BY WILL SUTTON
Reynolds Visiting Professor, Grambling State University
There, I said it. For far too many, it’s the equivalent of a four-letter word. It shouldn’t be that way. Diversity is the right way to go, and, yes, it is good business.
Why then don’t we have more journalists of color in business journalism?
Honestly, I don’t think it’s for lack of caring on the part of business journalism associations, centers and media organizations. But caring is not enough. What’s needed is a coordinated effort that I outline below– and I know just the place: Grambling State University.
As a Louisiana native, I’ve known about Grambling and its rich history and traditions for a long, long time. The university is nationally known for being a football powerhouse under legendary Coach Eddie G. Robinson, the second winningest coach in college football. It is also known for “the best band in the land,” which began in the 1920s with a university president so committed to the idea of a marching band that he took on the task himself, serving as president and band director.
Those traditions continue, but Grambling works hard today to become so much more.
There aren’t many universities with business journalism-specific concentrations, minors or majors. Grambling has one. It is believed to be the only historically black college or university with a business journalism concentration and one of only a few communication and journalism programs with an emphasis on business journalism.
That’s the good news.
The bad news can be summarized in two words: Andrea Beasley.
It’s not that Beasley is bad; she’s anything but bad … yet she is Grambling’s one and only business journalism major. ONE.
It’s been my pleasure to work with Andrea Beasley during my tenure as Reynolds Visiting Professor of Business Journalism in the Department of Mass Communication this semester. She’s aggressive, bright, eager, passionate, talented and she’s going places. The thing is, without additional equipment, faculty and staff support, she’ll be somewhat limited.
“I am a business journalism major because I like the curriculum that I’m required to take at Grambling,” Beasley said. “I like the fact that I am required to take courses like accounting and marketing to give me a better understanding and knowledge of business as a whole….
“(M)any youths in my generation believe that knowledge of the economy does not effect them, yet many fail to realize that we are one of the main reasons the economy functions the way it does.”
I know there are more Grambling students who would become business journalism majors – if they could only see the fun, the opportunities and the support, as Beasley does.
Let Andrea Beasley tell you herself in this video.
The grant that supports my visiting stint ends June 30. When I leave, there won’t be any faculty members teaching business journalism. There’s no Bloomberg terminal. There are two classrooms with Macs and PCs, but only a few with updated software such as Adobe Flash and Final Cut Pro. There’s no Soundslides software on any of the computers. Some computers don’t have updated Word software, or no Word software at all.
Beasley is more than a business journalist in the making. She can do nearly everything any editor or producer would want a backpack, multimedia journalist to do. Still, she’s clear about what’s lacking at the university she calls her home away from her California home.
Beasley said Grambling lacks “opportunities to develop the basic knowledge of what business journalism is. We also lack people that have worked in the field or have networking opportunities with people that either have worked or currently work as business journalists.”
“I would like to see more opportunities to help us develop our skills and more opportunities for internships and jobs for business journalism majors,” she added.
What Grambling does have is plenty of students like Beasley. There are about 300 mass communication majors. They are open to hearing and seeing the possibilities in journalism and media, including business journalism. They are hungry to know why business journalism is important, how it can be fun and, of course, whether they can get an internship and then a job.
We can’t sit back and wait for business journalism to change. We have to change it. We can’t wait for them to come to us. We have to go where they are. Why not go to historically black colleges and universities, where there is a rich source of students studying journalism and communications. Why not start with Grambling?
NEWS ORGANIZATIONS ARE MISSING OUT
It’s a shame that Beasley doesn’t have a business journalism internship. News organizations need people like her. She can shoot and edit video. She has gone through financial statements and looked at earnings reports. She can write for broadcast, online and print. She knows what an IPO is, and she’s gone through the Facebook IPO.
She speaks well, with articulation and enunciation. She knows business basics and accounting principles. She knows what GAAP means. She knows how to look up publicly traded companies, and something about finding information about privately-held and nonprofit operations. Just check out her video – you’ll get the picture.
All of journalism must be diverse. Even more than other businesses, these jobs are responsible for reflecting communities and telling people what’s going on in front of their eyes as well as what’s going on behind their backs. There are blue collar and white collar gals and guys who are bad news and good news. We need diverse staffs to cover all of business journalism.
We don’t stand a chance of diversifying business journalism much if we don’t grab students like Beasley and help them become successful, providing the advice, counsel, guidance, tools and opportunities they need.
She’s a great professional in the making, but we’ll lose her to advertising, marketing or public relations soon if we don’t make something happen. We need to take care of Beasley. Others are watching. Others could be convinced to give business journalism a shot based on what happens with Beasley this summer and next year.
Our lack of diversity in business journalism isn’t the blame or the fault of any one person, one association, one corporation or one organization. “They” aren’t doing anything or enough. We are the THEY. We are responsible for what happens to Beasley and the rest of business journalism. We have to take care of and nurture these young folks, opening the door for them with a smile and a welcome, making room for them with space and time to breathe and learn.
“At a time when the economy is so disruptive, when individual households have to figure out the money/retirement/pension maze on their own, when gaps in wealth and assets and such are so wide, there’s a crying need for steady consumer coverage dealing with those realities,” noted Grambling alum Caesar Andrews, former executive editor of the Detroit Free-Press and the Leonard Family Distinguished Visiting Professor of Ethics at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada at Reno. “This isn’t just about racial and ethnic diversity. But that’s always a big part of it. The lagging performance of the industry, not hiring a diverse and robust mix of talent, can’t possibly be helping the cause.
“I know amazing consumer coverage exists — maybe more than ever,” he said. “Great. But is that coverage connecting with people who need it most?”
The lack of diversity in business journalism doesn’t have to be a problem if we work together to define, agree on and implement specific initiatives. We can do this individually, but imagine the power of two, four and more working together.
CONSIDER THIS CHALLENGE:
- Get Beasley a paid business journalism internship for Summer 2012
- Hire at least 10 students of color for Summer 2012 internships, requiring each to be SABEW members
- Commit to a more competitive Summer 2013 internship process, requiring students of color to do demonstrate an interest in business journalism as a part of the application process. Include representatives from UNITY: Journalists of Color and the National Association of Black Journalists. Perhaps coordinate this effort through the Reynolds Center, SABEW and Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication because the university has a proven commitment to business journalism.
- Support Grambling by supplying a Bloomberg Terminal, complete with on-site training and tutorials, and weekly and monthly expectations of students to make sure they’re using the terminal to develop skills.
- Help Grambling update its computers and software, making it easier for students to develop multimedia skills with a business journalism focus.
- Help Grambling with a fund to bring in visiting business journalism professionals each semester. Among others, the Reynolds Center has helped Grambling bring in professionals such as Kim Quillen, SABEW board member and business editor of the Times-Picayune.
- Fund Grambling’s temporary Reynolds Tigers workshop program, making it more permanent with a five-year commitment. This is a strictly optional opportunity for students who want to go above and beyond course work to learn more about business journalism while becoming more skilled with accuracy, current events, deadline, professional development and writing, writing, writing.
- Fund 10, all-inclusive fellowships for students of color to attend SABEW conferences in each of the next five years, requiring each to be a student member. Include registration, airfare, hotel, meals and ground expenses.
- Create three to five $10,000 business journalism scholarships, exclusively for students who have shown a strong commitment to and dedicated interest in business journalism, tying each scholarship to paid summer internships, thereby providing lots of incentive for commitment and dedication.
- Incorporate business journalism into some high school journalism programs. There are lots of good programs. Let’s identify a handful, provide them with the people and resources to have a real impact, generate some curiosity and interest and monitor these students as they move from high school through college.
- Fund one or more faculty to follow me at Grambling when I leave June 30, preferably with full-year commitments, for at least five years and with at least two professionals committed for at least two to three years.
So, will YOU step up? What will YOU do?
Which of your associations, businesses, companies and organizations is willing to commit now, today, to three or more of these ideas? We need an Eddie G. Robinson of business journalism to make a commitment and stay a long time, making it clear that there’s no other way but winning with business journalism.
TALK BACK, please
If you have ideas or suggestions, or if you’re willing to take on some of these commitments, tell us. We’ve set up an online forum where we can expand this discussion and come up with ideas that work.
Please leave a comment on this next page: Will Sutton’s challenge: 11 ways to solve business journalism’s lack of diversity. Tell me what challenge you’d like to take up or make a suggestion about more we can do.
I want you to help Beasley and help other students of color with business journalism because it feels good, because you know it’s the right thing to do and, yes, because it’s good business.
In the coming days, I’m going to tell you about some others, some who aren’t business journalism majors, but students who are open to taking a crack at the world of business journalism. They simply want to be convinced that it can be fun, that they can make a difference and that there’s a real career ahead of them.
Will Sutton is the Reynolds Visiting Professor of Business Journalism in the Department of Mass Communication at Grambling State University in Grambling, La. A graduate of what is now Hampton University, he is one of six kids, each of whom attended an HBCU. Sutton is co-founder of what came to be UNITY: Journalists of Color and a past president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), 1999-2001. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook or via http://www.linkedin.com/in/willsutton or 919-632-4874 via text or calls.