Opening news media doors to minority journalists. Summer internships, four-year programs help talented students get a running start
Detroit — BEFORE she had even begun her freshman year in college, Krystal Miller was writing editorials at the Detroit News as a summer intern. Now, halfway through her sophomore year, Ms. Miller has ``maybe 30'' published News stories to her credit, a second paid summer internship, several News free-lance assignments, and expectation of advancement. That's the sort of practical experience and encouragement most journalism students hope to achieve by the time they graduate. What propelled the 19-year-old black woman ahead so rapidly is a program designed to give minority students a running start in an industry that has been soundly criticized for not hiring enough minorities.
The program is the Journalism Institute for Minorities at Wayne State University, a school in midtown Detroit with a racially and ethnically diverse student body.
The 2-year-old program is one of several efforts under way across the nation aimed at matching the representation of minorities employed by the news media to their percentage of the population as a whole.
According to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, an all-out effort is needed to achieve a representative number of minorities in United States media by the year 2000. Although the ASNE set that target date 10 years ago, many employers in an industry where applicants far outnumber available jobs have been slow to make a commitment to it.
``This is a profession that has not integrated as rapidly as some other fields,'' said Denise Johnson, ASNE minority affairs director. ``If we are going to reach that goal, we will have to plow thousands of journalism students into minority programs in the next 13 years.''
In April, ASNE will release the results of a decade of effort to reverse the inequities in a business that, in 1978, had minorities in about 4 percent of its jobs on daily newspapers. In nine years, that percentage rose to just over 6 percent, although blacks and other minorities make up nearly 14 percent of the total US work force.
By last year, ASNE found that minorities working at daily newspapers held only 3.9 percent of news executive positions.
While opportunities are increasing, it has taken a consistent push to open doors that have been firmly closed in the past. Few minority mentors have existed in the profession to ease entry into the news field. Minorities often complain of being misrepresented in media coverage because of the lack of minority staff.
``It's just a matter of private industry stopping mouthing off about what they're going to do in terms of hiring minorities and going out and helping recruit them into the profession,'' said Benjamin J. Burns, journalism chairman at Wayne, and former executive editor at the Detroit News.
Mr. Burns was instrumental in getting the institute started in the early 1980s. Black journalists, concerned about the lack of progress, searched for a way to get more minorities involved in news gathering and editorial decisions. At the same time, members of the media and educators saw a need to improve Wayne's journalism program while opening up the field to minorities in a city that is predominantly black.
The school, representatives of local media, and other businesses and local journalists cooperated to provide a director and finance the program, which currently has a $63,500 annual scholarship budget.
Program director Ruth Seymour, a former Detroit Free Press reporter, said the program seeks academically superior students committed to a journalism career: ``It's not a remedial program. It's more like a professional honors club,'' she said.
Students are recruited from area high schools for full academic scholarships in print and electronic media, public relations, and advertising. Most of the current 40 students have summer internships, and each must produce professional work throughout the four years.
The institute has placed interns with several newspapers, radio and TV stations, and public relations firms around the country. Two coveted internships for next summer have been awarded to juniors - Sonya Vann at the New York Times in New York and Darrell Dawsey at the San Diego bureau of the Los Angeles Times.
The program is expected to set a pattern for schools around the country, since most existing minority journalism programs are graduate-level or short-term seminars. Ms. Seymour has had several inquiries about establishing similar institutes.
At mostly black Howard University in Washington, D.C., Lawrence N. Kaggwa leads another successful effort. Dr. Kaggwa, journalism chairman for eight years, lobbies newspapers across the country to accept Howard students as interns and journeyman reporters. Freshmen leaving on Christmas vacation are told to contact hometown newspapers for summer internships, in addition to applying to ASNE's Project Focus, which places some first-year minority students in summer newspaper jobs.
``A lot of newspapers claim they never heard of [Project Focus], so I copy material on the project and have the students take it with them,'' Kaggwa said. ``Then the editors have no excuse when they see it's their own program.''
Kaggwa presses his students to write for publication. The job market is ``quite good'' for experienced minority graduates well prepared in the basics (history, economics, social sciences), he said.
Nearly 9 out of 10 print journalism majors at Howard have permanent jobs waiting before they graduate, said Kaggwa, but broadcasting - with a tighter job market - has been less successful.
Job recruitment fairs at colleges have opened up opportunities for more minorities in journalism. Some newspapers have made individual efforts toward rectifying the imbalance.
The Baltimore Sun pays all college and living costs of a promising minority high school graduate from Maryland. The student has yearly summer internships and a job waiting at graduation. So far, the program has added four permanent employees to the newspaper's staff.
``There is a larger piece of the puzzle still missing,'' said Margo Williams, a black reporter at WKBD television in Detroit, and current president of the Detroit chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. Blacks, she said, tend to be hired to cover crime or city hall but are usually overlooked for specialty areas such as business reporting.
In Washington, DeWayne Wickham, president of the National Association of Black Journalists and a syndicated columnist, said programs aimed at polishing the talents of minority journalism students should not ease the pressure on employers. ``While [minority programs] can help in some ways to increase the pool of qualified applicants, my fear is that some media organizations may use them as an excuse not to do more themselves,'' he said.
David Lawrence, publisher of the Free Press, sees Wayne's program as one step toward correcting employment imbalances. He said: ``The real commitment you make to minority hiring is how many folks you ultimately hire and, after you hire them, what you let them do to advance themselves.''