NewsU:Handling Race and Ethnicity

By Natalie Gagliordi

I participated in the NewsU course, Handling Race and Ethnicity. Although there are many other course topics offered from the Poynter Institute, I felt that this was something more unusual that I would ordinarily not pay much attention to.

The course objectives listed on the course site are: identify the way you view matters of race and ethnicity and gain insights into new ways of thinking; deconstruct the forms of racial and ethnic identification that appear in news stories so you can make more thoughtful and informed choices about word choices; and confront the white-hot issue of suspect identification and reach for more precise ways of describing the way people look.

Looking over the course objectives, I felt as if I already had a pretty decent concept of race and ethnicity. I am always mistaken for another ethnicity, and have had wide exposure to diverse populations. However, once I started to read over the course I began to see myself making the common errors that I would judge other journalists for.

One exercise that I found effective was called “What does ethnicity look like?” in which a bank of multicultural faces was given and the job was to pick out who was white, black, Asian, Latino or Native American. I did fine on the obvious faces, but I was very surprised to see that I fell for the tricks and labeled certain faces stereotypically. That alone was enough to make me begin to second guess myself.

The next exercise I found to be helpful was where the four different types of mistaken identification were explained. It said identification can either be inexplicable, misplaced, unexplained and uneven. Then different stories with racial or ethnic identification were given, and you had to pick out which of the four categories it fell under. I began to see that I overlook the majority of racial and ethnic mentioning in news stories. Maybe because I don’t see myself as a minority or maybe its because I don’t pay enough attention when I read. Whatever the case, I was feeling stupider and stupider as the course went on.

I actually think I came out of this course a little enlightened. I have the tendency to be absent minded when I am writing about something that is not of much interest to me. If I get a job at some small local paper, guaranteed I will continue to write outside of my interests. Racial and ethnic sensitivity is important not just in a cops story, but in all stories. If a reporter is writing about a community event, for example, and mentions the race of an individual for no reason, the reader may misinterpret the message. As a journalism student, I often skim stories looking at technicalities, not so much at content, something I really shouldn’t be doing. From now on I will try to pay more attention to matters of race and ethnicity, being able to see them in other stories and correctly use them in my own.

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