Training on Accuracy: Race, Class, Gender, and Religion

I recently helped finished a video shoot at work with a partner Communications agency and video production team to help promote my employer's new brand. One small task I had was to identify a diverse population of students and alumni to use in the video.

It got me thinking about representing diversity in the news and how journalists deal with what seems like a monumental responsibility, far more so than a promotional video. Think about the growing influence and media attention to the Black Lives Matter movement and the heightened attention on the transgender experience of Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce. 

This falls under a topic to be covered in a media ethics course in journalism school, but what about professionals or freelancers? How does a journalist develop the confidence and conscious knowledge that he/she is representing race, class, gender, or religion in a way that is accurate? Not to mention that does as little harm as possible?

The Society for Professional Journalists have guidelines for countering racial profiling. Poynter offers a $30 online course on verification and accuracy. 

Talking about race is tense right now, from police violence to the views of presidential hopefuls. Just watch this recent video clip making its way around the internet today. It seems that there is a place for journalists to guide this conversation. 

There is no test to pass or degree to hold in order to become a journalist. But perhaps it is within the responsibility of schools and media organizations to train their staff in reporting accurately. Forget about the tight deadlines as a reason for inaccurate stories. If there exists a metaphorical toolbox of writers, journalists, or content creators today, then there exists a need for training on accurate representation of the complexities of race, gender, class, and religion. 

One principle that I enjoyed reading about that addresses this tension is transparency. In Caitlyn Jenner's announced transition through Vanity Fair, the Wikipedia page for Bruce Jenner, was changed within 21 minutes of the announcement from the magazine's Twitter. Wikipedia posted to their blog to explain how the organization dealt with the change in "How Wikipedia covered Caitlyn Jenner’s transition."

While transparency is great, it's also not enough as a journalist to mean well. In this Poynter article, I liked the idea of applying this phrase from Tracie Powell in All Digitocracy (original source).

Challenge your assumptions about people.
— Tracie Powell

It requires a good level of self-awareness to know what you don't know and ask the questions to understand the nuances of a community without stereotyping, then synthesize that understanding into words. 

I can't fathom that task now. But the ability to be trained or learn the depth of this ethical issue in the safety of a classroom environment or workshop seems like a necessary step. If not for yourself as a writer, but necessary for the sake of readers. Maybe then these tensions will ease and the truth will come out by way of process. Maybe we're already well on our way. 

Emily Turner2 Comments