Diversity vs. Truth: The SPJ's Agenda

As a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, I receive the organization's e-mail updates and its in-house magazine, Quill.

How can I politely say what must be said? The contents of the newsletters and magazine are so far removed from the traditions of journalism that I cannot believe that the SPJ sees itself as a beacon for reporters.

The SPJ has glommed onto diversity and it is not letting go. To the SPJ, covering the news means diversity first, last and always. Whatever else you do, don't let the story get in the way of a diversity angle.

The SPJ recently adopted the practice of distributing a monthly diversity "tip sheet." The August 2002 newsletter, titled "The Whole Story: SPJ Diversity Tips and Tools," begins by asking what diversity means to journalists.

Keith Woods, a journalism teacher at the Poynter Institute and SPJ point man for diversity, has the answer.

First, be sure you are "inclusive."  Urges Woods,

"Include in your coverage those who have frequently been left out of the news, particularly black people, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, white women, gays, lesbians and poor people of all races."

Second, be certain that your coverage is in-depth. Woods recommends finding

"the people whose stories aren't being told and tell them. Locate stories that help your readers understand the people and the world around them."

If you are having trouble putting your story together—that would be defined by the S.P.J. as not having a strong enough tie to diversity –then Woods recommends you access the "Rainbow Source Book and Diversity Tool Box" where you will find a "pot of gold."

The toolbox offers an online database of

"experts from populations historically underrepresented in the news."

"improve news accuracy and quality by broadening the perspectives and voices in their coverage."

Translation: if you need some more diversity padding for your story, e-mail one of the "experts."

All this is fascinating, indeed.  I don't know what newspapers Woods reads but among the dozens I review every day I find no shortage of quotes from minority groups and their advocates. In fact, I find their stories told in repetitive detail day after day.

And as far as "people whose stories aren't being told" I am still waiting for a story about a software programmer displaced by a H-1B visa holder or a carpenter who lost his job to an illegal alien willing to work for $10.00 an hour.

A deeper look into Woods' page at the Poynter Institute is enlightening. Listed as "Other Resources" are the Anti-Defamation League, The Intelligence Project, Tolerance.org, The Simon Wiesenthal Center, and The Center for the New Community.

The Southern Poverty Law Center must hold a special place in the hearts of the Poynter Institute and Keith Woods. Not only is the S.P.L.C. listed but also a contact name and phone number are included.

The Poynter Institute, it should be noted, received a two-year, $600,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to study ways to improve minority coverage in the press.

The SPJ made diversity its number one cause some time ago. In March 2002, the cover story for Quill was titled "Making Diversity a Reality." The feature article, "Getting Past a 'white, middle-class' America" [member archive] was written by SPJ Diversity Committee Chair Sally Lehrman.

Lehrman wrote that SPJ's newfound emphasis on diversity had received mixed reviews. Nevertheless, Lehrman remained adamant that reporters have the responsibility

"to cover all kinds of people fairly and accurately"

with special pains taken to include

"olive-complexioned men and women, Sikhs, Muslims and devout religious people of all types…"

All of this diversity mumbo-jumbo is done in the name of more professional reporting. The SPJ, it insists at the end of its newsletter,

"works to improve and protect journalism. The organization is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior."

If only these platitudes had a grain of truth in them! Last summer, in the middle of my research for NumbersUSA.com (www.numbersusa.com) on media standards in immigration reporting, I traveled to Denver, CO. to meet with Fred Brown. At the time, Brown was the SPJ Ethics Committee Chair and political editor of the Denver Post. He has since retired from both positions.

Brown, former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm and I had a very cordial session. I had forwarded Brown dozens of examples of major newspapers (including the Denver Post) with the most biased possible immigration coverage.

Brown acknowledged that the reporting was slanted and unprofessional. I asked if I could write a story for Quill regarding lack of professionalism in immigration reporting.

Brown referred me to Quill editor Jeffrey Mohl. Later in the summer, I set out from Lodi for Quill headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana. Another convivial meeting took place wherein Mohl agreed with everything that I said.

But the final word from the SPJ was that Quill wouldn't publish my piece about bias in immigration reporting because I have "an agenda."

I told Brown and Mohl that my agenda was exactly the same as the SPJ's: "…to improve and protect journalism…and stimulate high standards of ethical behavior."

Here's the final question.

Look at the SPJ's Diversity Tip Sheet, the Rainbow Source Book, the Diversity Tool Box, the Poynter Institute's links to organizations with a singleness of purpose and Quill Magazine's many pro-diversity articles.

Now tell me who has the agenda?

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.