With so much talk about race, ethnicity and diversity happening around us, why are there still so many white, male dominated panels at media conferences?
The Future of Student Media Summit took place over the weekend at my alma mater, Ohio University. The summit was touted as “bringing collegiate media innovators from across the country to Athens, Ohio to discuss the Future of Student Media.”
If the line-up of panelists at the summit is an indication, then the media industry is in for an increasingly frustrating future.
As a black female college professor I was immediately struck and frustrated by the lineup of speakers for the summit – predominantly white males.
It was frustrating, so I shared my thoughts with the Online News Association (ONA) Educator’s Facebook group: Why were there so few women? Why were there so few people of color? If we’re talking about the future of student media, based on the census and college enrollments, it will not be predominantly white men as reflected by the Future of Student Media’s selection of presenters.
This frustration over a lack of diversity is not new. As a matter of fact, The Campanil, a student-run news organization at Mills College in California, wrote an editorial addressing this issue after attending the Associated Collegiate Press’ conference last year. It’s a really good read, but this passage relates to why we need an action plan to address the lack of diversity on conference panels:
“We also noticed the lack of diversity within ACP’s keynote speakers, who were not able to give advice or answer questions to journalists of color, queer journalists or women journalists in the field. The panels attempting to promote diversity received small rooms to give useful information compared to those that focused on blogs that received far larger rooms.”
It’s frustrating to hear the same excuse for why white males dominate panels at conferences, not just among student media but globally. The refrain often repeated is that ‘we were unable to identify any experts for the topic.’ If you’re organizing a journalism conference, that excuse is deplorable since it’s journalism 101: If you can’t find a source, then you research and ask around until you find a person who fits the bill. Even if that’s too much The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has a searchable Rainbow Diversity Sourcebook.
There’s also SheSource for those occasions when you’re “… seeking women experts to appear on TV and to quote in print and online media.” These kinds of online databases are plentiful, I know because I performed a simple online search to find them in other industries.
It’s frustrating when we have the internet to point us to experts on any topic in a matter of minutes yet we consistently encounter the same kinds of faces and too often the same names on conference panels.
It’s frustrating that the issue of all white male panels is so pervasive that there’s a Tumblr mocking it.
It’s frustrating that there was an all white male panel on Saturday morning at the Future of Student Media Summit who were asked why there were no women on their panel. I felt like the questioner had read Scott Gilmore’s “Why I will no longer speak on all-male panels” where the author writes: “The next time you are attending a conference and listening to yet another all male panel, ask them “Why?” And then patiently wait for their answer. They won’t have one.” Sadly, the author was right. Panelists at the student media summit who were asked seemed uncomfortable, and were at a loss for words.
It’s frustrating that the topic of podcasting and audio production was on the summit agenda, but was yet another all white male panel. Podcasting and audio production is my area of expertise. Next week, I will join six of my students, all female, who will travel from Cairo, Egypt to Las Vegas to accept awards for audio documentaries produced in a class that I taught.
It’s frustrating that I ended up volunteering to head up a panel on diversity at the Future of Student Media Summit so that there would be at least some discussion on the topic. However, the panel was attended by mostly women. There was only one white male student.
It’s frustrating that the Knight Foundation, an organization that I respect and admire, in this instance, appears to not have parameters in place to require inclusion when they disburse funding.
It’s frustrating that in journalism, ethics is a journalistic foundation and when things go wrong, we often ask ‘who was at the table when that decision was made?’ Yet we still are not at the table when decisions are made.
It’s frustrating that we can’t even talk about the invisible diversity attributes let alone the lack of diversity in media content because we lack diversity in the room. You can read this article on the Student Press Law Center’s website for some case studies confirming the need for more inclusive student newsrooms.
It’s frustrating that although things have changed – we see more minorities in classrooms and newsrooms – we probably won’t really experience change until there’s more diversity in leadership positions.
It’s frustrating to face the issue of a lack of diversity over and over again in almost every component of life – in the classroom, in the workforce, etc. It’s apparently also frustrating to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof who wrote a column earlier this month, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 6.” In it he mentioned that ‘unconscious bias’ is perpetuated by “whites who believe in equality but act in ways that perpetuate inequality.”
“That’s why it’s so important for whites to engage in these uncomfortable discussions of race, because we are (unintentionally) so much a part of the problem,” Kristof continues. “It’s not that we’re evil, but that we’re human. The challenge is to recognize that unconscious bias afflicts us all — but that we just may be able to overcome it if we face it.”
Can we use the unconscious bias theory to help explain why the Future of Student Media Summit was predominately white and male? Even if so, it’s frustrating. A frustration we must overcome.
Kim Fox is an associate professor of practice in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at The American University in Cairo, Egypt. Visit her on Twitter to see if she’s still frustrated.