Many white Americans—and American corporations—were shocked into a recognition of America’s ingrained racism, past and present, by the brutal drama that played out in 2020 on the blacktop of a Minneapolis street and under the knee of a former police officer.
The callous murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black Americans spurred millions to finally take a close, honest look at their communities, schools, and businesses. Eyes turned to newsrooms as we sought to understand why the media’s depiction of these institutions do not reflect the diverse reality of our lives.
Echoing uprisings in the streets, we saw similar uprisings within America’s newsrooms. The inequities seen in our communities parallel those long in place in media institutions. And our news coverage and the framing of news stories and issues reflect these biases.
Racial disparities in America are older than the Constitution. They began with America’s original sin of chattel slavery. Tremendous leaps and bounds have been made in the fight to realize the promises in our founding documents for all Americans. Yet those words—that all are created equal—remain aspirational.
The Institute for Journalism Education was born out of this aspiration, of the struggle to ensure all segments of our society are fairly, accurately, and equitably represented. This applies not only to the halls of Congress, but to the pages and screens of our journalistic institutions.
Long before the ubiquity of “DE&I” initiatives and Black Lives Matter marches, Washington Post journalist Robert C. Maynard recognized that white men dominate America’s media organizations. Declaring “We must desegregate this business,” Maynard and eight other journalists founded the institute to train and lift up journalists of color. Robert Maynard’s ineradicable legacy as a true pioneer was solidified when the organization he helped create was posthumously renamed the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.
The Institute’s flagship program, the Maynard 200 Fellowship, is about building a new and lasting legacy for entrepreneurs, leaders, and storytellers of color who will shape the future of journalism in America. What we are seeing across journalism right now is a modern-day Civil Rights Movement for journalists of color.
In response, we must foster substantive power, belonging, and agency within the institutions that tell the stories of our society and our world. Through Maynard 200, the institute aspires to empower journalists of color to lead and grow organizations to have cultures of belonging. These leaders will help ensure that media organizations continue to serve our democracy. To do so, they must accurately represent the minds, souls, histories, and perspectives of all Americans.
Like many organizations, we’ve had to pivot following public health protocols due to the ongoing recovery from the global Covid-19 pandemic. That means that, for the first time, Maynard 200 will hold an all-digital training component to serve more than 40 diverse media professionals as fellows across the country. The program provides them with tools to elevate their own digital voices through panels, dialogues, and events.
Diversity and equity
For decades, Maynard has been the standard-bearer of aspiration and expertise in its primary mission of making newsrooms reflect America. It has led the re-envisioning, and advancing, of what it really means to be “diverse.”
In fact, Maynard has flipped the prevalent DE&I convention upside down, by bringing equity to the forefront. Without equity, diversity is only performative. By focusing on equity, Maynard has forged a longstanding record of training and advancing individuals from a varied diaspora of racial and ethnic communities throughout newsrooms and media organizations across the country.
Maynard conceived the “Fault Lines” framework for facilitating honest discussion about highly charged issues, through an understanding of how people with different perspectives can view something in completely different ways. In other words, the way we perceive the world and experience each other is filtered by our own backgrounds and experiences. Thus, diversity of perspectives produces a strength greater than the sum of each individual alone.
And, as a result of Maynard’s framework, a new narrative has emerged: the necessity and power of belonging. It is not nearly enough for organizations to check a diversity box with new hires. The perspectives and backgrounds and ideas that each individual brings to the table must be fully absorbed into the culture and decision-making of the organization itself. Inclusion alone is surface-level; inclusion can be as empty as toleration. But when you belong, you can feel it. And the implications can be felt in the work you produce.
For the Maynard Institute, pursuing belongingness is about far more than mere integration. Belonging creates the kind of atmosphere where people of color can feel empowered and entitled to bring their full selves into the newsroom, including their history and their perspectives, rather than feeling pressured to contort themselves to fit existing narratives.
Maynard 200 is the institute’s answer to the breakdown in the pipeline of training and jobs for journalists of color. In the wake of the Great Recession, years of progress were decimated in a matter of months. The ongoing public health crisis vis-a-vis the pandemic, America’s widening racial disparities, and the division and hate provoked by the Trump administration have only increased the urgency and salience of Maynard’s cause.
Writing a new story
Repairing all of this damage requires institutions of journalism to be active participants in the dismantling of structures of systemic racism—rather than the enablers of inequity and oppression.
Media organizations can be part of the solution. From the stories they tell, to the sources they use, to the framing of what is news and who is newsworthy, the media is a powerful component in our nations racial reckoning. We believe that strong diverse leadership is critical for this to occur. And so, with this year’s Maynard 200, we renew our commitment to supporting the growth and equity for future media leaders. And it is our belief that these leaders will make an impact that will resonate across all sectors of American journalism and media.