Good journalism needs diversity. It adds perspective and enriches publications, bringing different narratives and reflecting today's multicultural societies. The root of this issue lies in journalism schools. How are schools today working to enrich their student and faculty population?
In France, journalism schools have launched initiatives to recruit students from diverse backgrounds. According to Le Monde, the schools are often accused of only accepting "Sciences Po types", an elite university that forms French politicians.
However, for the past two years, French journalism schools have been making strides to improve access. Unlike in the U.S., where students are selected based on their resumé, the selection process in France is heavily dependent on entry tests. In 2009, The Bondy Blog, a website that focuses on reporting the stories of working class neighbourhoods, partnered with a journalism school based in Lille to offer a free preparatory course for students on scholarships. Of the 20 students admitted, 13 did well enough on the entry tests to be accepted to one of France's recognized journalism schools.
Another French school took a different approach. Rather than accepting students based on test scores, the Institute Pratique du Journalisme (IPJ) emphasized internships and experience. It helped students partner with press organizations and receive a salary in addition to following courses at the university. To ensure that the program is equal opportunity, IPJ signed an agreement with nine high schools in underprivileged neighborhoods. Every year representatives are sent to the high schools to talk to students about careers in journalism.
American journalism schools take a different approach to diversity. The country allows Affirmative Action, an initiative which allows race to be a factor in admissions (in order to ensure the student population reflects societal trends). The problem in American universities is not necessarily the students - it lies with the professors.
According to the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, for the past 20 years less than one out of every 12 professors of journalism was a minority. Even student newspapers staffs are overwhelmingly white, according to Sally Lehrman of the Society of Professional Journalists. This is significant because student newspapers create networks for alumni and students. Alumni often help students find newspaper jobs, and newsroom recruiters are more likely to hire interns from students who worked in campus print.
The awareness of the need for diverse voices in newspaper and media is a small improvement. An LSU study found that about 60% of journalism programs at U.S. schools offer at least one course on diversity, and that figure is steadily increasing. With initiatives to encourage diverse participation in journalism schools on the part of faculty and the students, newsrooms will eventually reflect those changes.
The French initiatives to reach out to disadvantaged or minority students are probably more effective initiatives than simply offering classes on diversity, as do journalism schools in the U.S., but both are at least a step forward. Journalism would benefit if professors and students of journalism better reflected the multicultural societies they cover.
Picture Credit: CommunicationSchools.net