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The Importance of Diversity in Reporting the News

Angela Poma of Judson Learning Academy in San Antonio.

Angela Poma
Judson Learning Academy
San Antonio

Title: The Importance of Diversity in Reporting the News

Rationale and Background

Diversity issues abound in the drop out prevention and recovery program where I teach 80 students, 16-21 years old. The ethnic mix of the student population is 64% Hispanic, 32% white, 3% black, 1% other; the full-time staff of five teachers, principal, and secretary is made up of white, middle aged women. The school is located in a middle class suburban mall; a majority of the students are classified as poverty level. Many of these students aren’t involved with sports teams but instead have gang affiliations. Rivalries, miscommunication, and skewed perceptions frequently set the tone for our day. Presently, our school has a newsletter, but we have plans to produce a newsmagazine every six weeks. We are hoping that this will increase pride and unity in our school.

My goals are for our school community to become more aware of the diversity among students and staff, to clear up misperceptions, and to explore and celebrate the diversity of the people of San Antonio. We will do this through various awareness activities, guest speakers, field trips and writing activities. These experiences will culminate in each student producing one feature story and one hard news story reflecting the theme of diversity. Long term lessons learned will be reflected in a school newsmagazine that shows sensitivity and balanced coverage of groups within our school and community.

Judson Learning Academy has a self-paced curriculum, which centers on individual instruction and independent learning, with the goal of expedient graduation. Occasionally we stop for whole group lessons or special presentations. I will present two units within one based on the topic of diversity: an awareness/ideals component and a skills component including video usage, interviewing and observational techniques, and copy editing/headline writing. Students will keep a portfolio notebook with all notes, assignments, and drafts for final assessment.

Awareness and Ideals Unit

Essential Questions

  • What is diversity?
  • Why do we need to be aware of issues concerning diversity?
  • Why is it important for our local newspaper to have a diverse staff?
  • How does our local paper strive for balanced coverage?
  • What role can multi-media usage play in understanding diversity issues and disseminating impartial information?
Critical Engagement Questions
  • Do we have a diverse student population at our school? Is our staff diverse?
  • How can we bring more diversity into our school experience?
  • How can we become more aware and sensitive towards special groups in our school?
  • Is it better to explore sensitive issues, even if it causes discomfort, than to "let it go"?
  • How can we use our awareness of diversity issues to write better hard news stories? More interesting feature stories?


Activity 1

  • Whole group journal time-45 minutes
  • Pose the question, "What is diversity?" Take three responses then read excerpts from two articles in The American Editor: "Diversity in small southern newspapers" by Mike Burbach and "We are nowhere near where near where we must be", by Bob McGruder. Ask for two questions from the students. Write them on the board.
  • Instruct students to free-write for five to seven minutes on diversity while listening to the song, "Colored People" by D.C. Talk (lyrics are here; song is on the album "Jesus Freak"). They may choose to draw but should include captions. Teacher writes with the students. Share responses and discuss. Write key words or phrases on the white board.
  • Assignment: Think about the question, "Do we have a diverse student population?" Be able to support your position with statistics on ethnicity, socioeconomic status, family components and hobbies/interests of students.

Activity 2

  • Independent work-45 minutes
  • Write a short definition of diversity.
  • Compose a mind map that shows why it is important to become aware of diversity issues. Be prepared to discuss in large group.
  • Write a paragraph answering the assigned question: Do we have a diverse student population?
  • Compile a chart or graph showing the results of your informal diversity study.
  • Does our school have a diverse staff? Write a short paragraph defending your answer.
  • How can we bring more diversity into our school experience? Compile a list of at least five ideas for sharing in whole group.

Activity 3

  • Whole group-45 minutes
  • Have the question "Why is it important to be aware of diversity issues?" written at the top of a large piece of butcher paper.
    • Predraw a blank mind map on the paper.
    • Hand out large note cards and markers.
    • Discuss the question, decide on a focus statement and write it in the middle.
    • Instruct students to take something from their previously drawn map and write it on their note card.
    • Ask for volunteers to share and then place their note card in an appropriate circle on the paper.
    • Ask for one student to summarize the map briefly.
  • Discuss the findings of the informal diversity study, and come to a consensus about whether our school has a diverse population, to include teaching staff.
  • Conclude with a compilation of ideas about bringing more diversity into our school. Try to elicit the idea of bringing in diverse guest speakers, taking field trips to the guest speakers’ places of business, and the use of a video camera in seeing community diversity.

Activity 4

  • Small group activity-90 minutes.
  • Teacher presents a mini-lesson on multi-media issues in journalism.
  • Group decides on a theme song depicting diversity. Find the lyrics on-line and print copies for group members.
  • Instruct students in video camera usage, and guidelines for project.
  • Go out into the mall where our school is located and shoot video footage of things and people who depict diversity. At some point group members will sing the song for the video.
  • Upon returning to class, watch your footage and begin to edit. It may take several class sessions to finish the editing.

Activity 5

  • Whole group– 45 minutes
  • Groups show their videos and discuss with the class. Conclude with how this activity is one answer to the question of how we can become more aware and sensitive towards special groups in our school and community.
  • Assignment: Write a one-page response to the video project; include positive and negative comments, and what you learned about diversity from this project.

Activity 6 skills

  • Independent writing
  • Write a hard news story about video experience. Conference with teacher, using handout "A Different Approach to the 5W’s and H". Work on story then peer edit, using the Guidelines for Diversity checklist. Turn in final copy to teacher.
  • Note at least one feature story possibility generated through this experience.

Activity 7

  • Whole group-30 minutes
  • Tell the students that we will be having a guest speaker coming to our next class — the editor of the San Antonio Express-News. (He spoke at our school last year, and gave our journalism students a tour of the newspaper facility.)
  • Read a bio of the editor (Robert Rivard) and explain that he will be prepared to discuss diversity in the newsroom with them.
  • Then read aloud article he wrote for The American Editor, May/June 2002 issue entitled "Islam and the Middle East at the forefront."
  • Have students write questions and jot down words or phrases that pertain to diversity issues in the news.
  • Give a mini-lesson on interviewing techniques.

Activity 8

  • Whole group-90 minutes
  • Presentation by the SA Express-News, Robert Rivard

Activity 9

  • Independent Assignment
  • Free write every detail you can remember from the editor’s visit. Try to include as many senses as possible.
  • Write a one-page response to his visit relating it to diversity.
  • Write a list of story angles you could consider.

Activity 10

  • Whole Group or small group discussion, 20 minutes
  • Debrief the editor’s visit.
  • Students share responses and lists of story angles.
  • Instruct students to take a feature story approach to the article they will be writing.
  • Students will be prepared to fill in "Story Planner."
  • Discuss upcoming field trip.

Activity 11

  • Field trip to the SA Express-News
  • Before leaving discuss what the students should learn on this tour: Is their staff diverse?
  • Be prepared to report statistics and observations.
  • Ask questions about diversity coverage in the different departments.
  • Take photos depicting diversity.
  • Take notes on any possible story angles generated by this tour.

Related Skills Unit

Essential and Critical Engagement Questions

  • How can the Poynter Web site help create an atmosphere of diversity sensitivity in the high school newsroom?
  • What do copy editors do?
  • What role do copy-editing and headline writing play in diversity in the news?
  • What are some useful copyediting tools on the Web ?
  • Are there formats for writing news other than the 4 W’s and H?


Activity 1

  • Independent work
  • Decide on a feature story angle from lists generated by the editor’s visit or the field trip to the Express-News.
  • Fill in story planner worksheets.
  • Do any research or further interviewing necessary.
  • Have notes ready for individual conferencing with teacher.
  • After conference write first draft of story. Have ready for next whole group.

Activity 2

  • Independent work/small group
  • Look up http://www.poynter.org on the Web.
  • Find information on diversity issues in news coverage. Print any information that could be helpful in writing your feature story.
  • Highlight sections of interest and share with group.

Activity 3

  • Whole group-90 minutes
  • Guest instructor-Professor of Journalism, San Antonio College.
  • Topic: How copy-editing and headline writing is important in creating diverse and balanced coverage in the newspaper.
  • Time during the last 30 minutes to discuss students’ rough draft copies of their feature stories.
  • Follow up exercise: In small groups have students skim over the local newspaper to find headlines that tell the story. Discuss.

Activity 4

  • Independent work
  • A. Using the Web site of links for copy editors, Select five sites from different categories. Go to these sites and skim through to find what each has to offer. Print the first page of each and on the back write a brief description of content, how it could be useful for a high school newspaper, and if any diversity issues are present.
  • Go back to feature story in progress. Decide if any of the Web sites would be useful in making your story better. List which ones.
  • Using Rusty Todd’s Spot Story Elements hand out, write second draft of feature story. Bring to next whole group session.

Activity 5

  • Whole group–20 minutes
  • Mini-lesson: Copy-editing marks
  • Using handouts by Rusty Todd go over what copy-editing marks are and are not. Have students exchange story drafts and proof using proper copy-editing marks.

Activity 6

  • Independent work
  • Finish stories and have school newspaper editor go over it.
  • Turn two copies in to teacher for compiling and binding (one to keep and one to present to professor who visited us).

Activity 7

  • Whole group: field trip to San Antonio College Journalism Department
  • During the tour, take notes and photos on any possible diversity story angles for future use.
  • After touring the facilities, have a pre-Selected student present our class compilation to the professor.
  • Have students discuss what they have gleaned from our diversity study and how the professor contributed.
Theme Culmination and Assessment
  • Students will compile a newsmagazine celebrating diversity.
    • Material will be Selected from the writing and photos generated by the study and any other new stories that may be written by deadline.
    • When copy is ready for final revisions whole group will meet to evaluate.
  • Use "The National Time-Out for Diversity and Scholastic Media" to focus this evaluation.
  • There will be some individual work that should be included in portfolio notebook for final assessment.
Portfolio Checklist Awareness and Ideals Unit
  • Activity 1 ___Diversity Free-write
  • Activity 2 ___definition ___mind map ___paragraph ___chart or graph ___list of ideas
  • Activity 4 ___documentation of participation in video project ___response paper
  • Activity 6 ___All drafts of hard news story on video experience ___Evidence of peer editing ___Notes on possible feature story
  • Activity 7 ___Notes and questions from editor’s visit
  • Activity 9 ___notes and story angle list ___one-page response to editor’s visit
  • Activity 10 ___Story Planner
  • Activity 11 ___documentation from field trip to Express-News Related Skills Unit
  • Activity 1 ___feature story angles list from field trip ___first draft of feature story
  • Activity 2 ___documentation from Poynter Web site.
  • Activity 3 ___notes from San Antonio College guest speaker
  • Activity 4 ___documentation from copy editing tools on the Web ___second draft of feature story
  • Activity 5 ___stories that were peer edited using copy-editing marks
  • Activity 6 ___picture perfect feature story
  • Activity 7 ___documentation from SAC field trip.
  • Theme Culmination ___paperwork generated by "Time-Out for Diversity"

After final copy is sent to printer and portfolio notebooks are turned in to teacher, have small groups plan a "Diversity Celebration Read-Around." Parents, significant others, guest speakers, and interested community leaders will be invited. Pizza and soda will be served. Students will read aloud their pieces in the newsmagazine. Diversity videos will be shown.

Recommended Readings and Sources

(in order of appearance in unit plans)
  • The American Editor. May/June 2002. "Diversity in small southern newspapers". Mike Burbach. "We are nowhere near where we must be" Bob McGruder. "Islam and the Middle East at the forefront". Robert Rivard.
  • "Colored People" D.C. Talk.
  • Covering the Community: A Diversity Handbook for Media. Leigh Stephens Alrich "Examining Diversity". "The Importance of Diversity in the Newsroom". "Guidelines for Reporting Diversity".
  • "A different Approach to the 5 W’s and H". "Styles of Writing and reporting Specifics: Tips for Interviewing". Wanda Cash.
  • "10 easy Steps to Improve Interviewing and Observational Skills". Dave Garlock
  • http://www.poynter.org
  • "Copy Editing Tools on the Web ". Rusty Todd.
  • "Spot Story Elements". Rusty Todd.
  • Local, current newspapers.
  • The National Time-Out for Diversity and Scholastic Media.
  • Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists. "Newspapers are Unfair when: They lack Diversity." Robert J. Haiman. The Freedom Forum’s Free Press Project.

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