Student journalists hold conference on race and social justice in the media

Editor’s note: The Daily’s editorial board acknowledges that this article presents a conflict of interest, since the event being covered was hosted by members of the Daily. Members of the paper’s managing board did not discuss the reporting of this story with the writer, and this piece does not represent the Daily’s usual journalistic practices.

Student journalists held the first “Conference on Race, Social Justice and Free Speech in Student Journalism” in the Remis Sculpture Court on Saturday afternoon. The conference, which was open to all students, aimed to discuss the lack diversity in student newsrooms and the field, as well as how to create more welcoming and attentive spaces to better represent the experiences of all students and of the population.

Approximately 30 students gathered to listen to a keynote address by Meghan Irons, a journalist at the Boston Globe, and two student panels on diversity in the media.

Tufts Daily Editor-in-Chief Sarah Zheng opened the conference, noting that white journalists are the industry norm, making it difficult for media outlets to accurately cover experiences from all perspectives. She cited diversity as the solution, but said that perpetuating diversity in the newsroom and in published stories is difficult.

The keynote address was delivered by Irons, who covers City Hall, Boston’s mayor and the City Council, according to the Boston Globe’s website.

The first panel discussed racial diversity and campus media. Three students of color from the Daily, Irons and a student of color from Boston University’s Daily Free Press, discussed their roles in media, noting how they often feel pressure to be the representatives for entire communities of color within their respective outlets because they may be some of the only people of color in the newsroom.

Panelists spoke about how many student news outlets lack the diversity needed to adequately and accurately represent the news that is relevant and important to all students on college campuses. In light of this, the panel addressed how media outlets can both create a safe space inside the newsroom and better represent the population outside of the newsroom.

The second panel covered the idea of free speech and how to be sensitive to student movements, while also reporting important events and grievances on campus. The panel, entitled “Mizzou, Yale, Smith — Campus Coverage at the Intersection of Social Justice and Free Speech,” discussed the recent black-identifying student movements on many campuses and how to adequately cover these movements, while respecting student requests for safe spaces and their disinterest in communicating with media outlets. These movements brought to light the extent of racism on campuses across the country and generated controversy about the nature of free speech and the spaces journalists have a right to be in.

Irons said that as one of the only black journalists at the Globe, she has felt isolated and as an “other” throughout her entire career, often feeling the pressure to represent the entire black community. She noted that as one of a few black journalists in her work environment, she is often able to bring an angle to a story that her white colleagues would not have been able to find or to understand because they have never been a part of these communities.

However, she also said that journalists of color should not feel pressured to become the “cheerleaders” for their communities, and that they should still feel the responsibility to report stories as objectively as possible.

Irons said that this lack of diversity and representation is not only a problem in journalism, but also in state government and schools. She called student newspapers and journalism degree programs the “pipeline” to professional journalism. Because the pipeline is predominantly white, the field is also predominantly white, she said.

Building diversity in the newsroom both on campus and in the field must begin with creating safe spaces in student newsrooms that welcome journalists of color, while having publications representatively cover relevant issues, Zheng said.