By GINA CHERELUS
Throughout her nearly two decades working in media, Cara Owsley explained how her titles changed frequently while climbing the ladder of leadership in the newsroom.
“I’ve been in Cincinnati for 10 years, and I’ve had different jobs, including photo editor/staff photojournalist. I had the title of photo coordinator, so now, my title is visual journalist/photojournalist,” said Owsley, who currently works for the Cincinnati Sun.
Despite the changing labels, there was, however, one thing that remained constant in her career. “I work at a newspaper where there’s really no diversity,” Owsley said. “I’m still only the black female in the newsroom.”
Owsley was one of 16 mid-level editors and news directors around the country who participated in the American Society of News Editors’ Minority Leadership Institute at the ASNE-APME conference last year. This comes on the heels of ASNE’s 2015 newsroom census, which found that the percentage of minority journalists in daily newspaper newsrooms remained relatively stable in 2014 at 12.76 percent even as newsroom employment declined by 10.4 percent.
ASNE set a goal to have the percentage of minorities working in newsrooms nationwide reflect the percentage of minorities in the nation’s population by 2025. Currently, minorities make up 37.02 percent of the U.S. population; that number will increase to 42.39 percent by 2025, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That goal, set in 1978 and reaffirmed in 2000, is unlikely to be met, according to ASNE. In fact, the numbers have not improved, but have actually declined. So ASNE instead launched initiatives to target improving diversity in leadership and coverage, including the Minority Leadership Institute. In 2014, ASNE also created the Engagement Hub, which partnered with Journalism That Matters to boost staff diversity and community engagement in three newsrooms — the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s The Gazette and the Oakland Tribune.
This year, the organization is preparing for its 2015 Minority Leadership Institutes, held at not only the ASNE-APME conference in Palo Alto, Calif., Oct. 16-18, but also at the National Association of Black Journalists conference in Minneapolis Aug. 5-9 and at the Excellence in Journalism conference, sponsored by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association in Orlando Sept. 17-18.
The goal of the Institute is help train mid-level and emerging professionals to get ready to lead news organizations in all platforms such as online, broadcast, print and visuals.
Alfredo Carbajal, an ASNE board director and the organization’s treasurer, leads the leadership committee and has overseen the Institute for the past four years. He explained that the sessions are tailored to help emerging leaders with issues about leading and helping others.
“From communication style to emotional intelligence to managing conflict, to coaching and mentoring,” said Carbajal, who is also the managing editor at the Dallas Morning News.
“It is pretty straightforward, honest leadership training. [We’ve worked] with trainers from the Poynter Institute, and this year we’re going to continue to partner with Jill Geisler, who isn’t affiliated with the Poynter Institute, but she continues to help us,” Carbajal said.
Carbajal said that feedback from past participants have been positive and they are currently preparing to create a more systematic way to track the future outcome and successes of those who complete the program.
“Hopefully this helps create a larger network where people can come and assist each other, help each other, counsel each other, connect with better opportunities and promotions and also be ready to lead projects in newsrooms,” Carbajal said.
Owsley said that in her newsroom, there are situations that occur when it comes to covering minority events that often becomes overlooked. She said that the Institute’s training helped her become more vocal when it came to addressing those issues.
Mock sessions where participants would work on handling conflict in the newsroom allowed her to receive feedback on her questions and answers and how they could be rephrased for a better result.
“I actually wanted to go another day,” Owsley said. “I’ve been in journalism [for] 20 years, and I’ve never been through that type of training for minorities who are leaders in the newsroom. I’ve been through leadership training; I’ve been through management training but never specifically for minorities.”
Although the registration deadline has past for the Minority Leadership Institute at the NABJ conference, applications are still opened for the other two institutes. Mid- level editors and news directors can apply by August 7 for the institute at NAHJ/RTDNA/SPJ and August 28 for the institute at ASNE-APME.
Gina Cherelus is an award-winning digital journalist, photographer and freelance writer. She previously interned for Elle magazine and the Miami Herald. She currently lives in Tallahassee, Florida. Follow her on Twitter @jeanuh_