Thursday, December 24, 2009

Including Those of Color in Future Journalism Efforts

The National Association of Black Journalists has a very active listserve on Yahoo Groups. Some of the bigger discussion topics are about including journalists of color on all the new media sites -- ones like Mediaite, Gawker, local ESPN networks like ESPN Boston and Huffington Post -- and of giving us access to the resources needed to become entrepreneurs and create our own new media models. You can read a post about that on the NABJ Digital blog here.

So it was with great interest that I read a post on the blog about NPR beginning to staff up its new local news effort, dubbed Project Argo. Project Argo won $3 million in foundation support from The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Knight Foundation to tap a dozen unnamed local stations in the NPR network and setting them loose to offer “in-depth topical coverage of issues with broad national relevance and a strong local focus,” according to the site.

The funding is still being finalized but NPR is putting the pieces in place for a summer launch of its ambitious local news effort, known internally as Project Argo. Named by digital head Kinsey Wilson with Jason and the Argonauts in mind, this project is in search of a different kind of golden fleece—armed with $3 million in foundation support and a dozen stations committed to Wilson’s explains what NPR hopes to accomplish: “We want to demonstrate that we can build both authority and audience around the coverage of particular beats in these communities.”

When this project was first announced, I remember seeing a flurry of postings on the effort and how NABJ members could become involved. NPR has been up and down with hiring journalists of color, laying off what was seen as a disproportionate number in 2009, including several right after NABJ held a fundraising event at the station’s headquarters in October. NABJ President Kathy Times and VP-Broadcast Bob Butler sent a letter Oct. 27 to NPR President and CEO Vivian Schiller taking her to task over the layoffs.

In her Oct. 29 response to Times and Butler, Schiller offered a more focused breakdown of people of color on NPR’s staff. She defended her organization’s effort to maintain diversity and admitted that NPR could do better, saying she was working to boost the numbers.

To that end, NPR announced Dec. 15 that it had hired Keith Woods, currently the dean of faculty at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, as its vice president of diversity in news and operations, effective Feb. 1. This is positive step, and we can only hope that Woods is able to back up Schiller’s commitment. Getting some journalists of color involved with the Argo project would be a great start.

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