There Still Aren’t Enough Black Journalists

In researching my recent piece in Washington Monthly on diversity in journalism, I had the privilege to speak with Dorothy Tucker, the current President of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ).

I gained so many insights from her decades of experience, and her fight for a more equitable media, that I felt I needed to publish my conversation with her separately.

Read it here at Medium.

Journalists of Color Declare Their Independence

My first clips as a “real” journalist were for my hometown paper, The Kansas City Star. I’d somehow finagled a spot in a high school workshop for aspiring minority journalists, and one of the perks was a chance to write for one of the local inserts that came out on Wednesdays. My assignment was sports, so I covered high school golf tournaments and track meets for $25 an article. It was an amazing opportunity, and when I went to the University of Missouri as a freshman, I was hired as a stringer to cover Missouri football and basketball. I filed daily updates from practice and wrote the game sidebar on weekends.

Sadly, I only lasted a semester at that job (it wasn’t easy being the only female reporter covering Mizzou sports, and I was still a teenager), but I’ll always be grateful to the Star and that high school workshop for giving me a shot.

It didn’t occur to me until much, much later the importance of minority recruitment into journalism. And I didn’t realize until I wrote a recent story for Washington Monthly just how little progress there has actually been to diversify media.

Research suggests that less than 8 percent of U.S. newsroom staff today are Black. Overall, U.S. newsrooms are only about half as diverse as the national workforce. And with the industry’s financial woes even before the pandemic, investment in minority recruitment and retainment – including workshops like the one I benefited from – are now an afterthought, if not an unaffordable luxury.

Journalists of color, however, feel acutely the need for a more equitable media – now more than over. But what they’re not doing is waiting for traditional outlets to regain an interest in minority recruitment. Rather, fed up with slow-moving efforts to make U.S. newsrooms more diverse, some journalists of color are striking out on their own.

The result is a new ecosystem of innovative news outlets, led for and by people of color, that I think could ultimately revolutionize traditional media.

I hope you’ll take a look at Washington Monthly.

Will Regional Universities Pass or Fail?

“Regional” universities are the workhorses of higher education. They serve a preponderance of the Americans who go to college and often anchor their communities. Yet they don’t enjoy the glamour of their counterparts among state flagship schools or elite private nonprofits. Nor do they get the same share of resources to do their work.

This is a mistake. In this piece for Washington Monthly, I survey new research from the Brookings Institution describing the invaluable contributions of regional universities and arguing for much more robust investment in these schools.

Read more here.

Why Apprenticeships Should Go Soft

For the 2020 Washington Monthly College Guide, I profiled what I think should be the gold standard for apprenticeship programs – a program called FAME, which began out of a Toyota plant in Kentucky.

Apprentices lucky enough to land a spot in FAME are likely to get a great job after they graduate; they will have earned an associates’ degree; and they will have been paid enough for their work to pay for tuition and living expenses. The curriculum is also cutting-edge. FAME teaches much more than the technical skills someone needs to be a competent worker in advanced manufacturing. Two-thirds of the curriculum is focused on so-called “soft skills” – such as critical thinking, team work and communications skills – that are becoming increasingly important.

I interviewed the founder of the program, Dennis Dio Parker, who is one of the most charismatic and visionary workforce development leaders I have ever met. Parker was a graduate of the Navy’s nuclear engineering program, which he described as the academic version of the Navy’s SEALs – few students are recruited and few make it through. The high standards inculcated by the program clearly carry through Parker’s vision for FAME.

Read it here.

The Fallacy of Meritocracy on America’s College Campuses

In The Merit Myth, In The Merit Myth: How Our Colleges Favor the Rich and Divide America, veteran researchers Anthony P. Carnevale, Peter Schmidt, and Jeff Strohl argue that America’s top colleges and universities uphold a biased infrastructure that props up students from the one percent of U.S. families to the detriment of everyone else.

Read my review of this important book for Washington Monthly here.

A Simple Way to Demilitarize the Police

One of the most frequent images we saw in the summer of 2020 was police deployed in full riot gear, confronting peaceful protesters demanding racial justice.

If you noticed, the police often looked like soldiers of an occupying force, not like the community guardians they are supposed to be. That’s because many local police departments across the country have the benefit of a federal program that hands out surplus military hardware for free. Tiny rural towns can get armored personnel carriers, assault rifles and other gear that has no place on American streets. More than one scholar believes that this “militarization” of police has led to an escalation of violence as well as adversarial attitudes by police toward the people they are committed to protect.

I wrote about an easy way to demilitarize the police: By ending the program providing weapons of war to local police.

Read it here.

Even Before the Covid-19 Pandemic, Black Americans Were Dying More

Black Americans are dying from the novel coronavirus at a shockingly disproportionate rate. In majority-black counties, the Washington Post found, infection rates are triple that of majority-white counties. Deaths among Black Americans, meanwhile, are six times higher than that of whites.

Yet long before the pandemic, Black Americans have been dying at far higher rates than other Americans. They are victims of a longstanding epidemic of structural racism and unequal access to care. Unfortunately, the disparate impact of COVID-19 is only the latest chapter in an ongoing national tragedy, one that the virus has only brought into sharper relief.

Read more at Washington Monthly here.

Punishing Fathers for Being Poor

In 1965, the now-infamous “Moynihan Report,” authored by the late sociologist and senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, blamed the “breakdown of the Negro Family” for high rates of child poverty and welfare dependency in that community. 

Moynihan’s analysis led to a slew of harsh policies aimed at cracking down on “deadbeat dads.” These policies, it turns out, not backfired but are based on false assumptions about low-income fathers.

I review  an important new volume by the scholars Paul Florsheim and David Moore, Lost and Found, that shows the complexities of low-income fatherhood and argues for a more constructive approach to helping poor fathers support their children.

Read more here

The Widening Racial Gap on Jobs and Wealth

Research from the Brookings Institution finds that Black workers hold a disproportionately large share of the economy’s lowest-paid jobs. Black Americans make up 15 percent of the 53 million Americans who earn less than two-thirds of the median wage (or less than $16.03 an hour). On average, these low earners earn a median of $10.22 an hour and $17,950 a year.

Black Americans cannot catch up to whites in accumulating wealth unless the quality of the jobs they hold—and the wages they earn—catch up first.

Read more here.

What White America Still Doesn’t Understand About Racism

In 2016, the median white household held roughly ten times the net wealth of the median black household; the average black worker earned 73 cents on the dollar compared to his or her white colleagues; and even among college graduates, blacks earned 20 percent less than their white counterparts. For decades, racial disparities in wealth and wages have been stark and enduring – and frustratingly impervious to change.

To many liberals, these inequities are the obvious legacy of slavery and decades of legalized discrimination, such as under Jim Crow. The substandard education to which black Americans have been relegated has meant fewer students succeed in school and in the workforce. Segregated housing, too, has left many people living in neighborhoods without access to good jobs, reliable public transportation, or quality health care.

These systematic inequalities are among the many destructive by-products of “structural” racism. But too many white Americans simply do not understand this as a phenomenon, argues a new report. Instead, they tend to see racism through the narrow prism of individual—not institutional—behavior.

This failure to grasp the systemic nature of racism today could explain why the nation hasn’t made as much progress as it should—and could—on racial equity.

Read more at Washington Monthly