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WVU Reed College of Media to host ‘hackathon’ on diversifying news

The U.S. is becoming an increasingly diverse country, but news coverage hasn’t caught up with the changing demographics. One factor may be the lack of diversity of newsroom personnel.

In 2017, the American Society of News Editors’ annual Newsroom Diversity Survey found that minority journalists accounted for just 16 percent of the workforce in U.S. newsrooms. In 2018, the survey had to be extended because not enough newsroom editors participated in the review.

West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media has partnered with Morgan State University’s College of Global Journalism and Communication and the American Press Institute to host a collaborative "social hackathon" to come up with solutions for the lack of diversity in newsrooms and news coverage. 

The “Missing Voices: Diversifying the News” Hackathon focuses on the persistent absence of a diversity of voices and influence in American news media. This event provides the opportunity to bring together diverse representatives of students and media professionals from across the country to collaboratively address these challenges.

College students from a range of institutions — public, private, rural and urban — will work side by side with media professionals who represents news organizations working towards improving diversity in the industry. Participants include students from West Virginia University, Emerson College, Northwestern University, Morgan State University, CUNY, UC Berkeley, and University of New Mexico and media professionals from Scalawag, Maynard Institute, PRI, Rewire and others.

The hackathon will be facilitated by Michael Grant, a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford University and creative director of the San Francisco Business Times.  Grant and his colleagues have created a toolkit for journalists of color that includes both digital and physical resources to help them build relationships in newsrooms and provides strategies to cope with working in predominantly white newsrooms.

The two-day event begins on Friday, October 26, with “Kerner+50,” a national symposium focused on the continued challenges to access and equality highlighted in the 1968 Kerner Commission Report.  The symposium will be webcast live at Morgan State University, Brigham Young University, and West Virginia University — three schools of journalism and communication separated by race, religions, and geography, but united in a shared commitment to bridging those divides. The Kerner Commission Report included calls to the journalism industry to address the lack of diversity in American newsrooms, noting “the press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and white perspective. That is no longer good enough.”  

Each university in this unique partnership will host a symposium on their respective campus, sharing a livestream of the rolling conversation event, which will begin at 10:30 a.m. EST at the Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication, followed by the West Virginia University Reed College of Media at 12:15 p.m. EST, and concluding at Brigham Young University School of Communications at 2:00 p.m. EST.

Friday’s activities will continue with a book signing for Thomas McBee’s new book, Amateur about his experiences as a trans-man wrestling with gender stereotypes and cultural expectations. It will be held from 2:30-3:30 p.m. in room 234 of the Evansdale Library. McBee will be in the Evansdale Library to sign copies of his book and chat with attendees, and will also serve as a facilitator during the hackathon’s evening opening activities.

The hackathon will officially open at 5PM with a “Welcome to Appalachia Dinner,” prepared and hosted by regional chef and storyteller Mike Costello, who was featured on the late Anthony Bordain’s “Parts Unknown” TV series and is the food and culture editor for 100 Days in Appalachia.  Mike will use the storytelling dinner as an opportunity to initiate conversations about the cultural stereotypes and roots of Appalachian food, bridging differences and building community to help set the stage for the hackathon.  

The Hackathon, which is funded by Democracy Fund, the Scripps Howard Foundation, and the Ford Foundation, will continue on Saturday with workshop sessions and speakers and will conclude with groups presenting their solutions/takeaways from this weekend’s activities. Students and media professionals will work in small teams to collaboratively identify a diversity, equity and inclusion challenge for their team, and then work throughout the day to envision a solution with guidance from a hackathon team mentor. Topics that may addressed include hiring and recruiting practices, retention and newsroom culture, community and audience engagement, implicit bias and implicit audience and other diversity, equity and inclusion issues impacting newsrooms and the communities they cover. Workshops during the day will include “Fault Lines” training led by Evelyn Hsu of The Maynard Institute, an overview of the Diversity Toolkit for Journalists of Color, and lessons from the American Press Institute’s Creating A Culture of Listening: Using Dialogue to Bridge Divides.