Panel reviews treatment of minorities

Thursday, April 29, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:25 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Local journalism figures took a critical look at the treatment of minorities in the media Wednesday during a panel discussion of the same name at 7:30 p.m. in MU's Conservation Hall.

Students, faculty and community members came together to confront issues of inaccurate, negative and minimal coverage of minorities in the news media.

The audience questioned the panel - R. Dean Mills, dean of the MU School of Journalism; Earnest Perry, associate professor of journalism; Jim Robertson, managing editor of the Columbia Tribune; Tom Warhover, executive editor of the Columbia Missourian; and Tim Elfrink, editor-in-chief of The Maneater - on their attempts to avoid erroneous behavior, their policies on offensive language and their codes for minority reporting.

Robertson said that when covering minorities, the Tribune has the same standards of fairness and accuracy as that of any other coverage. Other panelists agreed that they had no specific policy.

"Accuracy is the center of what we do and who we are," Warhover said.

MU Ph.D. candidate, Robin Mabry-Hubbard suggested that student newspapers aren't aggressive in their coverage of blacks, women, graduate students and nontraditional students. "I feel that the coverage reflects a very skewed view of college life - the white male, undergraduate, Animal House, American Pie 'Animal House,' 'American Pie' style - and they ignore everybody else," Mabry-Hubbard said.

However, Mills said MU has no right to enforce the university's code of ethics on student-run newspapers that aren't funded by the school. "It is impossible for MU to give repercussions," Mills said.

The event came about in response to such articles as the MU Student News article, "Greek Town Escapades," that made vandalism accusations against members of black Greek sororities, a February article in the Missourian and the Tribune involving a fight at a black Greek sorority event, and the November article in the Maneater about a step show organized by MU's Black Cultural Committee that contained so many errors, the Maneater rewrote it.

Elfrink suggested that a solution is to get more minorities on staff, but admits that it's not easy. "We have a problem with minority recruitment retention," said Elfrink "It's a vicious cycle with us because we will make a mistake dealing with the minority community and then the perception is that we are racists, so minorities are reluctant to come work with us, and we make the same mistakes again."

Perry said that not knowing could be a legitimate excuse, but that it doesn't help you in the long run if you continue not to know.

Elfrink's suggestion to get minorities on staff is an issue panelists agreed affects the journalism industry as a whole.

Warhover said there has been a problem with the amount of minorities in decision-making positions and that out of his staff of 120 reporters only a handful are minorities. In the future he said he hopes to have more.

Perry, who has also worked at the Missourian, agreed that minority recruitment has been a long, hard struggle.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether this issue reflects issues of diversity at MU.

"MU is a community in many ways like other communities that have shortcomings, and certainly one of our shortcomings is this very issue," Mills said. "I think we have done better in recent years, but we still have a long way to go."

The event was sponsored by the Legion of Black Collegians, the MU School of Journalism, the MU chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists and the MU Chancellor's Office.

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