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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Columns

Student journalists are knocking down barriers of exclusivity


Sonny Singh/The Cougar

Without realizing it, student journalists bear the burden of growing and diversifying the news media that are crucial to maintaining our liberty.

In newsrooms all over the country, minority journalists have always been treated as tokens. Although minorities make up roughly 40 percent of the U.S. population, according to census data, they make up only 17 percent of newsroom staff. And according to a study by the American Society of News Editors, in 2016 minority women made up only 5 percent of newsroom personnel. This lack of representation sabotages understanding of minority issues and student journalists are alleviating it.

This issue manifests most blatantly in white journalists’ scope and sensitivity — or lack thereof — in covering day-to-day news and culturally specific stories. As every other industry races forward, traditional journalism continues to lag in diversity. It is impossible to tell international and inclusive narratives when we hushed the voices of these narrators long ago.

And by doing a disservice of filtering them through a mostly male, white lens, we are undermining the authenticity of the lives we are trying to uplift. These are not just stories we’re telling.

The narrowness of perspective can be seen in the many nuanced editions of Colin Kaepernick’s story. Lonnae O’Neal — a writer for The Undefeated that examines the intersection of sports, race and culture — covered Kaerpernick’s act as a protest and not an affront to patriotism. O’Neal’s more racially sensitive remarks stem from her experience as someone who can empathize with Kaepernick’s plight and translate it to a largely white audience. Her status as a minority offered her the  capability to ask: “Why is this country is more brown than ever, but mainstream journalism is so white?”   

Traditional media excluded many perspectives from newspapers, broadcasts and radio shows. The credibility of a story relied on the gender and race of its reporter for far longer than we should’ve allowed. This was detrimental for minorities suffering under misrepresentation who had no voice in media to counter these fallacies.

According to Barbara Walters, the first female news anchor, this was a time characterized by the belief that nobody would take a woman reporting hard news seriously. Her presence in the media spurred thousands of women to respond with their own stories of discrimination.

Max Robinson, the first black news anchor, had a similar struggle with the limited racial lens of journalism at the time. He referred to the news media as a “crooked mirror” through which “white America views itself.

Student journalists are pioneers of their time, finding entirely new ways to present and consume information.

We see the world in a fundamentally different way, as a product of living in this unique and rapidly changing time. To tell our stories accurately and reliably, this generation of journalists had to break the mold that limited our predecessors and modernize multimedia.

The diversity in perspective is evident in our own newsroom. In an informal survey of The Cougar last October found that our staff is made of roughly 68 percent racial minorities, while the Houston Chronicle has roughly 23 percent.

Journalism thrives in the face of oppression, but does it stand for inclusion? It does now. This wave of student journalists has brought forth an entirely unprecedented brand of inclusion.

Social media has connected us in revolutionary ways and incited so much awareness that ignorance is no longer an option. Traditional journalism was written by white journalists for a white audience, but student journalists use tools like social media to connect with marginalized audiences that have been previously alienated.

This technological shift has led to social change that gives anyone in my generation the power to amplify their protests, the mic to share their grievances and an international community as an audience to their journalism. No one can dare tell me we can’t change the world because I see it happen every day.

Not only does this technology allow for a more relatable point of view, but it also allows journalism to appeal to the masses and become interactive through hashtags and Twitter threads, which allow for interactivity and constant updates. We’ve found more direct way to relate to our audience and provide more direction information.

Outdated and inaccurate narratives regarding race and ethnicity won’t budge until the news industry accepts diverse reporters that can discredit them. Journalism is fed by the rich variety in perspectives that my generation has provided.

Student journalists refuse to keep subjecting people to these impoverished and flawed truths, and that’s why the institution of journalism needs them now more than ever before.

Opinion Editor Anusheh Siddique is a political science freshman and can be reached at [email protected]

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