SPJ 2020 Journalism Conference • Sept. 12-13, 2020



Explore racial, gender tensions, Hunter-Gault says

By Billy O'Keefe

MICHELLE D. ANDERSON / The Working Press
Diversity in America and in journalism is at a critical point, and there are many lessons and principles journalists need to keep in mind, Charlayne Hunter-Gault said in a special event Saturday.
“The biggest challenge I see in our profession today is how do we move with the times and yet remain true to our basic mission of informing, educating, illuminating, and inspiring,” said Hunter-Gault, the 2008 Taishioff Speaker, sponsored by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.
The presidential primary season has been instructive, she said.
“While some things have changed, many remained the same,” she said. “Diversity is taking a back seat to the bottom line. … The aftermath of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright issue and Barack Obama’s speech on race is one of the lessons of this season – at least for me.”
Quoting an article she wrote for TheRoot.com, Hunter-Gault said, “What we learned is what we had not learned as a people or communicated as journalists—racism is alive and doing damage in America, including in our newsrooms.”
Journalists need to pay more attention to race and gender in the election and in American society, she said.
“I see very little exploration of the tensions separating between black women and white women that I think go deeper than their campaign politics,” she said.
Hunter-Gault, who in 1961 became the first black woman to attend the University of Georgia, said that in her early career, she saw how many journalists reported through the prism of their own experiences and beliefs. Some have forgotten and some have never learned the lessons of America’s history, she said in response to a question from the audience.
One journalist asked whether the coverage of Obama has been slanted to emphasize his “positive side.”
“I think there’s an aura surrounding Obama,” Hunter-Gault said, though she didn’t answer the question personally.
She went on to bring attention to a recent article by The New York Times columnist Frank Rich, who said coverage of Obama has been negative.
Even though journalists her age are retiring, Hunter-Gault said she will remain committed to diversity.
“I plan to be out there as long as there are people who are otherwise without a voice and as long as there are unfinished revolutions to chronicle—including America’s, especially in this most exciting (political) season in my lifetime.”




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