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Journalism: White Reporters & Students Of Color

There's been a LOT of discussion this past week or so about important issues surrounding race, class, and privilege among school reformers and reform critics.

But what about the editors and reporters who cover education issues -- and whose work is read by the public and policymakers who are making real-life education decisions every day?

The truth of the matter is that it's not just the education reform movement and its critics who are predominantly white & appear otherwise privileged. 

I know, race is just a social construct. Class is probably more important. Not everyone identifies according to the apparent color of their skin or their national origin. A person doesn't have to be from the community they're writing about to do the job well. (For the record, this post is being written by a white male who has been private-school educated all for all but a few community college Spanish language classes.) 

But let's be clear. Many if not most of the journalists writing about education for a national audience are white, too, and do not appear to come from the neighborhoods and schools that they may spend much of their time covering. For example, there aren't any people of color covering national education issues at The Washington Post. The education team at Politico is entirely white (and female), though founding education editor Nirvi Shah may identify as a person of color. Last I looked, the education team at NPR is entirely white other than Claudio Sanchez (Juana Summers was briefly on the education team before moving over to covering Congress). 

You get the idea. And no matter how smart, hard-working, or privilege-aware these journalists may be, it seems hard to imagine that the cultural distance between reporters and poor minority students doesn't play a role of some kind.  

The issue of cultural sensitivity and journalism has come up most recently among a handful of critics of NPR's "Serial" podcast, which was (tangentially) about magnet school kids in Baltimore.  I wrote about this line of thinking -- and the lack of similar criticism for last year's This American Life segments on Harper High -- not too long ago (Why's "Serial" Getting So Much More Pushback Than "Harper High"?).

But the best examples may come from the recent conflicts between reform advocates and critics in which race and class have been explicit topics of the debate - when Newark's Cami Anderson is under attack for being a white interloper in a black community, or when Chicago's Rahm Emanuel is accused of being a racist murderer by the head of the Chicago Teachers Union.

These are situations in which a white reporter is probably somewhat less comfortable than a person of color, and though I have no way of knowing for sure I'm imagining that there's some influence on the coverage that's produced.

The current reality is that most education reporters have more in common, racially and otherwise, with educators (still mostly white, college-educated women), and with well-educated parents who are making decisions about their own children's education.

The good news is that there are a handful of people writing about education who are (or may consider themselves to be) persons of color.Last year, EWA held a panel session on covering communitiees of color, which was to my knowledge the first such example.  

But there's obviously a lot more work to be done in terms of diversifying the community and educating it as well.  Let's get started!

Meantime, here's a partial list that I'm hoping you can help me complete: 

Daarel Burnette II is the bureau chief of ChalkbeatTN. Brian Charles is a Chalkbeat New York reporter. ProPublica's Nikole Hannah-Jones writes about education, as does Marian Wang.  More names, in no particular order: Juan Perez Chicago Tribune; Dropout Nation's RiShawn Biddle; Melissa Sanchez at Catalyst Chicago; Christina Armario at AP; Vanessa Romo at LA School Report; Motoko Rich at the NYT (also Brent Staples on the editorial page and columnist Charles Blow); Teresa Watanabe at the LA Times. The Atlantic's Ta-Nehesi Coates doesn't write about education but he writes about issues that surround education.   

Related posts: This More Diverse List Of Top Education Tweeters Needs More Names*Atlantic Story Highlighting "Racial Gerrymandering" Named Magazine Award FinalistLast Week's Problematic New Yorker Parent Opt-Out Story;

Comments

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To include three opinion writers on your partial list seems a stretch. To not include any of the reporters of color working at Education Week is a miss.

Other folks I can think of off the top of my head: Cherise Newsome, Marquita Brown and Khristopher Brooks, who are doing excellent work at the Virginian Pilot, Greensboro News and Record and Florida Times-Union, respectively. If you want to consider higher ed, there's Audrey Williams June at the Chronicle. These are just people with whom I am personally acquainted: I am sure there are many others I don't know of. There are more news outlets than just those in Chicago and on the coasts.

Christina A. Samuels
Education Week

thanks, CAS -- much appreciated.

i'll add these to the list that folks have been suggesting on twitter and on the EWA listserve

moving beyond the list, does it make a difference, and if so what would be the most useful things for reporters (and bloggers) who aren't POC to learn or know?

/ar

I’m sorry but this post struck a nerve. Because it is so utterly wrong. I’m semi-retired now, but I spent three decades writing about education, technology and general assignments – and I hate it when intelligent people start judging the quality of reporting by the color of skin.

I’ve written about ethnically diverse schools, communities and businesses for large newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Asia Times and the Seattle Times.

Any decent reporter can immerse himself into unfamiliar situations and return with stories that are intelligent and sensitive. That’s the name of the game. Mr. Russo seems to suggest that you have to belong to a minority group to write well about that group.

I think that’s ludicrous, dangerous and a waste of time.

Every day for years I covered a vibrant and eclectic education beat in Los Angeles and loved it. My work was praised by the California School Boards Association, the California Teachers Association, the Greater Los Angeles Press Club and others. And you know what? I’m a white male and very few people ever questioned why I was interested in their non-white community, why I was telling their stories. Treat people with respect; listen carefully, and it’s amazing the stories you’ll get.

Until the day I die I will swear that you don’t have to have an MBA to cover business, you don’t need computer science degree to interview Bill Gates, you don’t need a law degree to write court stories, you don’t need a police or military background to write about cops or unjust wars and your education reporting should not be judged by the color of your skin.

Of what possible value is a list of education writers of color? Why compile it at all? Wouldn’t it serve scholastic administrators better to compile a list of competent education writers or those who are passionate about their work? Why not compile a list of education reporters who work 60 hours a week for comparatively lousy pay and very little job security because of horrible newspaper economics? (That list would be much more inclusive: it’d include nearly every working education journalist on the planet.)

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