THE American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Freedom Forum, and the University of North Carolina have discovered a pot of gold by way of a rainbow.
The Rainbow Institute, that is.
Founded two years ago and expanded this year, the Freedom Forum Rainbow Institute is, on the surface, a three-week journalism-training program for high school juniors and seniors. In a larger context, it is an attempt to establish newsrooms that represent the full spectrum of minorities.
``A new wave of quiet racism is sweeping the country,'' says Chuck Stone, a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-director of the Rainbow Institute here. ``What you have today is a sophisticated kind of ... not even racism. You might call it a withdrawal of patronage or support,'' he says. ``America is developing a hardening of the multicultural arteries.''
The editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, David Hawpe, conceived the program. Even even when the Rainbow Institute was only an idea, he says, practical issues such as how to get minorities involved at a young age, keep them interested in journalism, and pay for a training program were paramount.
What emerged was a sort of journalism camp, taught by UNC journalism professors and paid for by a $70,000 grant from the Freedom Forum in New York. The 15 participating high school students were recruited by their hometown newspapers and given an internship for the rest of the summer, thus ensuring newsrooms' continued contact with the students.
Each participant also earned a $1,000 scholarship toward journalism education in college, ``so parents don't think they wasted their summers,'' Mr. Hawpe says. ``We designed it really to remove the impediments for everyone,'' he adds.
Though Hawpe says it is too early to measure the program's success, he points to the ongoing relationships the first group of participants has had with host papers as a positive sign.
This summer, the Freedom Forum opened a second Rainbow Institute site at San Francisco State University. ``If we had 10 of these around the country, we could make a difference,'' Professor Stone says. ``There aren't enough [minorities] in the pipeline.''
At the two locations this year, 12 blacks, 10 Asians, five Latinos, two whites, and one native American were chosen for their ``outstanding writing and general excellence,'' Stone says.
In Chapel Hill, the sounds of computer keys clicking and soft chatter filled the cramped quarters where the students wrote and edited their newspaper, the Rainbow Register, this summer.
``I don't think journalism was really real to me before I came here,'' explains Elizabeth Barajas, a Latino from Lincoln, Neb. ``Now I might actually consider a career in journalism.''
The students say they learned a lot about journalism and other minorities, but after the three weeks of lectures, interviewing, editing, and writing, they say they are ready for their roles as student leaders.
``I know that I'm going to go back to school and blow them away,'' says Nathan Moya of Santa Cruz, Calif., who returned to high school as an editor at the school paper this fall. ``I got here and they showed me how to write a lead,'' he said. ``I'm going to go back and use the same exercises they used on me.''
Karen Kim of Canandaigua, N.Y., says she wants to make an impact at her school where there are ``three Asians and the rest are all white. I want to enrich other students,'' she said. ``I'm going to expose some of my friends back home to other cultures. I live in a bubble.''
The Rainbow Institute's curriculum focuses on writing, but also touches on newspapers' roles in the world, diversity in the newsroom, and censorship.
Though the aim is to inspire budding reporters to become journalists, no one expects all the students to choose careers in the news media. ``If we get 30 percent, I'd be happy,'' says Jan Elliot, an associate professor of journalism and co-director of the Rainbow Institute. ``No matter what they go into, they're going to be better writers and more aware of mass media.''
But some students have no doubts. ``I know I want to be a journalist,'' says James Thomas, a young black from Detroit. ``You can make people aware of injustices just by writing a simple article,'' he says with a touch of amazement in his voice, ``and convince people to take action against injustices.''
Stone says the only solution to racial disparity in newsrooms is training. ``You've got to educate minorities, otherwise, they'll be treated very harshly.''
Stone, who has edited a number of prominent black newspapers, is optimistic about newsroom integration.
In his lifetime, Stone says, the world has seen much progress in racial tolerance, including the collapse of apartheid and peace in the Middle East. `` `I've lived to see it,' I tell these kids. `If I can do it, not only can you do it, you'd better do it.' ''