The goal of portraying diversity in the suburbs
There was a time not so long ago in newspapering when about the only way readers would see the face of a Black person or other minority in the paper, and especially on the front page, was if the person committed a crime. Thankfully, times change. But they don't always change fast or far enough.
In a discussion Tuesday between Daily Herald editors and members of the paper's Diversity Advisory Panel, the issue took on a perplexing dimension. One of the chief observations among members of the diversity panel since we founded it last year has been an understandable concern that people with minority ethnic or cultural backgrounds don't see people like themselves often enough in positive stories and pictures or even in reports about what we might call "everyday" suburban events and activities -- feature photos of people enjoying a winter snowfall, for instance, or attending local government meetings or community festivals.
And, it was one of the citizen panel members who put the issue in sharp focus. The woman, who is white, is very active in the civic and social life of her community, but lamented that she rarely sees Black people or other minorities at board meetings she attends or large, popular community festivals.
"If they're not going to these things," she asked, "where are they going?"
That's an important question, and purely from a news-management perspective, it's a useful signal that we at the newspaper need to be making more of an effort to get to the events and attractions that these populations are attending.
But limiting ourselves to that strategy poses a clear risk. It suggests it might be progress if we simply attend certain cultural or political events that attract minority populations, an observation only slightly more accurate than in the past. True, it's an advance of sorts if minorities can be shown in situations other than crime reports; but, it's not enough of an advance if the trade-off is that they find themselves only in reports on religious festivals or culturally focused social events.
The ultimate answer, it seems to me, goes beyond the newspaper's responsibility to portray people from minority communities in everyday suburban life. It also involves finding ways to encourage more minority involvement in everyday suburban life.
Any occasional news consumer can easily see that in once almost-restrictively white local leadership positions, Blacks, Muslims, Asians, Hispanics and members of other races are making consequential strides and contributions. But our panel member's question still looms large on the matter of everyday life. Why do people from these populations still seem to be in the background, if they appear at all, at so many community events?
Dealing with that question is not simple, and it involves more than just newspapers making extra efforts to get people of color into their pages. Governments and event organizers may also need to be thinking more about the minority members of their communities as they plan and advertise events. Perhaps, minorities should do more to explore local activities, and other participants may be able to do more to make them feel welcome.
Those are actions outside the newspaper's control, of course, but they certainly may be advanced if we at least do a better job of showing minorities participating in local life. Our editors, photographers and writers are committed to doing that. We hope that's a step toward both more faithful representation of the racial makeup of our communities and more routine interaction among all of us in the affairs of suburban life.