Radio. The three-part series looked at the continuing violence rippling throughout Minnesota’s Somali community, as well as the vulnerabilities, challenges and triumphs of its youth.

MPR News also launched an online project page featuring photographs, stories and audio clips that went beyond the radio pieces. As a follow-up to the series, MPR recently hosted a live broadcast with the BBC to discuss similar themes of identity and belonging among Somalia’s “civil war kids” in London, St. Paul, Minn., and Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. (See the work here.)

In the age of multimedia, the best examples of diversity coverage use all platforms to showcase the reporting product and engage the audience in some of the issues the report raises. That’s lesson one from this year’s New America Awards contest.

Choosing a single winner from all the great entries was anything but easy. We had so many examples of stories that stood out because the reporters and news organizations invested time and staff resources to spotlight an issue that appears far too infrequently on air, online and in print.

Among the other New America Award entries are examples that can provide us as journalists some lessons on coverage issues related to immigrant communities:

Don’t just report, empower

Coincidentally, another New America Award entry addressed the same Somali community as Minnesota Public Radio. But the staff at the St. Cloud Times took their newspaper series a step further. They empowered Somalis to tell their own story by providing a Somali-language newscast, which is delivered by an immigrant who works as a translator for the local court system.

News coverage that makes a difference

When a national newspaper like The Wall Street Journal tackles an issue involving an immigrant community, the repercussions can reach across state lines. In the story “A Tale of Two Students,” the Journal spotlighted two students whose parents were Mexican immigrants in the same impoverished Oklahoma City community. One of the students attended a charter school and the other a large public school. The article made it possible for the charter school to win a $1 million grant to kick off a capital campaign for a new campus.

Localize, then go deep

While the award is not intended to recognize coverage of immigration, but rather those living in immigrant communities in the United States, several of the New America Award entries addressed the issue of immigration reform and the political debates on that issue. Telemundo’s Oklahoma City affiliate KTUZ-TV produced a series of reports from the vantage point of faith-based community on issues of immigration reform. After spending a year working for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the reporter developed a three-part series that exposed the lack of education of many within the church on the issue of immigration.

A former local television news producer, George L. Daniels is now an associate professor of journalism at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Daniels serves as a campus adviser at-large on the SPJ board of directors. Reach him at gdaniels@ua.edu

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