Skip to main content
University of Wisconsin–Madison
School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Education and race panel addresses timely ethical issues

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a writer for New York Times Magazine, said it is ethically imperative that re-segregation of America schools should be on the radar of every education reporter in America.

“The ethical implication is an ethical failure,” Hannah-Jones said. “I don’t understand how one can write about education and not write about these racial issues.”

Hannah-Jones and other panelists at “Race, Ethnicity and Journalism Ethics” conference agreed April 29 that journalists have a responsibility to cover racial disparities and make the public aware about its problems.

The panel Hannah-Jones sat on was one of four panels that discussed the ethical obligations of news organizations to cover and engage with race. The theme chosen for the eighth annual conference of the Center for Journalism Ethics was particularly timely because of the racial issues and demonstrations on the UW-Madison campus during the past year.

Panelists and moderators argued that the traditional views of objectivity and fairness in covering racial issues is often problematic. Several panelists acknowledged that while it is impossible to be completely objective, reporters should go into stories aware of their own biases and try not to make up their mind about a story first.

Hannah-Jones said although racial issues can be an emotional topic, good reporting should be rooted in evidence. If a story is based on verifiable facts, no one can claim it is unfair, she said.

A student-led social media campaign in the past month that uses the moniker #TheRealUW shed light on the racism and discrimination minority students face and has received wider news media coverage.

Kiara Childs, a student of color at UW-Madison, said that these racial events on campus are traumatizing because they make minority students feel unwelcome in the place where they live and attend classes.

Childs said that reporters add to the problem by avoiding the truth when covering racial issues.

“I think some reporters have a romantic view of this university and don’t fully understand the depth of the terrible racial climate on campus,” Childs said. “Reporters have ethical codes to follow, but they also hold biases.”

Childs agreed with panelists who said that a good way for journalists to improve their coverage of racial dynamics is to do their research on race and inequality.

Lisa Gartner, who won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting at the Tampa Bay Times, said journalists should get out and talk to people who are affected by these issues.

Childs said Madison reporters can learn from #TheRealUW to understand the group’s mission the problems it’s trying to address.

The racial issues in education are real, and should not be dismissed by the news media, she said.

“Equality on this campus is important for all,” Childs said. “Reporters have a voice to work toward that.”

Maggie Baruffi, originally from Kenosha, is a junior at UW-Madison studying reporting and strategic communication. She is in Prof. Stephen Vaughn’s Intermediate Reporting class this Spring. 

Photo of Nikole Hannah-Jones by jentricolello.com.