It’s been no secret to the Daily: We aren’t as diverse as the rest of the student body. An overwhelming majority of staffers are white and from privileged backgrounds. But for years, none of us really knew how to even start thinking about the problem.
So last February, the Daily’s editor in chief, Jason Pesick, formed the Multicultural Commission to try to better understand the situation. The commission set out to assess how we could improve relations with multicultural student groups. Another goal was to understand how to create a diverse staff that more accurately represents the University’s student body. Our coverage does not always include the issues that are important to minority communities in large part because the Daily’s staff is not as diverse as it should be.
The editors appointed me to the position of the Multicultural Commission’s coordinator last winter term. The commission acted as a temporary organization composed of editors and writers at the Daily from all of its sections. Jason served an advisory role, and I kept him up to date on our findings. We began by analyzing a survey the commission created to determine if staff members found the internal atmosphere at the paper unwelcoming. We also sought the views of various multicultural group leaders on campus about the Daily and its coverage. Based on our findings, we discussed feasible strategies to tackle our diversity problem. To read the full report online, click here.
After analyzing staff surveys, we concluded that the Daily can be intimidating for most new writers, but it was generally not considered an offensive or discriminatory place to work. While some multicultural student leaders refused to speak with commission members, others said there needs to be more communication between the newspaper and student groups.
Several leaders also noted a need for specific recruitment of minority writers. Many of the students interviewed said they or other members of their organization did not understand how to contact the Daily effectively. Some also stated however, that in the past year the Daily has been making progress to improve its relations with minority student communities by reaching out to more multicultural groups.
The approved recommendations include an annual conference held at least once a year by the Daily. A main goal of the conference is to educate student groups on how to contact the paper with story ideas or specific concerns. The conference also aims to answer any questions about how the paper and its individual sections, such as the editorial page, operate. Additionally, student organizations will be able to relay any immediate questions and concerns directly to Daily editors. This conference will also be an opportunity for the Daily to learn and listen. The paper’s incoming managing editor, Ashley Dinges, who was an active commission member, will be responsible for organizing the first conference, slated to take place next term. The conference is intended to be an institutionalized way for student groups to “check” the Daily and help forge more dialogues.
We will also implement workshops to educate our staff about multicultural organizations on campus. These workshops will stress the importance of practicing sensitivity when reporting, interviewing and interacting with members of multicultural groups. They will also stress sensitivity in how Daily staffers relate to their peers. Workshops will result in more informed reporting and hopefully a less intimidating environment for new staffers.
With permission, the Daily also will send more representatives to recruit at multicultural student meetings and to become better acquainted with the intricacies of these organizations. One complaint we came across was that inexperienced writers often knew little about a group’s members, purposes or structures.
We are also creating a more detailed set of files to educate writers about various student groups before they start reporting on them. Groups will be asked to provide us with anything they think an inexperienced writer should know. This will help orient our new staffers and cut down on the number of factual errors made.
The only recommendation that won’t be implemented as suggested in the commission’s report called for a personnel director who would recruit and initially orient new staffers. Because of the way the newspaper’s sections interact, an entirely new position won’t accomplish much.
Instead, to increase diversity on staff, Ashley and various other staff members at her discretion will actively recruit writers by attending multicultural group meetings and reaching out to the student body. The incoming multicultural beat adviser, the news editor in charge of multicultural coverage in the news section, is Tina Hildreth and she will also assist in these efforts and act as the Daily’s primary liaison with multicultural student groups. To contact Ashley Dinges and Tina Hildreth, e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.
These measures are being implemented with the sincerest efforts of our staff right now in preparation for the new semester and will be carried on from year to year. It is the Daily’s goal to become a more diverse organization that communicates effectively and better covers the issues facing multicultural student groups on campus. These efforts are intended to make the Daily a stronger newspaper that can better fulfill the needs of its readers.
A copy of the multicultural commission’s report is available under the resources section of our website, www.michigandaily.com. Click here to view this report.
Melissa Runstrom is an associate arts editor and coordinator of the Multicultural Commission. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.