Amara Aguilar, USC journalism professor and recipient of SPJ’s Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award, moderated a session on student newsroom culture and equity.
Speakers Steven Vargas and Miki Turner joined Aguilar to share how Annenberg Media’s equity board worked to encourage diverse coverage and more inclusive journalism practices.
The board focuses on challenges like a lack of diversity in leadership, staff and faculty, along with minimal diversity training and integration into curriculum, according to Aguilar.
Aguilar’s students in a class centered around Latinx audiences created Dímelo, a USC Latinx desk that has created partnerships with Snapchat, ABC7, and TikTok, she said.
“There are still improvements we can make to make sure students can express themselves about their culture,” Aguilar said.
She stressed taking time to reflect and take honest assessments when reporting to make sure journalists are holding themselves accountable for fully representing their communities.
“We are looking at these areas where we can improve,” she said. “Keep asking for resources, funding, time. This is a lot of work, and we don’t want to burn ourselves out.”
Session speaker Turner is an award-winning photojournalist, producer and author, who said students need to feel comfortable getting out of their box and recognize their implicit and inherent biases.
“I was sent to cover Asian American history at the Oakland Museum as one of my first assignments,” she said. “And then I was sent to cover a polo match with a bunch of rich white people. But some of my classmates had issues making these transitions.”
Turner encourages mandating students to reach out to communities that they may not choose to go to on their own because it is vital to report with equity on different communities.
“You have to try and make that copy as inclusive as possible so other people looking in will understand where you are coming from,” she said.
According to Turner, having uncomfortable and hard conversations are necessary for these students to understand other people in their respective newsrooms as well as the people they will be reporting on.
“These are students who will be shaping public opinion soon,” Turner said. “And if we can teach them what needs to be done, we will be creating a more accepting environment and they can create change.”
She said these difficult conversations go a long way in creating a path of acceptance in the news industry and beyond.
“They may not just be better journalists,” Turner said. “They may just end up being better people.”
Vargas, Equity Board member and USC graduate student, said the board offers oversight and newsroom culture, along with external content and resources.
“Equity Board developed over an entire year,” Vargas said. “We looked at what we wanted it to be and after rethinking everything, we decided we wanted to be more than a desk.”
The board includes editorial and managerial roles with introductory projects like style guides, workshops and weekly briefs to close the gaps in coverage and take the time to examine how newsrooms could be more ethical and inclusive.
The Annenberg Media’s Guide for Equitable Reporting Strategies and Newsroom Style included these ethical practices and lists out how to fairly report and communicate throughout the entire journalistic process.
“We have weeks of training to help think more critically and get them into these communities,” he said. “As Equity Board, we are always there to help them with outreach and building those relationships.”
Aguilar stressed that diversity and inclusion has not always been part of the curriculum at journalism schools, but that it is vital to learn from the beginning.
“These concepts are just as important as the other core values of journalism,” Aguilar said. “It isn’t just an add on.”