Diversity Essay: From History to Multicultural History

Raising the bar for DEI competency in journalism graduates

George Daniels

Based on the most recent decennial review of its standards, the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) revised and re-numbered what is now Standard 4, Diversity and Inclusiveness, raising the expectation for course syllabi throughout the major to reflect learning outcomes related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.[1] Furthermore, under Standard 2, Curriculum and Instruction, the second of the 10 professional values and competencies now stipulates that graduates of accredited programs must be able to demonstrate an understanding of multicultural history and the role of professionals and institutions in shaping communications.

When I learned “multicultural” had been added to the competency in the Fall 2021 semester, I immediately reviewed the history unit in my freshman-level survey course on Journalistic Principles and Practices to assess where multiculturalism was addressed. I quickly realized there was a paucity of journalistic figures from under-represented racial groups and that most of the individuals emphasized were white men. While Nellie Bly, a woman known for her investigative reporting, was included in both the textbook reading and the 30-minute lecture, Ida B. Wells and her work in the Black press to call attention to lynching was not. In addition to Ida B. Wells, I incorporated slides focused on the history of the Black press. But, these “additive” steps really only scratch the surface when we talk about ensuring students are competent in the multicultural history of news gathering and reporting practices.  

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) defines “diversity” as an understanding of how individual and group differences contribute to the diverse thought, knowledge, and experiences that are the foundation of the high-quality liberal education, while “inclusion” is an active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity across the curriculum.[2] On the other hand, the authentic practice of equity requires explicit attention to structural inequality and institutionalized racism.[3] How can one convey these three in a journalism history unit? I’ll answer that question with eight things students ought to know about journalism and news gathering that make the profession multicultural. Under each of the eight things, I’ll share resources that one can use to facilitate student learning.   

  1. The same militant Black press that fought for social and political change also was a forum for sexual discourse and representation.

Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Race Beat points out the shortcoming in texts like Frank Luther Mott’s American Journalism was their failure to account for the role of the Black press.[4] But characterizing these Black-owned papers around since 1827 as only fighting for racial inequality and muscling their way into the white political domain would miss an important and often entertaining component. Kim Gallon’s recent book Pleasure in the News focused on how journalists and editors created Black sexual publics.[5]

  1. The Asian press has a long history in America.

The Japanese press in America dates back as far as 1898, while Filipino Americans or Filipino immigrants have had their own newspapers since 1931. In one of the few book-length treatments on Asian Americans and mass media, Virginia Mansfield-Richardson devotes a chapter to the history of Asian American publications.[6]  There are treatments on the Chinese press, the Korean press, as well as the Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian presses.

  1. Spanish-language media outlets were key vehicles for getting news out to Spanish-speaking Americans.

While little mention is made of him in journalism textbooks, Ruben Salazar has been called the most important Mexican journalist of the 20th century. He was the first Mexican American columnist for a major newspaper, The Los Angeles Times, where he worked for 11 years. In January 1970, he became news director of Los Angeles’s Spanish-language television station KMEX, but he was killed later that year while covering the Chicano Anti-Vietnam War Moratorium.[7]  In that same city, Frank Cruz worked as a news reporter for mainstream local TV stations and helped pioneer what become Telemundo.[8]  

  1. While early in the 20th century, the American news media’s coverage of gay men and lesbians was overwhelmingly negative, that shifted in the 21st century.

In an earlier iteration of its accreditation standards, ACEJMC added gays and lesbians as topics to be addressed in media curricular offerings. This after ground-breaking titles such as Edward Alwood’s Straight News: Gays, Lesbians, and the News Media and Larry Gross’s Up From Invisibility were published.[9]  Rodger Streitmattter’s Mightier than the Sword also contains a chapter “Supporting Gay and Lesbian Rights” that updates the handling of stories involving the GLBTQ+ community.[10]

  1. Women played a role in broadcast news in the earliest days of radio as a medium (1920s), even though as newspaper journalists they were relegated to the women’s pages as late as the 1970s.

In her book Radio Voices, which covers the period 1922-1952, Michele Hilmes devotes a chapter to “The Disembodied Woman.” She profiles women like Gwen Wagner of Memphis, Tennessee, who worked during the day as a newspaper reporter and had several roles in the production of WPO radio’s evening broadcast.[11] 

  1. Understand not only what the Kerner Commission Report was, but also what it specifically addressed about the news media and coverage of riots and civil unrest.

Having students read “The News Media and the Disorders” chapter in the final report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (commonly known as the Kerner Commission because of its chairman Otto Kerner), offers a chance to examine both broadcast and print journalism in the context of the racial unrest of the 1960s. It also provides context for the weeks of protest that came in 2020 following the death of George Floyd. One scholar has offered his own update of the Kerner Report.[12]  

  1. American Indians have been a part of the American media since 1690, when the very first newspaper was published in Boston.

John Sanchez details the first American Indian news frames in Publick Occurrences in the opening chapter of American Indians and the Mass Media, a text he co-edited with Meta G. Carstarphen.[13] 

  1. Media coverage of people with disabilities, improved by passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, is a part of journalism history.

Making journalism history multicultural is not just about reporting on the role of race, ethnicity, or gender. As the nation’s largest minority group, those who have disabilities are increasingly presented in more nuanced ways. It is important to provide some context with studies such as Jack Nelson’s “Broken Images”[14] and John Clogston’s landmark 1991 analysis of disability in 16 prestigious and high-circulating newspapers.[15]

While there are only 117 programs that receive ACEJMC’s specialized stamp of approval, the idea of making our journalism history instruction multicultural is important for any communication unit preparing future journalists and mass media communicators.  While I’ve listed relevant books and articles here, there are numerous oral histories in archives such as HistoryMakers that can augment this type of instruction.

About the author:

Featured image: Ruben Salazar postage stamp (copyright United States Postal Service, all rights reserved)


[1] Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications, “Revised standards go into effect with site visits Fall 2022,” http://www.acejmc.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/2021-June-RevisedStandardsFinal.pdf

[2] Tia Brown McNair, Estela Mara Bensimon, and Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux, From Equity Talk to Equity Walk: Expanding Practitioner Knowledge for Racial Justice in Higher Education (Hoboken, NJ: Jossey Bass), 6.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff, The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation (New York: Knopf, 2006), 12.  

[5] Kim Gallon, Pleasure in the News: African American Readership and Sexuality in the Black Press (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2020), 44.

[6] Virginia Mansfield-Richardson, Asian Americans and the Mass Media: A Content Analysis of Twenty United States Newspapers and a Survey of Asian American Journalists (New York: Routledge, 2000), 41.

[7] Ruben Salazar, Border Correspondent: Selected Writings, 1955-1970, ed. Mario T. Garcia (Oakland: University of California Press, 1996).

[8] Frank H. Cruz and Rita Joiner Soza, Straight Out of Barrio Hollywood (Parker, CO: Outskirts Press, 2019).

[9]  Edward Alwood, Straight News: Gays, Lesbians, and the News Media (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996); Larry Gross, Up from Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Media in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001).

[10] Rodger Streitmatter, Mightier than the Sword: How the News Media Have Shaped American History (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2016), 220.

[11] Michele Hilmes, Radio Voices: American Broadcasting, 1922-1952 (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press,1997), 130.

[12] Jelani Cobb, The Essential Kerner Commission Report: The Landmark Study on Race, Inequality, and Police Violence (New York: Liveright Publishing, 2021).

[13] John P. Sanchez, “American Indian News Frames in America’s First Newspaper, Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick,” in American Indians and the Mass Media, eds. Meta G. Carstarphen and John P. Sanchez (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2012), 9.

[14] Jack A. Nelson, “Broken Images: Portrayals of Those with Disabilities in American Media,” in The Disabled, the Media, and the Information Age, ed. Jack A. Nelson (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press,1994), 1-24.

[15] Jack A. Clogston, “Disability Coverage in American Newspapers,” in The Disabled, the Media, and the Information Age, 45-57.

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