Michigan State University Bias Busters: Improving Education for Everyone

As reported by EWA

EWA Publishes Reporter Guide for Inclusive Coverage

Guide helps journalists cover students, communities of diverse backgrounds

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Want a copy of the new guide? Click this Education Writers Association logo to read and download a copy of the free 75-page guide to inclusive coverage—produced by MSU’s Bias Busters.

Most schools are more diverse than the newsrooms that cover them. That means it’s highly likely an education journalist will interact with a student from a race, ethnicity, or faith different from their own. The Education Writers Association wants to ensure its members are prepared to cover students from all backgrounds.

To do that, EWA produced the Reporter Guide for Inclusive Coverage in conjunction with Joe Grimm, a professor at Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts and Sciences and the creator of the Bias Busters series.

At a time when our entire industry is being challenged to be more inclusive and to bring more — and more diverse — voices into the conversation, this guide is absolutely essential to building stories that recognize — and avoid — the biases each of us brings to our work, said Steve Drummond, the leader of NPR’s education and Code Switch teams and a member of the EWA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force.

Nowhere is this more important than in education reporting, where, decades after Brown v. Board of Education, schooling remains for too many students both separate and unequal, said Drummond, who is also the vice president of journalist members on EWA’s Board of Directors. More than ever, we need to focus our work on the deep and systemic inequities in our system, and the needs and challenges that some of the most underserved students face. A big part of that is making sure the stories we’re telling, the sources we interview, the teachers and students we write about, reflect the schools — and the nation — we have today. This important guide can help.

The guide offers detailed answers to questions reporters may have when writing about race and ethnicity, faith, or other misunderstood groups, such as immigrants, veterans, and LGBTQ communities. It is divided into 12 chapters and follows a Q-and-A format. Many of the questions focus on correctly using each group’s preferred terminology or breaking long-held stereotypes about the group. Writing about Asian American students, for instance? Read through that chapter to ensure you’re using accurate terminology.

Education reporting requires a skill set and expertise on issues involving one of our most vulnerable populations, said Marlon A. Walker, education reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and vice president of print for the National Association of Black Journalists. Doing so while being mindful about the nuance around race, gender, and socioeconomic status only makes the coverage better. The tips offered here urge education writers to keep going, but doing it in a way that will not further exacerbate problems with division already exposed in society.

The guide ends with a section with more than 100 links to additional online resources, including style and reporting guides from journalism organizations such as the Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and Religion News Association.

I often see news organizations make mistakes that could have easily been prevented if they did better research on historically marginalized communities and had our voices within their organization elevated and cherished, said Francisco Vara-Orta, training director at Investigative Reporters & Editors and chair of the EWA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force.

This guide shows EWA’s commitment to institutionalizing resources beyond lip service, so that there’s no excuse to keep letting these hurtful mistakes happen, said Vara-Orta, a former vice president of the EWA Board of Directors. That’s not only good for preserving journalism as relevant to society, but also even better for the public at large — and comforting to those of us in the field working hard on doing the best job we can but don’t always know where to turn for guidance on sensitive topics.

The guide was borne out of a recommendation from EWA’s Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, a group of EWA directors and members at large who issued an action plan in that was unanimously adopted by the EWA Board of Directors. This task force encouraged the organization to create a resource to help journalists write more effectively about groups they may not be familiar with.

Journalists and their news organizations have a well-earned reputation for covering diverse people in ways that have built mistrust in communities, said Dakarai I. Aarons, a former vice president of the EWA Board of Directors and member of the EWA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force. The EWA Reporter Guide for Inclusive Coverage is a critical resource in helping education journalists lead the way in reversing that trend through the contextual coverage news consumers expect and deserve.

Samantha Hernandez, another member of EWA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force, noted that the guide gives reporters and editors qauick access to information dealing with bias, race, culture and a number of other important topics. The guide gives reporters the additional tools to better understand and cover their communities as a whole, said Hernandez, a freelance journalist and Spencer Education Fellow.

For most of us, our newsrooms are not as diverse as the communities we serve, said Lynn Walsh, assistant director of the Trusting News project. This means we don’t always have someone who can help explain and provide insight into individual cultures and races. While this guide cannot replace a real human’s experience, it’s a resource that can help your reporting be more fair, responsible and respectful of the diverse voices in your community.

As the guide’s introduction says: This guide is not the answer. But it is a start. Many education reporters, we know, are well along this path. The Education Writers Association hopes this guide helps everyone, wherever you are on this national journey.

EWA’s work to advance diversity and inclusion on the education beat has been made possible in part by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. EWA retains sole editorial control over its programming and content.

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David Crumm is founding Editor of Front Edge Publishing. Nationally, he is known as a veteran journalist—a top writer and editor—with experience both in the U.S. and overseas. He is based in Canton, Michigan, where he also serves as Editor of Read the Spirit online magazine. His columns on trends in media appear twice a month on our Front Edge Publishing website.

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