Spirit of Diversity Awards at Wayne State University
Look at all these people who embrace media diversity. Front and center is Journalist of the Year Stephen Henderson.
It was my privilege to be invited to receive an award from Wayne State. It was even nicer that my friend Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press was named Journalist of the Year.
Wayne State honored us alongside some promising college journalists. I hear that I’m the first individual to be recognized for work specifically on behalf of Asian America. It was a pretty great night.
Here are my remarks, as prepared for delivery April 11, 2014, at Wayne State’s annual Spirit of Diversity Awards:
Good evening, everyone!
It’s a real honor to be here with you tonight.
I love that “Media Diversity” isn’t an afterthought at Wayne State. It’s part of your name and your mission.
For those of you who don’t know my story: My parents are immigrants, and they built a series of businesses from the ground up. I learned my work ethic by helping out in one of their restaurants, answering the phones when I was 6 years old.
And, as is customary in many Asian households, the importance of academics was emphasized. But Asian parents tend to have a narrow range of acceptable professions: Doctor. Lawyer. Engineer.
You’ll notice that “journalist” isn’t on that list.
So, when I told my parents that I planned to study journalism in college, they figured it was a phase.
Now, more than two decades later, my parents have finally realized that journalism runs in my veins. I embrace the Journalist’s Creed, which begins, “I believe in the profession of journalism.”
Why do I believe in the profession of journalism?
It’s the basics, really. We don’t enter this profession for the money or the awards — though both are appreciated.
We become journalists to uphold the public trust. And that means telling the stories that need to be told.
And there are so many stories that need to be told. Just look at the melting pot of Detroit.
You have the vibrant Arab American community in Dearborn and the old-world Polish culture in Hamtramck. You have stories of immigration just to the south in Windsor. You even have a diversity of coneys in this town with the rivalry between American and Lafayette.
This is a place where reinvention is ingrained. Look at the rebirth of the American automotive industry.
This is the city where Grace Lee Boggs made her home. This Chinese American woman emerged as a leading voice in the civil rights crusade of the ’60s standing side by side with African Americans in the struggle. Last year — at age 98 — she started a Twitter account, telling a room full of digital journalists that revolution is evolution.
As part of the evolution, let’s look at some numbers.
2042 is the critical year. In one generation’s time, white Americans are projected to fall below 50 percent of the U.S. population. Think about that. A group that has been at the top of the power dynamic for two centuries will be outnumbered in 28 years by the so-called minorities.
Yet, America’s newsrooms are moving the opposite direction.
For more than a decade, the trend in newsroom staffing has been the reverse of our nation’s population. That means that as our society evolves, journalists are devolving.
It’s time for a revolution.
What are the stories that have made headlines in recent months? Health care. Immigration. Same-sex marriage.
All of those stories can benefit from a diversity of voices in the news coverage as well as a diversity of backgrounds framing the story.
Let’s define diversity. Does diversity mean staffing newsrooms with people who represent the communities they cover? Yes. But is that the magic bullet to quality journalism? No.
Diversity also means bringing in diverse perspectives: that means people from different geographic areas, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different religions, different educations — and that includes the school of hard knocks.
So, how do we address the diversity gap in journalism?
We start with staffing. In our midst is someone whose work to improve newsroom diversity has been recognized time and time again, including earlier this year by Michigan State. This diversity champion is someone who defines “hustle.” If you don’t already know Joe Grimm — and if you need a journalism job — get to know this man. He has top-notch connections throughout the industry, but more than being a master networker, he is cultivating tomorrow’s stars today. Through Northwestern’s Cherubs program, he is finding energetic and inquisitive high school students and funneling them toward our newsrooms. The people Joe can influence today will be leading the charge in our newsrooms within the next 10 years.
That’s the good news.
Unfortunately, there’s only one Joe. And we can’t clone him — yet.
So what can the rest of us do?
Everyone here can help shape tomorrow’s newsrooms by supporting the journalism associations that are keeping journalists accountable when we go into communities that have been under-represented: I’m talking about the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. Each of these groups has robust programs to foster a pipeline of talent from high school to retirement.
The more voices we have at the table, the more likely we are to surface stories that might have been overlooked. And the more we plant faces of diversity in America’s newsrooms, the more power we can have over how those stories are told.
What about journalism itself? How can the news be diversified? We’re no longer limited to receiving information in print or on the 6 o’clock news.
We’re in a multimedia landscape.
The media companies that are thriving are the ones that have diversified their products. This means they have brought in people who aren’t trained journalists; instead, they are relying on input from engineers, accountants, venture capitalists and tech visionaries. We know the adage that if you want someone who understands numbers, you don’t ask a journalist. So, if we want to stay relevant, not only do we need to expand the base of expertise within our newsrooms, but we need to be responsive to our quickly shifting environment.
Even as an ambitious project like Thunderdome collapses, we see start-up upstarts like FiveThirtyEight and Vox Media rising to fill the void. And that type of the entrepreneurial spirit is what will propel the innovations that drive our industry forward.
A sense of fearlessness and a willingness to try new things are traits we all need for the revolution.
It would have been easy for me to stay a copy editor. But after spending 15 years helping to craft a quality daily print product, I made the transition to digital journalism late last year. The change has offered encouraging insights into what interests readers.
The long-form story is alive and well. One of the big traffic drivers for washingtonpost.com this week has been a 100-inch exploration of a couple from rural Virginia whose love story fueled a string of more than five dozen arsons. This was a deeply researched article told through words and visuals. And people read it. And they told their friends to read it, too.
It’s heartening to know that amid all the attention given to funny-cat videos, Justin Bieber’s arrests and keeping up with the Kardashians, people online still care about real reporting.
Another thing to consider is how much social media is democratizing the news.
When a building collapsed in Harlem, the first people on the scene weren’t journalists. They were bystanders with smartphones and Twitter accounts. And Twitter’s 140 characters have the power to let people initiate grass-roots activism.
We’re living in a time when people can deploy what Wall Street Journal columnist Jeff Yang calls "weaponized hashtags." He notes that Asian Americans have the fastest fingers on the keyboard, which is how the #cancelcolbert movement quickly gained momentum, overshadowing Stephen Colbert’s satirical target, Dan Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation.
This week, a cross-cultural coalition put the spotlight back on Dan Snyder. High-profile Asian American bloggers used their megaphones to amplify the voices of Native Americans who have long lobbied for the Washington football team to change its name.
Of course, with yesterday’s announcement of Stephen Colbert’s move to CBS, some people are sardonically asking whether #cancelcolbert actually worked. Not quite, but the timing is a good reminder that words have power and sometimes unintended consequences.
So, with all the tools available for spreading information, where is journalism headed? That’s the $64,000 question.
The Missouri School of Journalism’s first dean, Walter Williams, wrote the Journalist’s Creed, which holds true decades after he penned it. He wrote: “The supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.”
As long as what journalists do serves our public, then we’re on the side of good. But we have to be ready for the next revolution. We cannot stand by as the world changes around us. We have to be active participants in producing history’s first draft.
I believe in the profession of journalism. And you do, too, or we wouldn’t all be here tonight.
Thank you so much for inviting me today. The scholarship winners are an inspiring group. And I feel privileged to share the microphone with Stephen and to join Wayne State’s honor roll of awardees. Diversity is where the conversation begins, and it doesn’t stop with conversation — change happens only when we act. It’s time to act up!
Now, let’s go commit acts of journalism!
Your #DorisDay Mission
Thanks for joining me on another #DorisDay — a summertime tradition since 1975. This year’s feature: a Digital Scavenger Hunt!
Rules: Use Instagram or another photo-sharing service into which you can upload square-cropped images in real time. Be creative, and feel free to recruit strangers to help!
Upload images as you take them, and include the hashtag #DorisDay. You’ll be awarded points for each approved image, plus bonus points for creativity. All images must be uploaded by 4 p.m. Eastern on Sunday to qualify. (Duplications — multiple A’s, for example — will be judged for creativity but will count only once toward hunt completion.)
Hunt clues (track your progress using the grid below):
Check back later for the best entries. Need not be in D.C. to win.
Rewind: Paul Cheung’s 40th birthday bomb on social media #pcheungis40
Thank you to Doris Truong, UNITY Journalists for Diversity acting president, for building this Storify on the creative social-media posts friends from around the globe sent to AAJA President Paul Cheung. Relive it below.