Journalists Must Be Allies in Matters of Diversity

There are several components to becoming an ally, according to Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership and Media Integrity at Loyola University. Fighting discrimination, personal bias and microaggression are some of the first steps, she said. 

Geisler discussed the topic in the Workplace Integrity session Tuesday at the News Leaders Association Conference..

The Freedom Forum Institute asked Geisler to create diversity curriculum to take into news organizations. In March, Geisler and her colleagues brought in voices from all organizations with underrepresented groups.

“If we have any privilege in our life, we want to be the person that helps,” Geisler said.

Geisler defined allies as a “trusted force for good.”

“Just like how you’re not a leader unless people choose to follow you, you’re not an ally unless other people believe you qualify,” Geisler said.

Geisler and colleagues came up with 10 ways people can qualify as an ally. She explained the importance of understanding how power may affect perspectives, and she advised journalists to recognize the realities and risks of unconscious bias. Oftentimes, people in the press want to believe they fight bias, not practice it, Geisler said.

“Defensiveness about it creates barriers,” Geisler said. “This isn’t about guilt, it’s about vigilance. It’s about recognizing that you’ve got something to learn and your instincts might be wrong.”

Microaggression are often small signs of discrimination that may not be intended to offend but nonetheless have an impact. Some examples include condescending praise, such as expressing surprise that a journalist has skills despite their age, or allocating specific tasks based on gender. 

It’s important to include diverse people in stories, but it’s also important to treat them with equality, Geisler said. Misidentifying identities or names can be a form of microaggressions. Undesired physical contact is also included in this category.

In order to qualify as an ally, journalists should check their own behaviors, be a listener and a teacher, explain impacts to aggressors that don’t yet understand and take a stand with courageous conversations, Geisler said. Directly confronting difficult, inappropriate situations may be necessary, she added.

Bailey Cline is a senior at Ball State University studying Journalism and Telecommunications. She graduates in 2020. You can reach her at bacline@bsu.edu or on Twitter @BaileyCline.

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