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SPJ seeks data on Diversity Leadership Fellows program

By The Working Press

By Holly Pablo
The Working Press

The Society of Professional Journalists will start surveying 30 journalists it has trained for leadership roles to find out where they are, what they’re doing or whether they’re still working in the industry.

None of that information is available about graduates of the Diversity Leadership Fellows program.

That means SPJ has no way to determine whether the program, which launched in 2005, has been a success, said newly elected national president Sonny Albarado.

“I just want to make sure this is working,” he said. “I want data. I want to do more than feel good about it. I want to be able to say, ‘Look, this is what we’ve done.’”

Sherri Williams, an SPJ Diversity Leadership Fellow, discusses order of business during the SPJ Diversity session.
Yasmeen Smalley/The Working Press

The fellows program is held during SPJ’s annual national convention. The six fellows in the 2012 class met during the convention in Fort Lauderdale.

Fellows learn about SPJ’s mission and are connected with mentors in the industry, who help guide them throughout the year.

While some alums, including Diversity Committee Chairwoman Bonnie Newman Davis, have fulfilled the mission of becoming a SPJ leader, questions remain about the program’s other graduates.

Davis participated in the first class of fellows in 2005. She now oversees diversity issues for SPJ and teaches journalism at North Carolina A&T State University.

Albarado said getting feedback from former fellows would be helpful.

“We need to know if it’s even helped the individuals reach their personal career goals,” he said.

The Sigma Delta Chi Foundation provides SPJ with about $5,000 a year to support the program, Albarado said.

Bonnie Davis, chair of the SPJ Diversity Committee, listens to participants during the SPJ Diversity session.
Yasmeen Smalley/The Working Press

Separately, Albarado said the Diversity Committee expects a productive year ahead despite having fewer members to carry out its work.

At Albarado’s suggestion, the panel was cut nearly in half, going from 16 volunteer members to nine.

Members were removed from the committee if they were found to be no longer participating or keeping up with their roles and responsibilities, such as conference calls, he said.

Davis suggested the committee would continue to monitor newsroom diversity.

“Minorities in newsrooms continue to decrease,” Davis said. “We’ve done a lot already, but we need to do more. We need to take a larger stand and be proactive.”

Sherri Williams, an adjunct journalism professor at Syracuse University and new member of the Diversity Committee, said media portrayals of minorities are too often still inaccurate — if they’re mentioned at all.

Davis said inaccurate or poor portrayals of minorities by the media are why her committee pushed for a diverse range of panelists and workshops at the convention.

One session, titled “Dealing with Difference,” used the story of Trayvon Martin as an example of how newsrooms deal with diversity issues.
Martin was the unarmed Florida teenager who was shot and killed earlier this year by a volunteer neighborhood watchman.




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