NPR education team lead: Only ‘white’ sources return calls on deadline

Anya Kamenetz, NPR’s education team lead blogger, used one of the network’s official Twitter accounts to tweet that she reaches out to diverse sources, but “only white guys get back to” her. Naturally, the post is catching a lot of attention on Twitter, and rightfully so.

Anya Kamenetz is NPR's lead blogger for its education team.

Anya Kamenetz is NPR’s lead blogger for its education team.

Kamenetz joined NPR earlier this year. She is the author of several books about the future of education including “Generation Debt” published in 2006 and “DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education” published in 2010. She has another book, “The Test,” due out next year about the future of testing in American schools. Prior to joining NPR, Kamenetz covered technology, innovation and social entrepreneurship for Fast Company magazine and contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Slate, and O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine.

“I take personal responsibility,” tweeted Kamenetz after her post received fiery reactions. She, nor NPR, deleted the tweet and Kamenetz offered to continue the conversation. “I don’t think it should reflect on my employer.” But of course it reflects on her employer, especially when said employer has a documented history of struggling to be more diverse and inclusive, both in terms of staffing and programming.

Interestingly, NPR just added Juana Summers to its education team as a blogger. Summers, who is African American, covered political campaigns for Politico before coming to NPR, and she was a frequent guest on CNN’s “Inside Politics” and C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Maybe Summers can help NPR’s education team with reaching more “diverse sources,” but the onus shouldn’t be on her. In any case, here are a few basic suggestions for Kamenetz and any other reporters who have difficulty doing their jobs:

        1. Get a copy of the Rainbow Diversity Sourcebook produced by the Society of Professional Journalists. It’s online, and there’s even a special section for education.
        2. Get a copy of She Source produced by the Women’s Media Center. It too is online, and the center helps you get in touch with their experts, even when you’re on deadline. They recently came in handy when I wrote a piece on deadline about transgender identity, a subject for which I had ZERO sources. The center even followed up with me to make sure I’d spoken with the experts they suggested. Again, on deadline.
        3. Contact diverse organizations. If you are writing a story about a historically black college or university, for example, The United Negro College Fund, which employs full-time staff, might help you reach sources or may have in-house resources at its disposal.
        4. Many educational institutions list names of professors, their expertise, email addresses and phone numbers on the institution’s website, such as this one for Spelman College in Atlanta.
        5. Don’t give up. If you don’t get a call back immediately, try again or try someone else. Go above that person’s head if necessary. Tell the person who answers the phone that you’re on deadline and really need an answer, fast.
        6. Develop your own sources and expand your digital address book. It’s journalism 101. Call a source up, chat a little bit, say that you’d like to know what’s happening on their campus for a current or future story. Do it again a month later, and again, and again… In other words, act as if you are genuinely interested in their school and in them (it would be nice to actually be interested). Sources are more apt to call you back and talk with you if they know you, that’s why it is so important for reporters to build relationships with sources; this is true whether the source is a person of color or white. You are not trying to be besties, but you don’t want to be strangers either.
        7. Respect your source and honor requests to talk off-the-record. This could lead to bigger, better stories and future news tips.
        8. Ask your source to recommend other sources. Again, this is journalism 101. You go to the person who you think may have the answer, and then you ask who else may know about the subject on which you’re reporting. You go to that next person, and the next person, and the next person… You keep asking for answers of more sources until you know in your gut that you have enough sources, and enough answers, that you can now write as complete a story as possible.
        9. Accept that sometimes, not all times, people just can’t or won’t call you back. That’s when writing “phone calls [to] were not immediately returned” comes in handy.
        10. Twitter is an excellent resource for diverse sources. For education sources, reporters may want to follow certain hashtags such as #blackedu, #educolor and #hiphopedu. (Hat Tip for this tip goes to Twitter user @yayayarndiva  aka P. Mimi Poinsett MD.)

Following her offer to continue the conversation, not all responses Kamenetz received were kind: 

  A few offered guidance and constructive criticism:

 

 

 

Others, of course, were off-topic (read: trolls) and a distraction from the core issue:

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