Irby tackles diversity in Mid-Winter Meeting

By David W. Bulla

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—Kenneth Irby emphasized voice in his lecture at the AEJMC Scholastic Journalism Division Mid-Winter Meeting on Friday at Poynter Institute. “Voice is important,” Irby said. “We still want journalism to give a voice to the voiceless and to hold accountable that who do have a voice in society.”

In his presentation titled “Talking Across Difference: Seeking Innovation,” Irby showed attendees a video that appeared on Jimmy Kimmel’s show in which Chris Rock tries to convince viewers that President Barack Obama was whiter than opponent Mitt Romney. From there, Irby asked the attendees to think about how Rock’s presentations, which had quite a few stereotypes, made them feel and what they learned as they talked about the video with one another.

After being put in a small group of three, Jeff Browne of the University of Kansas said that he noted how each member of his group brought up prejudices that Rock pointed that made each feel uncomfortable.

Irby showed a video from a television station in Baton Rouge, La., in which a middle-aged white male, upset about the slow progress of the clean-up after a hurricane, shows his frustration with an young African American woman in charge of the clean-up effort. The man spits on her when he realizes she is using her cell phone to record his profanity-laced tirade.

“I couldn’t believe the men working with her did not respond against the man who spat on her,” siad Rokeshia Ashley, a University of Florida of student.

Irby commented that it is important to have open, honest conversations about race, but he also said race is not the only diversity issue today.

 “We need to move the conversation forward,” Irby said.

The Poynter faculty member pointed to the increasing number of women in both the U.S. House and Senate after the 2012 elections. The frontiers are changing, he said, noting that Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin has become the first openly gay member of the Senate.

Irby shared a 12-spoked wheel that correlated to various conditions of difference, including religion, class and nationality, among others. He asked attendees to stimulate conversation by exploring the implications of each spoke on the wheel.

The Poynter educator, who also talked about how diversity made sound business sense, showed a website from the American Society of Newspaper Editors titled “Future of Diversity in the News.” He said it is a resource for both journalism educators and news organizations. Irby said that diversity is driving innovation in the global society in which we now live.

Also, student journalists need to understand the diversity of their audiences and that there are no more monoliths that used to be assumed in American newsrooms.

“Teach your students to get out of their comfort zones,” he said after telling a story about how photographers he worked with at News Day tended to shoot feature photography in their own neighborhoods when allowed to do enterprise stories.

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