Facebook stalking in the name of affirmative action
Ahead of the Supreme Court hearing on affirmative action, I recall how at Roll Call newspaper, I was told that one of our three interns had to be from a racial minority. Diversity is important, but giving someone an advantage beyond his experience degrades the applicant and the hirer.
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In a perfect world, I would have been able to hire the absolute best interns whether they were from Mars or Hoboken. The process should have been color blind, focused on who could write the best ledes, who could be brave enough to cold-call a source, and who had the attention to detail that made a good story memorable.Skip to next paragraph
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In a less-than-perfect world, a reasonable solution could be a better approach to outreach, such as formal programs at newspapers to encourage diversity. In the same way that I reached out to organizations like the National Association of Black Journalists, newspapers could establish regular programs to allow diverse young journalists to visit newsrooms and hear from reporters and editors about their daily lives. Once they got there, they would need to have a mentor who could guide them through the sometimes-overwhelming world of breaking news and cutthroat competition.
In fact, my old employer had started to do just that with regular talks given to student groups and monthly pizza lunches for the interns who were already in place. I never had the time to travel, but an internship coordinator could go to career fairs and journalism classes at historically black colleges to make the point that this publication cared about reaching out to diverse journalists.
In addition, I think there’s nothing wrong with a hiring manager paying attention to the organizations someone belongs to, the languages he speaks, and the story ideas he cares to cover. It’s all part of a thorough investigation of candidates in any tough hiring environment, and a person with a wider perspective is going to be a more valuable candidate than someone with a more narrow approach to life and journalism.
Having said that, I do think that a broad experience of life – whether it’s through passionate involvement in curling or ballet or whether it’s through gospel singing or fluency in Portuguese – is more important than the color of one’s skin.
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We have to find an approach to hiring that is both positive and straightforward. Giving an extra advantage to an applicant beyond that is degrading for both the applicants and those doing the hiring. For me, I’m happy not to have to stalk anyone on Facebook anymore, except maybe that niece.