Commission Members:

Farayha Arrine, Forest Casey, Ashley Dinges, Victoria Edwards, Donn Fresard, Evan McGarvey, Mara Gay, Alison Go, Alexandra Jones, Michael Kan, Megan Kolodgy, Suhael Momin, Melissa Runstrom

 

We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on.

Richard Feynman (1918 – 1988)

Race and ethnicity are ideas that share troubled histories in America. No one can argue that widespread discrimination has existed within the nation from its inception to the present. With a checkered past spanning the life of the country that we call home, it is no wonder that certain groups and individuals made as targets for discrimination would continue to be vigilant and recognize more instances of wrong done against them than others might note. Keeping in mind that this sensitivity is the product of the actual events that have storied our past, it is important to recognize that we, as representatives of the student community and purveyors of truth and fact, must do all in our power to be fair and even-handed in our news coverage and delivery.

With this mission in mind, a commission was formed to assess the situation at The Michigan Daily and make recommendations about how to improve the paper’s coverage of multicultural issues and events and achieve a more diverse staff. Because the Daily does not have an enormous staff or pay them well, most stories, from conception to print, are reworked and retooled in the Student Publications Building with help from staff members at hand. Often writers rely on social networks to get information from specific students about an event. It is obvious that the people on staff directly affect what is covered and how.

When coverage is perceived as skewed or unfair by members of the University’s student body, the potential effects may be very serious. The Boycott a few years ago had real support from certain communities on campus. Many individuals seriously scrutinized the Daily’s innerworkings and coverage.

        I often overhear comments in public spaces about the Daily’s current coverage: Just weeks ago in a cafe I overheard,  “They don’t think.” The point is clear that there is disconnect between the student body and the Daily.

        It is with this in mind that the commission submits this report. Its members sincerely hope that M-Desk and the Editor in Chief consider and implement the recommendations that conclude this report. If it is not possible to implement the recommendations here, alternatives should be made in a timely manner.

        The state that the Daily currently finds itself in is unacceptable to some significant and influential student groups, and it is in the best interest of the paper at large to make changes that will promote more accurate coverage and a more diverse staff.

 

“Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information” (Section I, The Michigan Daily Code of Ethics).

   Melissa Runstrom

Multicultural Commission Coordinator

 

 

Internal Climate at The Michigan Daily

 

Last Winter (2005) Daily staffers completed a survey with questions ranging from their ethnicity to how they felt when working at the Daily. The surveys were analyzed and some of the responses have been summarized here. Note, however, that not all surveys that were completed were filled out in full, and many of these surveys ended up lost, or were coded incorrectly when it came to analyzing statistics. A new questionnaire is needed to accurately assess the statistics behind Daily staffers.

By and large, the majority of Daily staffers report to be from upper-middle class and middle class homes, and the largest groups identify themselves as white, Asian or South Asian. In terms of recruitment, most respondents agree that the Daily’s staff is “too white,” in the words of one staffer. Most are not sure the appropriate way to diversify staff, though. The Daily’s internal climate, according to the surveys, is one of both support and intimidation. While many respondents claimed they felt a great deal of help and support from the social and professional network at the Daily, a common sense of “new-kid intimidation” was expressed in a number of surveys.

The most common negative experience shared among large percentages of the respondents is the transition period from being a “new writer” to “a Daily person.” Many returned surveys said that while they never felt uneasy or intimidated by editors in their own section, the older figures at the Daily (mostly other editors) could make a new staffer feel young and out of place. Over time, this phenomena subsides and most respondents say they feel more comfortable at the Daily as they begin to acclimate themselves to the paper’s environment. Respondents said much of this acclimation happened outside the building, usually in social/party situations with their coworkers and bosses.

According to surveys, perceptible and overt racism, religious and sexual discrimination, to some Daily staffers, “didn’t seem like an issue,” and “never affected me.” The culture of hard, sarcastic joking, especially in the Arts room, did crop up a number of times and served as a negative influence on newer writers. Many Arts staffers said they had become accustomed to the joking and “arrogance” and it no longer bothered them (or never did in the first place). Many Opinion staffers (Who share a room with Arts) said the “culture” of Arts conversations can be intimidating. There was no uniform response from other sections about specific patterns of offensive joking. Many writers observed a willingness to “get used to” the occasionally offensive jokes of the Daily. While many surveys indicated older staffers did not feel as intimidated or offended, there is no way to determine if members who did feel strongly in such ways simply stopped coming in and writing because of these factors.

The majority of respondents feel that there is no major conflict with having a white reporter covering the multicultural beat in News. Overall, people felt as long as the beat writer was “considerate and understanding” the race of the writer did not matter. A common, shared goal is to “automatically include [multicultural news] into other beats.”  Coverage was another item that produced mixed results. While News staffers expressed concern about the Daily’s even-handed coverage and general campus awareness, other sections said they did not notice a campus reaction to the Daily’s patterns of coverage.

 

 

Multicultural External Report*

*Please note that names and group affiliations have been removed as interviewees were not aware this report would be published, and interviews were often informal.

 

To gain a better perspective on outside views of the Daily and its coverage of multicultural events on campus, several commission members spoke with leaders of a variety of multicultural groups on their personal opinion of the newspaper. Below is a general synopsis of the responses that range from issues of news coverage to recruiting. Following the synopsis are more detailed summaries of the multicultural student leaders’ opinions who were contacted by commission members.

Please note that the views listed below are solely the opinions of each individual person, and not necessarily reflective of their group as a whole. Also,  these statements are not necessarily things that the Daily is doing right or wrong, but how the Daily is perceived by each individual. It should also be noted that many of the people interviewed usually do not read the Daily on a day-to-day basis, and some rarely pick up the Daily or only read it when it has a story that involves their interests or the minority groups to which they belong.

 

Synopsis of External Perceptions:

– Need for multicultural reporters to receive more training on minority groups

– Need for recruitment efforts targeted toward minority groups

– The Daily must avoid tokenizing of its own minority reporters

– Some said a need for more positive reporting of minority groups, others said reporting needed to be more in-depth

– The respondents who had negative views of the Daily did recognize that the Daily has made progress in the past to rectify its weaknesses

– Still, there was resistance from people to even speak with the Daily, as some commission members encountered students of multicultural groups who refused to speak with the Daily

 

 

Multicultural Student Group Representative A

– A need for more balanced reporting on multicultural events; some events are framed out of the context of their purpose

– A need for more positive stories on the community, as many of the stories involving black people deal with crime

– Random photos that have little to do with the multicultural event are sometimes placed with the story

– Currently, there is a heavy stigma against the Daily within the black community

– Past Jeopardy papers have made fun of minorities, which in turn have made some people distrustful of the Daily

– Reporters should make the effort to attend meetings of multicultural groups to better acclimate themselves to the minority group they are covering

– Tends not to read the paper on a regular basis

 

Multicultural Student Group Representative B

– To improve recruiting efforts of the Daily, the paper needs to improve its image

– Older students discourage newer students in their groups from joining the paper as a result

– The Daily should go to group meetings to recruit minority reporters, but should avoid tokenizing at all costs

– The Daily should continue to hold dialogues with multicultural student groups

– Coverage of stories sometimes lacks depth and do not go beyond affirmative action and administration news

– There is need for more positive stories to combat negative stereotypes that are sometimes unintentionally perpetuated by other stories

 

Multicultural Student Group Representative C

– Enjoyed having a reporter meet with executive board of group

– A need for the Daily to learn more about other cultural perspectives to improve objectivity of articles

– Suggested that more reporters go through training to cover multicultural events

– Recruitment effort at mass meeting were appreciated and should be continued as it improves the image of the Daily

 

Multicultural Student Group Representative D

– Felt that the Daily has done well to reach out to student groups, but added that many groups still do not understand how they can access the Daily

 

Multicultural Student Group Representative E

– Multicultural coverage is few and far between. And when covered, stories lack depth and do not demonstrate a complete understanding of the larger issues involved

– She added that often these multicultural articles are essentially full of quotes and given no context, and it seems that the reporter has no interest in the story

– Not enough multicultural reporters

– Mentioned that in fall of 2004, it was impossible for the only two multicultural reporters to cover all the multicultural groups on campus

– Does not matter the ethnicity of the multicultural reporter as long as they have a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter they are covering

– Criticized the Daily for always fishing for debate when it might not exist

– Leads to negative stereotyping and needlessly pits groups against each other

– Noted that many of her friends, both students inside and outside the group, hold negative views of the Daily

 

Multicultural Student Group Representative F

– Criticized the Daily for its “selective reporting” or reporting stories in a way that adheres to the needs of the Daily, resulting in biased, inaccurate reporting

– She elaborated on the selective reporting, adding that often times the Daily does not include enough arguments from different sides of the issues, or the Daily does not go in depth enough into the story to provide readers with the context

– While she has heard that Daily has improved, she said coverage of her group on campus has been severely lacking

– More of an effort is needed to reach out to student groups and research their issues

– Noted that she and many of her friends do not read the Daily

 

Multicultural Student Group Representative G

– Expressed that he was proud of the Daily’s improvement of its multicultural coverage in the past several years

– More stories are being covered, and the Daily has made a concerted effort to reach out to groups

– Suggested that resentment of Daily from the black community may also stem from the distrust of the media in general

– Seems to suggest that there was a divide within the black community about the Daily

– Some understand the reason behind the printing of articles that are unintentionally negative toward the Daily, while others do not and in turn distrust the newspaper

 

Results from LGBT survey of the Daily, which was given to several members within the LGBT office:

– Responses to the quality of The Daily’s coverage were mixed, some thinking it adequate, others thinking it inaccurate and biased

– One person indicated that while the Daily has covered LGBT events in the past, the stories have yet to delve into LGBT issues

– The Daily is more reactive to LGBT issues, rather than proactive

– One suggested that reporters may need a better comprehension of LGBT issues before they report stories

 

Opinions from the Multicultural Commission’s Open House with student leaders:

 

Multicultural Student Leader #1

– The Daily did a poor/messy job of quoting student leaders

– The Daily does not fully understand the mission of certain student groups, including her own, and should make a greater effort to fully understand the position of each group on their specific issues

–  The Daily does not reach out enough to groups to stay up-to-date on their events and happenings

 – Thinks the Daily needs to show more of a presence and interest in the multicultural groups

 

Multicultural Student Leader #2

– Agreed with many of the points Multicultural Student Leader #1 made

– Specifically had problems with the Daily’s coverage of a recent alleged hate crime, and addressed these in the group setting

– Seemed to disagree with the point that the alleged incident served as a catalyst for understanding racial issues, but rather that these issues are ongoing and often times ignored

– The Daily should take advantages of the resources of current staff members who are involved in multicultural groups, or who are minorities

– Proposed that we run stories or phrases by them to see if they are offensive, but to avoid tokenizing our own staff members by doing this

 

Multicultural Student Leader #3

– Thought that the student groups also need to reach out as much as the Daily, and find a middle ground

– The Daily should attend more multicultural groups’ meetings, just as we do for the Michigan Student Assembly, but student groups should also come into the Daily to see how it works

 

Multicultural Student Leaders # 4 and 5

– The Daily’s efforts have been productive, and the opening of a dialogue between multicultural groups and the Daily has been effective in showing that the Daily is concerned about these issues

– Undersand better than others the challenges facing Daily reporters with issues, because both had worked for the Daily at some point

– Felt that the Daily should not necessarily recruit black students for the sake of recruiting black students, but rather seek out those who are already interested in journalism

Commission Recommendations:

After gathering information about the staff of The Michigan Daily’s ethnic, economic and religious demographics, questioning staffers about comments and conduct that may create an offensive or inappropriate atmosphere, and meeting with and interviewing members and leaders of campus cultural groups, the Daily’s Multicultural Commission has created a list of several recommendations for how the Daily’s minority recruitment, reputation among minorities on campus, quality of coverage and understanding of multicultural issues can improve. The commission strongly recommends that the current Management Desk and future M-Desks implement these ideas.

 

Annual Conference between M-Desk and Student Group Representatives

This weekend conference would likely occur once a year (probably in October or January), but could potentially take place every semester. The Daily would prepare pamphlets and workshops:

1)Explaining how the Daily works in terms of information gathering, the Editorial page vs. columnists, the Editorial page vs. News, etc.

2) Informing how representatives from each organization can contact reporters and editors. Simple contact and exchange of ideas can help improve communication and relations between groups and Daily reporters/editors.

The student groups who send representatives do not have to be ethnic or minority organizations; they can be any student organization that wants to learn more about and improve communication with the Daily.

An annual conference would not only serve as a gesture of goodwill and openness to groups, but it would also create a way for student groups to understand how to communicate with the Daily and how the paper works. In many interviews and exchanges, group members maintained that they either did not know how to contact Daily members, while others were ignorant of how an independent daily newspaper works and their group’s role in providing information for news-gathering organizations.

Each section of the paper would provide a document about how the section works and how to contact the editor(s). A part on how to coordinate public relations was suggested as well. The commission was divided on whether only one staffer (ideally younger low-ranking editors or trusted, competent up-and-coming writers) from the Daily should be appointed to organize the event or if one person should be appointed from each section. These staffers would contact student groups, set the conference’s schedule, make copies of pamphlets or documents, set up moderators, make possible arrangements for snacks and possibly come up with ideas to be discussed at the event. M-Desk members, especially managing editors, specific beat reporters and the Editor in Chief should attend the conference. The conference can be held specifically in Student Publications Building, or for larger events, a reserved room or hall in another University building. 

 

A Sustainable Model for Contacts and Information About Each Student Group

This would be an extensive file that would contain basic information, press releases and contacts for each student group. In the interest of making the file easily accessible and easy to update, a folder on the Daily’s computer servers that could be backed up onto CD periodically would be best. Someone (reporters and editors on the multicultural beat or the personnel director mentioned below) could be put in charge of maintaining the file. When the file is established, staffers who collect new information about individual groups could update that group’s file. Daily articles about each individual group could also be stored in their respective location within the file.

 

A Personnel Director in Charge of Recruiting and Coordinating Staff

A position to coordinate staff meetings about multicultural issues and to better multicultural recruitment and recruitment in general, possibly becoming part of the Business Staff, could be created. This person could be the point through which many new staffers pass; this individual would explain to potential staffers how each section works and provide contacts for editors and subeditors, as well as materials such as style guides or writing guidelines. Potential writers would have someone whom they can ask questions at first; hopefully, the person in this position would be able to make new staffers feel more comfortable and informed. New staffers would be able to adapt to the Daily quicker, and grow into stronger writers and reporters quicker.

 

Multicultural Workshops for Individual Daily Section Staffs and Editors

M-Desk members and either multicultural beat reporters or the staffers in charge of maintaining the student-group file or organizing the annual conference would ideally run these workshops. They could be conducted during weekly staff meetings or evening meetings once or twice per semester to emphasize the importance of reporting on and writing about multicultural issues and address ignorance about certain items and ultimately stress well-researched, fair, truthful and tactful reporting. Workshops would also caution staffers about inappropriate ways to deal with multicultural stories or issues. This would inform staffers about how multicultural issues play out and how multicultural groups and student political groups function around campus and in relation to the Daily. These workshops could also address proper conduct regarding insensitive behavior during meetings, daysides, and nightsides.

Daily editors and staffers should use their contacts at professional newspapers to ask for advice on how professional papers deal with multicultural issues and special interest groups in their cities or regions. Knowledge and contacts could be passed down each year and used at these workshops.

 

Daily Representatives Should Attend Meetings of Cultural Student Groups

Many student group leaders and executive board members suggested that Daily editors and reporters attend the groups’ mass meetings. This increased contact would let group leaders get to know who they can contact at the Daily, open communication lines, and hopefully increase recruitment from cultural groups, some of whose members oppose the Daily or discourage group members from joining staff. This would show that the Daily is trying to improve its relations with student groups and to better the quality of our reporting on multicultural issues, and hopefully encourage members of these groups to pursue a career at the Daily.

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