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Let's Do It Better: Workshop Program on Journalism, Race and Ethnicity

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The Let's Do It Better workshop programme was started in 1999 in an effort to find a positive, story-based method to teach United States' newspaper and broadcast journalists the importance of covering race and ethnicity. Each year through until 2008 (when the programme was discontinued due to lack of funding), the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, with support from the Ford Foundation, extended a call for applications to an award programme that highlighted best practice media pieces. These pieces then formed the centrepiece of a workshop in which the award recipients deconstructed their work for a group of "gatekeepers" (editors, news directors, and journalism educators). This interactive process was meant to foster dialogue about issues of racial inequity, ethnic stereotypes, and other rights-based themes and to promote similar work in the newsrooms of the media executives who attend.
Communication Strategies: 

This programme involved identifying and honouring journalists who are doing good work on race and ethnicity, and then asking them to teach others. The use of an award-based strategy was an effort to confer legitimacy on themes such as affirmative action, inter-racial romance, racial profiling, and "white flight" from suburban integration. Organisers explain that these issues can be difficult to talk about honestly and, thus, often do not receive adequate media attention.

Specifically, each year Let's Do It Better began by a search for exemplary coverage of race and ethnic issues in the previous two years. A call for application was extended, with submission forms available online. Organisers sought daily newspaper and broadcast stories that illuminate controversial issues or include race and ethnicity in daily lifestyle reports. Successful applicants tended to use their media voice to tackle the issue of diversity in American openly, and in a way that stirs discussion, dispels stereotypes, and draws connections that help explain social problems. Journalists who were selected received a US$500 honorarium, a plaque, and an all-expense-paid trip to New York for the second component of the programme.

Here, at the 3- to 4-day workshop, those "best practitioners" discussed the process of creating their winning stories, sharing experiences and techniques and leading discussions with "gatekeepers", who were also selected through an application process. These gatekeepers included newspaper editors and television news managers with the power to shape the journalistic mission, set newsroom tone and agendas, allocate resources, and make hiring decisions. The aim of the workshops was to increase the gatekeepers' commitment to better coverage of race and ethnicity by identifying practical ways to approach major projects on racial issues, connect with ethnic communities, deepen multicultural dialogue, and help retain talented young journalists in the profession. In addition, because both print and broadcast (television) journalists were involved, it was hoped that the face-to-face dialogue will provide a chance for "cross-pollination".

The Workshop produced a textbook, DVD, and website, The Authentic Voice: The Best Reporting on Race an Ethnicity (Columbia University Press, July 2006) offering 15 newspaper and broadcast stories, teaching lessons, a resource and study guide, and website links.

Development Issues: 

Rights, Media Development.

Key Points: 

The Ford Foundation states that, according to the 2000 census, the United States' 281 million people include 87 million (nearly one in three) who are African-American, Asian-American or Hispanic; 56 million (one in five) who are immigrants or children of immigrants; and nearly 7 million who self-identify as "multiracial". In this context, organisers stress that "Coherent, complete and courageous coverage of race and ethnicity in America is an urgent journalistic duty. Yet, the news media - print and broadcast - often falter."

According to the Ford Foundation, evaluation studies show that past participants from the Let's Do It Better programme have created informal networks that support the sharing of ideas, the implementation of strategies, the initiation of new projects, and the confidence to tackle sensitive and controversial topics. Furthermore, there is evidence that the programme is having a concrete impact on the quantity and quality of stories related to race and ethnicity in the American press. In the words of Arlene Morgan, programme director, "11 of the 20 winners in 2002 were produced by news organizations that had sent gatekeepers or presenters to previous workshops". Furthermore, since the initial workshop, "more than 40 percent of those gatekeepers have subsequently led their newsrooms to produce award-winning work in the competition while other stories went on to win some of journalism's most prestigious awards."

Editor's note: The May 2008 programme was the final one, but organisers hope to resume race workshops when and if they reach their goal of creating a permanent centre on the coverage of race and ethnicity.

Partner Text: 

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, with support from the Ford Foundation.

Contact Information: 
Source: 

"Journalism in a Changing America: Covering Race and Ethnicity", page 6 - formerly available on the Ford Foundation: Knowledge, Creativity & Freedom Program website; emails from Arlene Morgan to The Communication Initiative on December 8 2004 and December 5 2008; and the Let's Do It Better website.

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