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Rethink the News

Perspective matters.

Reducing news to hard lines and side-taking leaves a lot of the story untold. Progress comes from challenging what we hear and considering different views.

2018
July
25
Wednesday

London, are you listening?

To employees at the Victoria Tube station, the answer was "No." They had offered repeated warnings over the PA system about proper use of the escalators, delivered in the sonorous male voice commonly deemed to command attention. Yet riders were ignoring them, to the tune of 15 injuries per month.

Maybe it was time to put things a bit differently. And what happened next offers food for thought about communication in a cacophonous age, be it a public service announcement or actual news.

As information pours out, often in a tone indicating the world as we know it is about to end, many of us stop listening. We may feel overloaded. We may be seeking to have our news biases confirmed, and deciding the source is wrong when they’re not. The source, meanwhile, may not be doing enough to convince us it’s trying to be fair.

Can you open up space for a better conversation? At Victoria Station, 9-year-old Megan, whose parents are station employees, recorded a simple request asking riders to listen up and hold the handrail. Same information, delivered differently. In the six months since she made the PSA, injuries have declined by almost two-thirds.

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Now for our five stories of the day.

1. Is there a conservative case for a carbon tax?

When a Republican congressman from Florida proposed a tax on carbon emissions, a conservative backlash followed. Yet many GOP voters and businesses support incentives for a clean-energy economy.

Amelia

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When Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo proposed a federal tax on carbon emissions, he broke ranks with many Republicans who reject taxation on principle and who assert that human activity is not warming the planet. But his proposal reflected an older conservative ethos, one that aims to put a price on negative externalities like pollution and to create market-based incentives to reduce them. Even though political polarization makes it unlikely that his proposal will get off the ground, Representative Curbelo, a co-creator of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, predicts that more Republicans will begin moving away from what he calls a “reflexive, knee-jerk reaction” against carbon taxes. “Pollution pricing has actually been a conservative idea,” says Lynn Scarlett, a conservationist who helped guide Interior Department policy under Republican President George W. Bush.

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Is there a conservative case for a carbon tax?

This week in Washington, Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida stepped forward with a proposal that hasn’t been voiced in Republican circles for a decade: a national tax on carbon emissions.

Moments after Mr. Curbelo finished pitching his idea at the National Press Club, a handful of conservative influencers rushed to shoot it down by holding a press briefing of their own in an adjacent room. “If you support this bill you cannot be a conservative,” said Phil Kerpen, president of the group American Commitment. “[When] we act like us, we win. When we act like them [liberals], we lose.”

The outcry reveals what may be the great conundrum surrounding climate change: The challenge, for now at least, appears to be less about science or technology than about human mind-sets – in this case, tribal politics.

Climate scientists agree that global warming is occurring and that policies are needed in response. Technologies increasingly exist to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions driving the warming. And economists widely agree that the most efficient way to transition toward those technologies (including solar and wind power) is to put a price on fossil-fuel emissions, creating a market-based incentive to reduce them.

“Pollution pricing has actually been a conservative idea,” says Lynn Scarlett, a conservationist who helped guide Interior Department policy under Republican President George W. Bush.

The stumbling block for climate policy, not just in the US in other nations as well, is mustering and maintaining political commitment. The most feasible path toward crafting an enduring policy is to make it a bipartisan plan. Can that be done in an era when America’s two major parties seek to draw increasingly impassable lines between each other?

Mr. Curbelo’s bill is an act of faith that the answer on at least some issues – this one specifically – is yes.  And although the rival press conference tried to cast him as a legislative loner and loser, he’s not alone.

He leads a Climate Solutions Caucus in the House that includes 43 Republicans alongside 43 Democrats. Just 10 years ago, his party had a presidential nominee, John McCain, backing action on climate change. Polls find that most Republican voters care about the issue. 

And Ms. Scarlett notes that businesses – including corporations that often donate more to Republican candidates than to Democratic ones – increasingly view global warming as an issue that affects their bottom lines, and which needs to be addressed in their own planning and in public policy.

“Many of them are feeling the impacts,” says Scarlett, now at The Nature Conservancy. “They want solutions. They want [regulatory] certainty.”

'Trump digs coal'

For now, Curbelo’s idea for a national carbon tax looks politically like a non-starter. It runs against sentiment among Republicans and against the pledges of a president whose campaign slogans included “Trump digs coal.”

The real question is whether his pitch signals a shift by conservatives toward accepting that pricing carbon emissions can be an effective and politically viable climate policy.

“You’re going to see more movement away from that reflexive, knee-jerk reaction” against carbon taxes, Curbelo predicted Monday. There are “many others [among Republicans in Congress] who are reconsidering their position.”

Use the word “tax,” and a policy idea has an inherent hurdle with voters from the get-go.

In Canada, populist Doug Ford was recently elected to be the premier of Ontario, partly based on his promise to repeal the province’s price on greenhouse emissions. In 2016, voters in Washington State rejected a measure to levy a carbon tax there.

In part, the cause of carbon pricing has fallen victim to two tendencies: for politics to be polarized and for humans often to think short-term rather than long-term.

Opponents argue that carbon taxes hurt economic growth, that the threats of global warming are uncertain and exaggerated, and that enacting such a tax leads to a bigger government. 

“A carbon tax is political poison for the conservative movement,” said Marlo Lewis of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, at the event opposing Curbelo.

Then there’s the issue of asking people to pay something now to help future generations. Still, in a March Gallup survey, 53 percent of respondents supported the idea of "passing a carbon tax to encourage reductions in carbon dioxide emissions," compared with 45 percent opposed.

Where the tax money goes

Curbelo’s proposal is to repeal the national gasoline tax while placing a $24 per metric ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions – a fee that would rise annually by 2 percent plus the rate of inflation. The revenues would go toward transportation infrastructure, including highways; offsetting the tax’s effect on energy prices for lower-income Americans; and research on clean energy, improved batteries for storing that energy, and capturing carbon emissions for storage or industrial use. 

Outside groups, in an analysis of his proposal, say the effects on economic growth would be modest, with the size of the economy a scant 0.2 percentage points smaller than in baseline forecasts.

“Pretty much all independent studies that have looked at this question have found that if you implement a carbon tax, and then you take the revenue and you recycle that into the economy in a productive way, then the effects on macroeconomic outcomes are small,” says Noah Kaufman, a Columbia University economist who worked on forecasting the effects of Curbelo’s and other carbon taxes.

Such estimates generally don’t factor in the negative economic effects of warming temperatures, from worse droughts and storms to coastal flooding and climate-related migration. 

So some analysts say GDP will be helped, not hurt, by steps to reduce carbon emissions in accord with the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of holding human-caused warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less above preindustrial levels. And while acknowledging uncertainties in such long-term forecasting, they say the risks of inaction outweigh the costs of action.

“It really is false choices,” to say that a carbon tax hurts the economy, says Christina DeConcini, a climate policy expert at the World Resources Institute in Washington. “What's really bad for the economy is unmitigated, unaddressed climate change.”

Polling suggests the popularity of a carbon tax can grow depending on how the revenues are used. One conservative approach is to return revenues to taxpayers so as to offset any rise in fossil-fuel costs. Another is to invest more in infrastructure or research, as Curbelo proposes. 

The question for Curbelo and other proponents is how to change the political conversation. Curbelo, on Monday, framed the case for action in terms of the risks his constituents in Florida face along their coastline – and in a faith-based perspective that resonates with many conservatives.

“We have a moral obligation to protect God’s greatest gift to humanity, which is planet Earth.”

SOURCE: National Surveys on Energy and Environment, "Estimating Economic Damage from Climate Change in the United States," by Hsiang, Kopp, Jina, Rising, et al. (2017)
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2. Across Africa, new battlefields for free speech take shape

Governments are increasingly aware – and often wary – of the power of social media. But so are citizens and activists, and across Africa, many are pushing back against online restrictions.

Amelia
Newton Nambwaya/Reuters
A Ugandan journalist uses his camera after riot police fired tear gas to disperse activists led by musician-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi during a demonstration against new taxes, including a levy on access to social media platforms, in Kampala, Uganda, on July 11, 2018.

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Ahead of Zimbabwe’s July 30 elections, some voters are enjoying the freedom to criticize candidates online. It was only last year, weeks before former President Robert Mugabe was deposed in a coup, that his government arrested a young American woman for allegedly tweeting that the country was run by a “sick and selfish man.” Elsewhere in Africa, more social media freedoms are hardly the trend. Tanzania, for example, recently slapped a $900 fee on bloggers and Uganda has imposed a 5-cent daily fee on the users of many apps. But activists are increasingly viewing clampdowns on social media as a kind of early warning system for broader attempts to muzzle freedom of expression. “Around the region, you’re seeing people realize that the clamping down of online spaces is not something that they can just sit and watch,” says Joan Nyanyuki, regional director of Amnesty International. “They see that protecting freedom of expression is one of the key ways to safeguard against other human rights violations. It’s really a way that governments can be held to account by ordinary people.”

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1. Across Africa, new battlefields for free speech take shape

Earlier this month, Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was out on the campaign trail when his arithmetic skills suddenly failed him.

“If you add four calves to the 10 cattle you already have, you will have 40 cattle,” he pledged to a group of rural farmers, discussing a government assistance program.

Soon, the clip of the president’s bad math had gone viral, and Zimbabweans were taking to social media to rib Mr. Mnangagwa for his error.

“10 + 4 = ? When you can get that one, we’ll make you a village head,” one user tweeted at the president.

“Cannot add 10 + 4 – this one needs a walking stick,” taunted another.

The jabs were harmless enough, but until recently, they would have been nearly unthinkable. Like many African governments, the regime of Mnangagwa’s predecessor, Robert Mugabe, was notoriously thin-skinned about social media criticism. Indeed, only two weeks before Mr. Mugabe was deposed in a coup last November, his government had arrested a young American woman working in Zimbabwe for allegedly tweeting that the country was being run by a “sick and selfish man.”

For now, the temperature seems to have changed. “It’s better to let people vent instead of bottling up and then explode in anger, and social media also circumvents red tape and promotes direct communication with the people,” says Supa Mandiwanzira, the minister of Information Communication Technology and Cyber Security.

But if Zimbabwe’s webspace has changed since the days of Mugabe, it also contrasts with many other African countries today. Governments are recognizing the power of social media – and imposing restrictions accordingly. Across the continent, activists are increasingly viewing clampdowns on social media as a kind of early warning system for broader attempts to muzzle freedom of expression.

“Around the region, you’re seeing people realize that the clamping down of online spaces is not something that they can just sit and watch,” says Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s director for East Africa, the Horn, and the Great Lakes regions. “They see that protecting freedom of expression is one of the key ways to safeguard against other human rights violations. It’s really a way that governments can be held to account by ordinary people.”

Newton Nambwaya/Reuters
Ugandan musician-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi leads activists during a demonstration against new taxes, including a levy on access to social media platforms, in Kampala, Uganda, July 11, 2018.

New restraints, new pushback

Governments have increasingly targeted social media as a way to bring unruly dissenters to heel. In Tanzania, for instance, a recently introduced law slaps a registration fee of about $900 on bloggers and online forums. A 2016 law in Rwanda makes it illegal to use a digital device to cause “annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety,” and Egypt’s government recently announced a law allowing it to block any social media users with more than 5,000 followers if they disseminate “fake news.”

In Uganda, activists took to the streets to protest a new tax on social media applications that went into effect this month. The law slaps a 200-shilling (5 US cents) daily charge on anyone who wants to use applications like WhatsApp, Twitter, or Facebook – a fee the government says will raise much-needed revenue for state coffers.

A group of lawyers, meanwhile, recently lodged a legal challenge to the charge, which they argue inhibits Ugandans – particularly poor Ugandans – from accessing and sharing information freely.

“Freedom online holds so much potential to change our society – to expose people to new ideas and connect them to the world,” says Baguma Moses, co-director of the Cyber Law Initiative, which brought the challenge at Uganda’s Constitutional Court. “So we as Ugandans aren’t willing to let this thing pass into our lives without a fight.”

Zimbabwe’s seeming shift

In Zimbabwe, the new government has attempted to show its openness to social media as a way of visibly distancing itself from the autocratic regime of Mugabe, whose iron grip on dissent resulted in broad sanctions against the country that sent Zimbabwe’s economy tanking. Mnangagwa has verified his Twitter account, opened a Facebook page, and set up a “broadcast list” on WhatsApp to send messages to his supporters.

“The government recognizes that while a tiny minority of individuals and organizations abuse social media by spreading hate speech or information and messages that cause alarm and despondency, the majority of users are law-abiding citizens,” says Mr. Mandiwanzira.

The irony of that message is not lost on Zimbabweans. In 2013, when Mnangagwa was the country’s justice minister, he himself defended a law that outlawed mocking the president on social media and elsewhere, writing in a court affidavit that it was necessary to stop a “breach of public order and public safety” and arguing the president’s authority “may be diminished if the head is savaged falsely.”

And less than two years ago, Mugabe’s government – in which Mnangagwa was then vice president – shut off popular social media applications multiple times in an attempt to stifle a protest movement organized largely by WhatsApp and under Twitter hashtags like #Tajamuka (“We have had enough”).

But Mnangagwa’s position on social media seemed to change abruptly in November 2017, when he was suddenly fired as vice president and his own supporters began to use WhatsApp and other online services to mobilize Zimbabweans to march and demand the president’s resignation. (Some 5.2 million Zimbabweans use WhatsApp, or about one-third of the country’s population.)

A few days after the protests began, Mugabe stepped down, and Mnangagwa was sworn in as president. And a few days after that, Mnangagwa posted a photo of himself at the inauguration on his Twitter feed with the tongue-in-cheek hashtag, #NewProfilePic.

“There was a lot of self-censorship [on social media before], that fear in the background, but the coup changed all that,” says Ranga Mberi, a Zimbabwean blogger with a large Twitter following.

Analysts say social media has also become an important way for the new government to demonstrate it’s serious about holding open and fair elections, which are scheduled to take place July 30.

“The government is preaching peace and tolerance, and want to prove they can win an election without violence so they are making the right noises,” says David Coltart, a former government minister and opposition politician.

The new government has also slackened its grip on traditional media, which have been given more leeway to critique the president and his government in this election cycle, analysts say. But media watchers point out there is still need to stay vigilant, particularly after the Zimbabwe Defence Force’s director of public relations recently warned several journalists to desist with their “bad and mischievous reporting,” and following physical attacks on journalists by supporters of both major political parties in recent weeks.

'It keeps them silent’

In Uganda, meanwhile, President Yoweri Museveni met last Thursday with members of Parliament from his party to discuss the social-media tax.

Their verdict: It would stand.

But organizations both local and national said they would continue to fight the tax.

“If people, particularly low-income people, can no longer express themselves, it makes them more vulnerable to other abuses of their rights,” says Ms. Nyanyuki of Amnesty. “It keeps them silent, and we don’t want that.”

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3. As gay couples in France seek to adopt, conservative forces push back

France may look highly progressive, given its legalization of same-sex marriage five years ago. But French society is more conservative than it seems, a fact manifesting as now-married LGBT couples try to adopt.

Amelia

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France, like nearly two dozen countries in Europe, has passed laws in recent years to allow marriage and adoption for same-sex couples. But social norms and a religious history rooted in conservative Roman Catholicism have prevented LGBT couples from exercising the rights to which they are legally entitled. Around 7,000 same-sex marriages take place each year, but only a handful of same-sex couples manage to adopt. In June, France was wrapped in controversy after two regional adoption agency officials made disparaging remarks about same-sex couples: one saying that agencies would always favor heterosexual couples over homosexual ones, and another that same-sex couples were “atypical” and should be prepared to adopt “atypical” children – those who are older or with disabilities. The problem comes because all couples must go before a “family council” to assess their suitability for adopting. Those councils often feature disproportionate representation from Catholic family organizations that disfavor same-sex adoptive parents. “France is very secular in how religion is dealt with in the public sphere,” says Michael Stambolis-Ruhstorfer at the University of Bordeaux Montaigne, “but the church is still very present and active.”

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As gay couples in France seek to adopt, conservative forces push back

Like many couples basking in the euphoria of France’s passing of a law to allow same-sex marriage five years ago, Pierre-Jean Jestin and his husband started immediately on adoption proceedings. Mr. Jestin, who was adopted himself, knew how long the process could last – for all couples, gay or straight – and didn’t want to wait.

But during one of the interviews halfway through the lengthy, paperwork-intensive process, Jestin says, “A psychologist told us, ‘In any case, you’ll never adopt in France.’ ... The council [that ultimately decides on adoption cases] is Catholic and they’ll never give a child to a gay couple.”

Jestin and his husband closed their file indefinitely with the state. One year later, they had adopted two boys from Brazil – and acquired a bitter taste about France and gay rights.

France, like nearly two dozen countries in Europe, has passed laws in recent years to allow marriage and adoption for same-sex couples. But social norms and a religious history rooted in conservative Catholicism have prevented LGBT couples from exercising the rights to which they are legally entitled.

In June, France was wrapped in controversy after two regional adoption agency officials made disparaging remarks about same-sex couples – one saying that agencies would always favor heterosexual couples over homosexual ones, and another that same-sex couples were “atypical” and should be prepared to adopt “atypical” children – those who were older or with disabilities.

The comments have dredged up latent discrimination in a country that thought it had progressed further than that, and have forced French society to look inward for solutions.

“In terms of homosexuality in general, France is still quite conservative even when it comes to accepting same-sex marriage,” says Sébastien Chauvin, a French sociologist who studies gender and sexuality at the University of Lausanne. “You can see this in terms of visibility in public spaces… In France, people are still hiding.”

Catholics' lasting influence

While the law to allow same-sex marriage has been accepted relatively innocuously in France, that for same-sex adoption has been a harder sell. Around 7,000 same-sex marriages take place here each year, but only a handful of same-sex couples manage to adopt.

France remains an inherently Catholic country, despite empty churches, increasing diversity, and its insistence on secularism. This rich tradition, while not always evident in daily life, is still visible in the inner workings of civic groups across the country which dictate social mores, political decisions, and, ultimately, laws.

“France is very secular in how religion is dealt with in the public sphere, but the church is still very present and active,” says Michael Stambolis-Ruhstorfer, who studies sexuality and family at the University of Bordeaux Montaigne. “It’s not only through the clergy itself but through a whole collection of powerful Catholic family organizations that play a behind-the-scenes but very important role in shaping family policy in France.”

Mr. Stambolis-Ruhstorfer says that civil society organizations have membership on decision-making boards of regional government bodies, and Catholic family organizations are over-represented in these bodies. The influential “Manif pour Tous” (Protest for All) coalition that has led anti-gay-marriage and -adoption protests since 2012 is chiefly Catholic. While parts of the Catholic Church have embraced homosexuals and their partnerships, the official line remains against such unions.

This is often a problem for same-sex couples in adoption proceedings. All couples must go before a “family council” to assess their suitability for adopting. Nicolas Faget, the spokesperson for the APGL, a national organization representing LGBT parents, says this is where many same-sex couples get stuck.

The meetings take place behind closed doors, without any accountability. Some rights groups have suggested that making adoption files anonymous would end the discrimination. But “there needs to be more education for adoption personnel,” Mr. Faget says. “We didn’t do this after the same-sex marriage law was passed.”

Jestin says that during his interviews, he was asked questions about his and his husband’s sex life and if they frequented gay bars. “We encountered so many stereotypes about what it meant to be a same-sex couple,” says Jestin. “Even before we got the answer about our case, I said stop, that’s enough.”

Different feelings about families

Alternative conception methods for same-sex couples have also been controversial. Currently, lesbian couples must travel abroad to receive in vitro fertilization, as the practice is presently not allowed in France. Last September, Emmanuel Macron’s government proposed opening up the practice to all women. A bill was planned to go to the National Assembly last week, but was scrapped at the last minute amid doubts that it would pass.

Still, while a BVA poll from March showed that 58 percent of French people were in favor of assisted procreation for same-sex couples, only 70 percent believe that same-sex couples can successfully raise a child in the right conditions.

Stambolis-Ruhstorfer says the way the French view marriage and parenting – in contrast to the US – could be a reason why same-sex adoption and conception methods have been more difficult to accept here than marriage.

“Part of it is related to the different cultural position and power of marriage and family in each country. Marriage is really important culturally in the United States; we spend a lot of time investing in it, the rate of marriage is higher than in France,” says Stambolis-Ruhstorfer. “At the same time, there’s a higher birth rate in France and a higher out of wedlock birth rate. People are not as worried about getting married but they are worried about having families.”

In addition, there are statistically fewer children to adopt in France than in the US, so that when family organizations are presented with multiple dossiers – including heterosexual and homosexual couples – the heterosexual couples usually win out.

Most observers agree, however, that the swiftness with which the public and the government reacted to the controversial adoption statements in June is an indicator of progress made. One agency official was suspended after the remarks, while the other is in the early stages of a discrimination lawsuit.

“We have to take into account that there was even a scandal,” says Mr. Chauvin. “Twenty years ago there wouldn’t have been one because there was no same-sex adoption. The fact that we noticed there’s discrimination shows that this type of behavior is no longer tolerated.”

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4. College newsrooms rethink approach to race

In recent years, college campuses have seen controversy erupt around race and identity. For student journalists, this moment has triggered deeper questions about diversity within their own coverage.   

Amelia
Kathy Willens/AP
Editor in chief Jemima McEvoy (l.) helps news editor Sakshi Venkatraman with a story at the Washington Square News, New York University's independent, student-run newspaper, on April 22, 2018. Campus papers are trying new approaches to help facilitate diversity on staff and in reporting, including participating in the campaign #SaveStudentNewsrooms.

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This spring, college students across the United States saw several high-profile cases of racial discrimination. At Colorado State University in Fort Collins, a white woman on a tour called campus police after feeling unsafe while walking near two prospective Native American students. And at the University of California, San Diego, members of a white supremacist organization interrupted a class lecture and posted racist pamphlets across campus. In light of events like these, campus publications have been reexamining how they cover race and identity. Their approaches are wide-ranging, including assigning beat reporters to cover marginalized communities, running racial bias workshops, and working to diversify their staffs. Along the way, college papers are leading the effort to bring more diversity to the industry, and grooming new editors and reporters who may soon take their diversity-forward worldviews to professional newsrooms. “The heightened dialogue about the underrepresentation of people of color in media is very much making itself felt in the college newsroom,” says Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

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College newsrooms rethink approach to race

As the editor in chief of the Daily Gamecock at the University of South Carolina a decade ago, Jackie Alexander still remembers a story she assigned a white student reporter. It was the spring of 2008 and in recognition of Barack Obama’s historic presidential candidacy, Ms. Alexander asked the reporter to cover race relations on campus. 

The story the reporter submitted depicted a harmonious, inclusive environment. Only three sources were quoted and none of them were black. For Alexander, who at times had faced racist aggression as a black student on a predominantly white campus, it was a powerful glimpse into her colleague’s racial blind spots – especially at a newspaper where only two students on a staff of 80 were people of color. 

“Without that person to push back and say ‘This isn't an accurate representation for the lived experiences of these people, my people,’ you get stories like ‘Everything is Hunky-Dory at Carolina,’ because they don't have the frame of mind to challenge their own assumptions and biases,” says Alexander, now the director of student media at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“[S]ometimes having that very awkward conversation with people who should get it… can be very frustrating and demoralizing,” she says.

Data show that journalism today continues to be an overwhelmingly white profession. In 2017, racial minorities comprised about 16.6 percent of all newsroom employees surveyed by the American Society of News Editors. 

But on college campuses, where racial awareness and debate have heightened recently, student newspapers are now leading the effort to bring more diversity to the industry. 

Their approaches are wide-ranging, including assigning beat reporters to cover marginalized communities, running racial bias workshops, and recruiting for greater racial diversity within their own staffs. Along the way, these young journalists are grooming new editors and reporters who may soon take their diversity-forward worldviews to professional newsrooms. 

“The heightened dialogue about the underrepresentation of people of color in media is very much making itself felt in the college newsroom,” says Frank LoMonte, Director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

“We’re at a moment where people of color are standing up and demanding to be heard in the media, and rightly so. As an editor you ignore that at your great peril,” says Mr. LoMonte.

Turning the page on underrepresentation

This spring, college students across the country saw several high-profile cases of racial discrimination, many of which played off of the tensions Alexander witnessed ten years ago. At Colorado State University in Fort Collins, a white woman on a tour called the campus police after feeling unsafe while walking near two Native American prospective students. And at the University of California San Diego, members of a white supremacist organization interrupted a class lecture and posted racist pamphlets across campus. 

These incidents echoed a series of racial profiling cases on college campuses in 2015 that ignited protests across the US and drove at least 79 institutions to petition their administrations to better protect community members of color. Student media found itself caught up in this wave of activism, most notably when a former University of Missouri professor threatened a student photographer on assignment for ESPN for trying to document protests there.  

In light of events like these, editors at campus publications have been reexamining how they cover race and identity. This spring, Hannah Bernstein, managing editor of The Huntington News at Northeastern University in Boston, led a racial bias workshop in her newsroom. She encouraged reporters to meaningfully engage with reader feedback, including accusations of racially insensitive coverage.

The newspaper struggles with diversity, says Ms. Bernstein’s colleague, Jasmine Heyward.

“I think the dominant perspective [at the paper] can be people who tend to be white, tend to be from middle to upper class backgrounds, tend to be straight, and tend to have this ‘We’re journalists, we make change by covering the news not by being the news’ mindset,” says Ms. Heyward, one of the few students of color on staff.

Some universities are developing new standards. The Diversity Style Guide was created by the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University and includes suggestions such as capitalizing the “b” in “black” for describing race and using “Latinx” as a gender-neutral term for members of the Latino community. 

“When you’re presenting the opinions of people of color and you... diminish their experiences in any way, it really diminishes the trust over time that they’ll have in your paper. That means being super cognizant [about] how you talk about diversity in your writing,” says Gabriel Schneider, the former editor in chief of the Triton, an independent newspaper at the University of California San Diego that incorporated the Diversity Style Guide into its editorial guidelines. 

At the University of Alabama Birmingham, Alexander helped develop a diversity rubric for student reporters to determine the number of minority sources they used.

“That’s kind of a quantitative reminder. It’s not to set a quota,” she says.

Kathy Willens/AP
Student journalists Jemima McEvoy (l.), Pamela Jew (c.), and Sayer Devlin (r.), work on an edition of the Washington Square News, a student-run newspaper of New York University.

Supporting students of color

To bring more diversity to its publication, The Daily Californian, the student paper of The University of California, Berkeley, unveiled a series of initiatives this past year. They include creating a new column devoted to the experiences of students of color, forming an internal diversity committee to assess the paper’s racial coverage, and establishing beat reporters to cover marginalized identities. 

However, while 18.6 percent of the student body identified as black or Latino in 2017, the paper is still working to bring the share of black and Latino staff above 7 percent.

One problem may be the long hours and low pay at newspapers, says Jimena Tavel, the outgoing managing editor of The Independent Florida Alligator, a student newspaper at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Many student papers can’t afford to pay their staffs at all and others offer editors a meager stipend that equates to just a few dollars an hour. 

In April, Ms. Tavel cofounded #SaveStudentNewsrooms, a campaign to raise awareness about the struggles student newsrooms face and to secure funding to hire more racially diverse staffs.

'College newsrooms are uniquely dynamic' 

Despite challenges, many editors are optimistic. In San Diego, the Triton’s staff has grown from three bloggers to more than 60 editors and writers – predominantly students of color – in three years, says Mohamed Al Elew, the current editor in chief. And unlike the greater media industry, college newsrooms are uniquely dynamic, says LoMonte.

“If you’re the New York Times, it’s really hard to diversify your newsroom overnight because you’re looking for people with decades of experience that you’re going to pay six-figure salaries,” he says.

“At the college newsroom you can just throw the door open and let everybody who wants to come in, come in. Just pull up another chair. There’s plenty of room.”

Monitor staff Grace Elletson contributed to this report.

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5. One woman's plan to disrupt the bail system

Too frequently, bail doesn't work the way it was intended. Robin Steinberg has launched an initiative that is drawing attention to this often-overlooked issue, with a plan to bail out 160,000 people in the US.

Amelia
Ann Hermes/Staff
Last year Robin Steinberg launched The Bail Project, a five-year plan to bail out 160,000 people in more than 40 US locations.

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After 20 years as a public defender in the New York borough of the Bronx, Robin Steinberg knows well the inequities of the bail system. On an average night 450,000 people are in jail awaiting trial because they can’t afford to post bail. The longer they stay inside the more likely they are to plead guilty, even if the charges are weak. Ms. Steinberg wants to change this, and to show that bail is an unjust and ineffective approach to low-level offenders. She has raised millions of dollars to create revolving bail funds across the United States, starting in New York; Tulsa, Okla.; and St. Louis. Teams of “bail disruptors” locate and bail out detainees, then make sure they show up in court. Over the next five years, the Bail Project aims to set up in 40 jurisdictions and bail out 160,000 people. A pilot project in the Bronx resulted in more than half of all cases against clients who were bailed out being dismissed. “Freedom makes all the difference,” says Steinberg.

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One woman's plan to disrupt the bail system

It was over a late-night Chinese meal in New York with her then colleague, now husband, that Robin Steinberg first hit on the idea for a bail fund.

Ms. Steinberg and David Feige were both public defenders in the Bronx, a borough of New York, where they saw every day how cash bail hampered clients who couldn’t afford to pay to get out of detention.

“We were venting about some client who had just pled guilty [to avoid being stuck in jail] and how frustrating it was and how outrageous it was. And he said, ‘You should just start a bail fund and start bailing people out of jail,’ ” Steinberg says.

Bail was instituted as a way to ensure that a defendant returns to court – to retrieve the money he or she posted. But too often it hasn’t worked that way. So in 2007, Steinberg launched the Bronx Freedom Fund, a revolving nonprofit fund for poor people being held in jail before trial.

By bailing them out for $768 on average, Steinberg was able to work on their cases while they went back to their homes and families and jobs. And her team made sure that clients showed up for court dates. Once their cases are heard and judged, the bond money returns to the fund, with each dollar circulating more than twice a year.

What Steinberg found was that freedom made all the difference.

More than half of the cases resulted in all charges being dismissed, while others ended in noncustodial sentences. Only 2 percent of clients were sentenced to jail for the original charges.

She wondered, why stop in the Bronx? Although other community bond funds had popped up and lawmakers in New Jersey and Maryland had capped the use of cash-based bail, the scale of pretrial incarceration across the United States has remained immense. On an average night, 450,000 people are in local jails awaiting trial. Most are too poor to pay bail.

Last November, Steinberg launched The Bail Project, a five-year, $52 million plan to bail out 160,000 people in more than 40 locations, starting with New York City. It has since set up funds in Tulsa, Okla.; St. Louis; Detroit; and Louisville, Ky., hiring local “bail disrupters” to track and assist low-income defendants.

The initiative is one of five chosen this year as a TED Audacious Project, which pools money from philanthropists for “big bets” on ideas with broad social effect. The Bail Project will receive $24 million over five years, while Steinberg continues to raise money to expand its reach, says Anna Verghese, who runs the Audacious Project.

“There was something game-changing about this idea,” she says. It was also a reflection on Steinberg’s determination to deliver. “She’s extremely loyal and extremely committed to this work. She’s resilient.”

“Impatience is probably what drives me most,” says Steinberg, who talks with expansive hand gestures and empathetic nods. “Nothing’s ever happening quickly enough.”

‘From the ground up’ approach

Steinberg takes a worm’s-eye view of social issues that puts her legal clients first, says Mr. Feige, who helped her set up the Bronx Defenders, a nonprofit law firm, in 1997. “Her profound belief is that answers to vexing criminal justice problems can be best assessed from the ground up,” he says.

Indeed, each jurisdiction has its own set of factors. In Tulsa, Steinberg opened Still She Rises in 2017 with support from a local philanthropist. It’s a legal-aid firm for low-income mothers – the first of its kind – and is in a state that locks up the most women per capita. Similarly, The Bail Project in Tulsa focuses on mothers held in pretrial detention, including those at risk of losing custody of their children the longer they stay behind bars.

“I went to [law] school thinking I wanted to be a legal defender for women, then spent most of my career defending men,” she says.

Law school wasn’t a given for Steinberg, who was a politically active teen and middling student in New York. During her senior year of high school, her mother remarried and moved her, unwillingly, to California. Prodded by her stepfather to go to college, she enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley and found her tribe. In 1978 she was the first to graduate from its women’s studies program.

She moved back to New York and went to law school. As a public defender, she was drawn to the South Bronx, one of the country’s most deprived districts.

The Bronx Defenders now has 300 lawyers who represent more than 30,000 people a year. Steinberg stepped down last December as its executive director so she could run The Bail Project from her new position as a senior fellow at the UCLA School of Law.

On a recent afternoon, Steinberg wraps up a lunch with new interns at Still She Rises, a brightly lit office located in a run-down mall in North Tulsa, a predominantly black neighborhood where most of the firm’s clients live. Outside the office, she gets into her 2004 Volvo station wagon with its bumper sticker – Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History – and heads downtown.

Tulsa’s bail disrupters are two blocks from the courthouse in an Art Deco office building that’s a reminder of the city’s 1920s oil wealth. Upstairs, Steinberg’s technology director is coaching the team – two women and one man, each with a personal story of incarceration and injustice – on how to use mobile apps to track bail recipients. On the table are juice boxes and snacks for recipients who have just been bailed out.

Steinberg wants to test her belief that bail is both unjust and ineffective. Most poor people aren’t flight risks; they miss court dates because they don’t have subway fare or a fixed address, legal advocates say. That’s why disrupters get contact details for the friends and family members of defendants and make sure they have a ride to court.

In the Bronx, Steinberg found that money isn’t what makes people come back, and that inspires her hope that bail reform is possible in Tulsa and other cities. “The work here is going to inform people that you don’t need all those systems,” she says.

Shawna Robinson, one of the disrupters, nods admiringly. “They have never gone up against a strategic intelligent workhorse like Robin in this town, ever.”

“Oh, nonsense,” Steinberg says. “There are a lot of strategically brilliant people in this town, including you three around this table.”

Everyone begins talking, but the loudest voice belongs to Richard Baxter. “Hang on! But one thing is being unafraid.” He pauses to look at Steinberg. “See, she didn’t say nothing; no rebuttal there. She’s not afraid.”

Ann Hermes/Staff
Robin Steinberg (c.), chief executive officer of The Bail Project, talks with members of her team in Tulsa, Okla.: Richard Baxter (r.), Shawna Harrell (l.), and Michelle Murphy, (l.).

One bail recipient

More than 100 women have been bailed out in Tulsa since January. One is Cynthia Reed, a middle-aged homeless woman from Texas arrested in May after she took a folder from a dumpster that allegedly contained a police document. Four days later, Mr. Baxter paid $3,000 to the court. “I thought nobody was going to bail me out. Nobody knows me here,” she says.

Baxter has since helped her find a homeless shelter and get food stamps and a cellphone. Ms. Reed, her face and shoulders brown from the summer sun, drops by the office to meet with Baxter. She’s upbeat about beating the charges at her court hearing. “I’m not going to cop to it,” she says.

Steinberg has a dinner with a donor, so she packs into the elevator with her team and Reed, who’s headed to her shelter. She smiles as Baxter chats about next steps. Steinberg turns to Reed and says, “You have the most beautiful face.”

For more, visit bailproject.org.

Three other groups taking up human rights

UniversalGiving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations around the world. All the projects below are vetted by UniversalGiving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause.

Shirley Ann Sullivan Educational Foundation improves the quality of life for children by providing education and lobbying for their protection from exploitation. Take action: Support this group in its efforts to stop child trafficking.

Giraffe Heroes Project encourages people to stick their necks out for the common good and gives them tools to solve public problems. Take action: Help fund this organization’s work in publicizing “Giraffe Heroes.”

BRAC USA aims to empower those dealing with poverty, illiteracy, disease, or social injustice. Take action: Support the persecuted Rohingya with humanitarian aid.

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The Monitor's View

Pakistan’s election: a victory for women

Pakistan is one of the world’s largest democracies, yet it has long ranked near last in female participation in elections. In Wednesday’s vote for a new National Assembly, however, the country’s social conservatism toward women’s rights may have finally been broken – perhaps even influencing the results. An additional 3.8 million women were eligible to vote compared with the last election in 2013. And early counting suggests more women voted than ever before. The cultural shift was most remarkable in traditional areas. Tens of thousands of women cast ballots for the first time, ignoring calls from village elders and religious leaders to stay away from polling stations. The rapid upswing in women voters was not a spontaneous uprising. Rather, Pakistani officials were shocked into action in recent years by the fact that many voting districts saw no women voting at all. A 2017 law now dictates that a district’s vote will be nullified if the female voter turnout does not reach 10 percent. And political parties are required to have five percent of their candidates be women. “Today I feel I’m a complete Pakistani,” one 27-year-old woman told Agence France-Presse after she voted. “I have got my right which had been denied to me since I was 18.”

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Insomnia healed

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Today’s contributor found lasting freedom from chronic sleeplessness when she took a spiritual approach of seeking “the peace of God, which passes all understanding.”

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Insomnia healed

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Many people face chronic sleeplessness, accompanied by a desire for daily, peace-filled rest. The sleep industry is enormous: sleep masks, white noise and other machines, activity trackers, biofeedback sleep hats, prescription and over-the-counter remedies – not to mention various food combinations, videos, and reading suggestions all claiming to help us rest.

But I’ve found the most effective approach to be a radically different one – a spiritual one. For years I struggled with insomnia. At one point I calculated that I needed to go to bed 1-1/2 to 2 hours prior to when I actually wanted to fall asleep. At times I took medication, too. But none of this resolved the problem.

Then, just before commencing graduate school, I found Christian Science – the Science of the divine Mind. Through what I was learning, I saw quite quickly how our thinking impacts our experience, for better or worse. I began to see how turning our thought to God, the intelligent, always present divine consciousness, or Mind, enables us to hear the ideas He sends each of us, which bring inspiration and healing.

I wasn’t too far along in this line of reasoning when I decided to call a Christian Science practitioner one evening to help me with the insomnia. Practitioners devote themselves to praying for healing when people request it, understanding and trusting always that divine Mind meets every genuine need. I don’t remember everything the practitioner said that evening, but I definitely felt assured that I was deeply cherished and cared for by our Maker, God, divine Love, and that there was a solution.

One idea the practitioner shared was this verse from the Bible: “When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet” (Proverbs 3:24). What a blessed assurance! I didn’t have to be afraid when I lay down to rest peacefully. I didn’t need to get caught up in the anxiety-filled, angst-packed thoughts that had been keeping me awake. Because God, Mind, is Love, He communicates only good thoughts – intelligent, sweet ones. Another Bible passage assures us, “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, Jubilee Bible 2000). When we are receptive to God’s thoughts, we come to see that our being is filled with good.

And because we are made in God’s image (see Genesis 1:26, 27), His beloved spiritual sons and daughters, we are innately able to discern which thoughts are from our divine Father-Mother and which are not. Thoughts that produce fear, hurt, disappointment, or anger are not from God. No need to commune with them! God’s thoughts, on the other hand, bring peace, calm, insight, and love. These are wonderfully acceptable and healing.

That night, after I spoke with the practitioner and took these ideas to heart, I was filled with awesome hope and gratitude, and I was permanently healed of insomnia. To me, this was proof that a sincere desire to know God does bring practical, healing answers to the challenges we face in day-to-day living. Our Maker cherishes each of His children and has made us all able to hear Him, understand Him, and obey Him.

You too can have a peaceful and normal repose as you listen for our heavenly Father-Mother’s tender, wise ministrations.

A version of this article aired on the July 25, 2018, Christian Science Daily Lift podcast.

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Viewfinder

An uphill battle

Christophe Ena/AP
France's Romain Bardet, Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands, Britain's Geraint Thomas (wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey) and Slovenia's Primoz Roglic (l. to r.) wait prior to the 17th stage of the Tour de France cycling race. Wednesday's course covered more than 40 miles, starting in Bagneres-de-Luchon and finishing in Saint-Lary-Soulan, Col du Portet pass, France, July 25, 2018. Today's shorter mountain stage featured three grueling climbs, including an uphill finish, intermediate bonus sprints, and a Formula One-like grid start.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte and Karen Norris. )
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