By Jennifer Neutel
‘They aren’t just speaking with the bully pulpit of the editorial page,’ says community partner
The Democrat and Chronicle’s current exploration into racial issues in Rochester, N.Y. is strengthened by the organization’s dedication to diversity and inclusion in its own newsroom and hiring, says Jennifer Leonard.
Leonard is president and CEO of the Rochester Area Community Foundation, a community partner of Unite Rochester. The Democrat and Chronicle launched Unite Rochester to raise awareness of race and racism and inspire a more inclusive and creative approach to solving community problems.
“Other newspapers need to start wherever they are to build an inclusive organization, to ensure that they are able to speak from the moral high ground about issues like this,” she says, adding this helps draw in the diversity of the community to advise on the elements they can put in place.
The Democrat and Chronicle has been working for years on a campaign on the importance of diversity.
“We have worked on reflecting the diversity of the community in our staffing and in our coverage, and have connected with the community in various ways to ensure that our coverage is as authentic as possible,” says editor and vice president of news Karen Magnuson.
Topics that may be considered “third rail” or untouchable can be addressed with passion and objectivity if there are enough diverse voices involved, Leonard says. She points to the newspaper’s diverse editorial page voices as an example, such as an African American pro-life conservative.
The Democrat and Chronicle always included multiple perspectives from the community, and they thought about the implications of Unite Rochester throughout their own organization, Leonard says.
The newspaper is doing the hard work of putting itself out there regardless of potential reaction, notes Leonard. She points to a recent article exploring how the Bhutanese refugee community is being victimized, largely by African Americans in the city. This is a change from other articles about racism against African Americans.
“It’s a courageous act for the newspaper to put that out there and they did so in a sensitive way, knowing there would be people who would be upset on both sides of that coverage,” Leonard says.
The Unite Rochester coverage is evoking responses from the community. There are signs people are being contemplative about the Unite Rochester content, as the newspaper increasingly includes letters to the editor with topics such as “are you calling me a racist because I live in the suburbs?”
“We are really happy (people) are willing to stand up and say what’s on their minds, because if we don’t talk about it nothing will change. We’ll go back to another 50 years without change,” Leonard says.
“It’s critical we look at each other as individuals rather than stereotype each other as groups, and (the Democrat and Chronicle) shows that rather than just telling that. It’s very effective,” she says.
Leonard says she appreciates working with the Democrat and Chronicle staff. Prior to Unite Rochester she doesn’t recall being inside the organization’s first-floor conference rooms. Now she’s been in the building several times and has been interviewed, part of a video shoot and a blog contributor.
“They aren’t just speaking with the bully pulpit of the editorial page and the news content but with a diversified voice of the community represented throughout,” she says.
“They’ve been incredibility principled and flexible partners, so I just give kudos to them for all of their work.”
— Unite Rochester is one of three pilot sites participating in the ASNE/Journalism That Matters partnership exploring how and why news organizations are engaging with their communities. This story is written by Axiom News.
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