Newsrooms across the United States face the mounting challenge of covering non-White news subjects without the benefit of Blacks and other minorities among their ranks, but one southeast Washington, D.C. school hopes to help reverse the trend.
Richard Wright News Reporter Class of 2016 member Kyra Shade interviews Omari Hardwick during the 2016 Richard Wright Annual Black Tie Gala at the Warner Theatre (Courtesy photo)
According to a report released earlier this month by the American Society of News Editors, the Knight Foundation and the School of Communications and Journalism at Florida International University, Black, Latino, Native American, and mixed raced journalists comprise just 17 percent of news reporting staffs nationwide. The annual survey also found that just 28 percent of news organizations reported having at least one minority journalist among their top three editors.
Amid this trend, the Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts, in Southeast D.C., boasts a stellar program that offers hands-on training and the necessary “chops” for working within any newsroom. At the school’s Chat and Sip function, held Sept. 9 at The Brig restaurant on Capitol Hill, administrators discussed the imperative of instilling both skill and confidence in the rising tide of Black media professionals.
At issue are both the recruitment of qualified journalists and the retention of those individuals once hired. While there is no shortage of either, according to former RoundLake News Service student publications director Felicia Adams, Black students tend to shy away from offers from newsrooms that lack other Black faces.
2016 Richard Wright Annual Black Tie Gala at the Warner Theatre (Courtesy photo)
“The Catch-22 of the hiring and retention of Black bodies, whether for a school in the Midwest or a newspaper in the Deep South, comes with trepidation about how many other Black people are there, as well as whether or not they feel comfortable in what could be a hostile or otherwise unwelcoming space,” Adams told the AFRO. “I believe the new statistics are pretty accurate, but there is a larger dialogue that needs to unfold because of it that deals with training our young people to do the work no matter the anxiety.”
“It is essential to the progressive growth of our nation, as we continue to work toward creating an equitable, just, and fair society, that we educate new journalists who are socially aware and racially grounded using the legacy of Richard Wright,” Michelle Santos, director of Journalism and Media Arts at Richard Wright Public Charter School, told the AFRO. “Wright believed all literature was protest, and it is through the power of the pen in all its forms that transformation happens for our young writers, for their communities, and for the world.”
Richard Wright students have worked as part of teams that created weekly student produced newscasts called Richard Wright News, and developed PSAs that deal with such topics as Title IX, sexual violence against girls, and police brutality against Black males. Most recently, students produced the film “Keona’s Story,” that deals with the issue of traveling safely to and from school. The film was chosen as an official selection for the 2016 White House Student Film Festival and will be featured in the South by South Lawn event in early October.
“It is vital that we create the next generation of journalists who can tell the stories of their lives, the lives of their communities, the challenges and successes, through an unbiased, untarnished lens,” Santos said. Their work will help to eliminate bias in the media and ensure representation, rather than misrepresentation.”