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Padgett reflects on Poynter Institute diversity workshop

(Editor's note: This first-person article was filed by School of Communications faculty member Dr. George Padgett.)

The "Diversity Across the Curriculum" seminar I attended June 2-7 at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., was excellent - one of the best professional workshops I've experienced. I along with 15 other journalism educators from such universities as the University of Texas, LSU, Northwestern, Ball State, University of Georgia, Kansas State, Palo Alto College and Washington State participated in an intensive week of instruction and discussion on the importance of diversity in journalism.

The first-class faculty included Keith Woods, Lillian Dunlap and Bob Steele of the Poynter Center, along with adjuncts Dave Boeyink, Indiana University, and Ruth Seymour, Wayne State. This statement from a session with ethics faculty leader Bob Steele pretty much summarizes the theme of the week: "Excellent, ethical journalism honors the profession's core principles of truth, accuracy, fairness and balance. To be complete and, thus, excellent, journalists must get better at reporting and writing 'untold stories;' at bringing the fullest possible range of people and issues before viewers, listeners and readers."

The three parts of the picture, according to Steele, are inclusion, covering the undercovered and mitigating bias and prejudice. Workshop faculty presented and demonstrated several teaching modules that can be used to teach diversity in a variety of journalism classes: story stances; handling racial identifications; covering race relations; giving voice to other voices; using a bias survey; and newsroom economics and diversity.

We also participated in two exercises which can be used with basic writing classes: perspective shift and listening posts. I was involved in a disability exercise in which I and a partner spent part of a day shopping in a wheelchair. The K-mart in which I was shopping had only two chairs, neither with carts. It also had an out-of-order handicapped bathroom. I was happy to get back on my feet.

The listening post exercise took participants to a gay resort, a daycare for economically disadvantaged children and a community center in one of St. Petersburg's poor neighborhoods. The idea of a listening post is to "tune in" to an uncovered or undercovered population by observing and listening to the people who live in the community.

Poynter provided a nice angle to the week by scheduling a "new leaders" seminar for 16 working journalists during the same period. Newspaper editors, AP editors, station managers and executive producers from Seattle to LA to Baltimore participated. Our group had the opportunity to interact with these professionals on several occasions, including a luncheon where we exchanged ideas about teaching and practicing diversity.

In addition to the experience of being there, getting to know a super faculty and other educators who share my sense of a need to get about the business of teaching diversity in our classes, I came away with many excellent resources to use in my learning and teaching.

In capsule, the essence of what I learned during the week: Good journalists who practice good journalism will infuse diversity into their work; and good journalism educators will infuse diversity into their classes.

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