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A discussion elicits action: Pledges to increase diversity in business journalism

Reynolds Center business journalism training

A recent business journalism training workshop hosted by the Reynolds Center.

A conversation sparked on the heels of this year’s Society of Business Editors and Writers annual conference about the visible void of diversity in business journalism. And now, just two weeks after the topic took center stage, the chatter has turned to action.

Christopher Nelson, a freelance journalist and graduate student at Georgetown University Law Center, wrote a blog that explored the lack of journalists of color covering business. Soon after, Will Sutton, a journalism professor at Grambling State University, jumped in. Sutton penned a column for the Reynolds Center detailing the minority gap in financial journalism. His conclusion: caring alone is not enough. With vigor, he proposed a plan.

Sutton’s 11-point challenge offered solutions for ensuring journalists of color have fruitful opportunities and support to enter business journalism. He called on the industry to offer feedback and to pledge action on his points, which included funding high school programs and offering scholarships to encourage minority journalists to explore financial stories.

It wasn’t long before his challenge buzzed on the internet. Then, people took notice and started making promises.

One was newly elect SABEW President Jill Jorden Spitz. She accepted the challenge and will attempt to bring business journalism training to five high schools. She also said the organization will strive to award five minority students scholarships to the 2013 SABEW Annual Conference in Washington D.C.

“I wholeheartedly agree that a lack of diversity is a serious problem in all of journalism, including business journalism, today, ”  Spitz said in a comment responding to Sutton’s piece. “What I like about what you’ve done is created a specific challenge with specific steps – you’ve given us all something to DO beyond fretting about this problem.

“Your challenge is too important for us to ignore. I’m willing to work with you to make it happen.”

Warren Watson, executive director of SABEW, said increasing diversity in business journalism and ensuring high school students get exposure to the beat early are important areas for his organization to support. SABEW, which was founded in 1964 and is headquartered in Phoenix at Arizona State University, will soon celebrate it’s 50th anniversary. The milestone could illicit a rise in fundraising and the consideration of new initiatives.

“We hope to focus some of our upcoming fundraising on diversity topics,” Watson said.

As for Sutton, he’s delighted his column sparked a collaborative forum for journalists seeking, and now carrying out, solutions.  He’s hopes the conversation will continue and he urges others in the industry to chime in.

“Now we need business journalism associations, news organizations and even business leaders to step up and join the conversation,” said Sutton in an e-mail. “They need to say what’s on their minds so others of us will know what they’re thinking about, how they see the challenges and what they propose we do. They don’t have to wait to join the conversation when they have something to offer. We can help them once they’re talking with us all.”

About the Author

Kelly is the Reynolds Center's Senior Online Producer. She has worked as a reporter for several newspapers, most recently The Arizona Republic, and has been an adjunct professor at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School. She has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College and holds a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from West Virginia University. Kelly also was a fellow at The Poynter Institute and a contributing writer for "Cancer Stories: Lessons in Love, Loss & Hope."

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