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Columbia Missourian

Missourian to pursue how race matters

By Tom Warhover
January 23, 2009 | 10:00 a.m. CST

Dear Reader:

Tuesday morning, my 5-year-old cousin showed up at my mother’s house to create his own inauguration party.

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He was wearing a black suit and waving an American flag. He anxiously asked his grandmother: “Is my hair too long to look like Obama?”

Blond, blue-eyed and Scandinavian-white, the young man was ready to parade through the house as a presidential look-a-like.

He doesn’t have a template of actions and reactions based on skin color. Yet. Most of us do. The 44th presidential administration has opened an opportunity to understand each other a bit more.

This year, the Missourian will make a concerted effort to tell stories about the ways race matters in mid-Missouri.

A half-dozen reporters have been assigned just to this topic. Right now, they are spending more time listening than writing. This week, they have done at least five interviews each with community members. Next week, they’ll begin regularly inviting people into their beat meetings. In the near future, they’ll create forums.

I want the agenda for these stories to come from you. Emily Younker is leading the team. I encourage you to contact her at ejyfyc@mizzou.edu.

These reporters will also look to the nation.

Controversy began on Day One, when the Rev. Joseph Lowery gave the inaugural benediction. Washingtonpost.com ran a transcript of the speech, which ended with an attempt at levity through a bit of rhyme about the races.

There was laughter on the National Mall. Not so much in the comments below the transcript. Many people saw the rhyme as divisive, and even racist.

We shouldn’t — and the Missourian won’t — shy away from controversy because often out of controversy comes useful dialogue.

I just managed to avoid two pedestrians and a left-turning nee careening car on Tuesday in that three-block gauntlet known as College Avenue.

Welcome back, students. Your return has made driving more adventurous.

The same can be said for newspapering. More than 300 students affiliated with the Missourian are figuring out new jobs as reporters, copy editors, designers, graphics editors, photojournalists, videographers and wire editors.

You might find a few more missteps in the stories you read online or in print. Patience, please; they’ll get there.