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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Tag: education

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

More inclusive reporting needed to combat racial disparity in education

When a report from a state nonprofit revealed a racial disparity in Dane County schools, journalists adopted the term “achievement gap” to describe the problem.

But Rachelle Winkle-Wagner, a scholar in education policy, doesn’t think the widely used term  accurately describes the problem. Although intended to label the phenomena, it potentially puts wrong blames on black youths, suggesting that they fail to “achieve” as much as their white peers, she said.

It is the education system that fails young African-Americans, in turn creating the gap, Winkle-Wagner said. Even after the racial segregation in public schools officially ended in 1950s, the negative stereotype of black students has long been perpetuated in the education system, she further explained.

“Teachers have lower expectations for black students,” Winkle-Wagner said. And when the students do turn out to achieve less, discriminatory treatments are not reflected on, but rationalized instead, she said.

Nearly half of black high school students in Madison, Wisconsin, did not graduate on time for the 2010-11 school year, according to the  Race to Equity Report from the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, which focused on racial disparity issues in Dane County.

White students were three times as likely as black students to graduate on time, the report also revealed. Additionally, in 2011, African-American children were four times more likely to be not reading-proficient in their third grade, six times more likely to be arrested in their teenage, and five times more likely to be unemployed later.

But as a substitute for  describing the problem as “achievement gap” when reporting on it, Gloria Ladson-Billings, a fellow scholar of Winkle-Wagner, proposed the term “education debt.”

The way racial disparity is framed in the news matters because it affects where funding goes and how the public evaluates the current policies, Winkle-Wagner said.

“Journalists decide how people start to talk about the problem,” she said.

However, most news stories are told from the perspective of white establishment, said Jennifer Stoever, a Binghamton University professor with expertise in race representation in literature and media.

“People in color are presented as outsiders,” Stoever said. Journalists tend to have predisposed ideas of what to hear from racial minorities even when they actively seek for their voices, she said.

When covering education issues, white journalists often adopt a simple “good-versus-bad” binary and use few prominent activists of color to represent the whole minority community, said Sue Robinson, former journalist and current professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Robinson studies media discourse of racial disparities.

Also, news media rely very much on the school institution itself for story ideas and narrative frames, Robinson said in an email. This professional norm further strengthens the voice of the school boards and officials.

These privileged voices have their own bias in Stoever’s opinion. School teachers and supervisors are predominantly white, and, with the stereotype of “louder black students” in their minds, they have double standards for what constitutes misbehaviors, Stoever said.

In 13 southern states, nearly half of suspended or expelled K-12 students were African-American in 2011-2012 academic year, while African-Americans only constituted 24 percent of the enrolled students, according to a report by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania.

A police officer was suspended for violently slamming a 16-year-old black girl onto the floor and dragging her across the classroom after the videos of his conduct went viral online in 2015. The police officer was called to arrest the student for refusing to leave the classroom while keeping using her cellphone.

Robinson said journalists should challenge themselves to find sources of color, as racial minorities in difficult situations may not be willing to speak on record.

As a result, current news coverage about racial issues in education focuses more on individual issues rather than the systematic reasons behind racial disparities, she said.

Journalists need to include voices from a wider range of backgrounds and demographics, and to locate current problems within historical context, Robinson suggested.

Robinson will appear on a panel for race and education reporting during a journalism ethics conference April 29. Winkle-Wagner will moderate the panel, which will also include New York Times Magazine writer Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Register for the conference here.

Nikole Hannah-Jones to address conference

Award-winning New York Times Magazine journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones will deliver the keynote address to open the 2016 Center for Journalism Ethics conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on April 29.

This year’s conference focuses on “Race, Ethnicity and Journalism Ethics.” The event runs from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Union South on the UW-Madison campus. The keynote will begin at 9 a.m. Registration is now open at the center’s website. The cost for early bird registrants is $20, including a buffet lunch, but increases to $25 April 9. Registration is free for all students and UW-Madison faculty and staff.

Hannah-Jones has reported on the history of racism and inequality and its legacy in modern policies that have maintained racial injustice. She has written personal reports on the black experience in America to offer a case for greater equality.

Earlier this spring, she earned a George Polk Award for radio reporting for “The Problem We All Live With,” broadcast on “This American Life.” For that story, she investigated the Normandy School District in Missouri, from which Michael Brown had graduated just before he was killed in nearby Ferguson. The two-part series examines school integration and the impact of resistance by largely white communities.

Building on the keynote, four panels will address the ethical challenges journalists face when dealing directly and indirectly with issues of race and ethnicity. Session topics will include:

  • Journalistic representations of race: language, imagery, sources and their effects
  • Journalism ethics and race in education coverage
  • Journalism ethics and race in criminal justice coverage
  • Solutions to the issues raised throughout the conference

“We’re looking forward to a challenging, stimulating and productive day of candid discussion,” Professor Robert Drechsel, director of the center, says. “Whether the context is politics, criminal justice, education, sports, the economy or national security, journalism inherently plays a critical role in framing issues and images of race and ethnicity for the public. The question is not whether journalism does this, but how and with what impact.”

Also during the conference, the Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics will be presented to the Associated Press for its handling of ethical issues encountered in the reporting of a series of stories revealing the use of slave labor by the fishing industry in Southeast Asia. The stories resulted in the freeing of 2,000 slave laborers. Two of the reporters who did the stories will participate in a panel discussion of the ethical issues they faced and how they resolved them.

This is the eighth annual conference of the Center of Journalism Ethics, housed in UW-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Founded in 2008, the center’s mission is to foster vigorous debate about ethical practices in journalism, and provide a resource for producers, consumers and students of journalism.