Future Uncertain For OSU Camp To Foster Newsroom Diversity

Feb 29, 2012

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Non-white employees make up less than 13 percent of the nation’s newsrooms, a shrinking percentage, according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. For nearly 20 years, a rare summer program has encouraged more minority students in Oregon to consider journalism. But it lacks funding to ensure its future.

Raju Woodward sticks out in the lily-white newsroom of the Corvallis Gazette-Times. He was adopted from Calcutta when he was two months old.

Woodward: “I know the very first day I started here was back when I was in sports, and I answered one of the phone calls from a coach calling in a score. And he was like, ‘Raju, what kind of a name is that? An Indian sportswriter?’ And I was just kind of really shocked.”

The reason he chose this career path? The High School Journalism Institute.

Woodward: “It was life-changing. It is the reason I'm in journalism now.”

Oregon State University now houses the all-expense paid boot camp one week every summer. It’s run by professionals from The Oregonian. Campers spend a week chasing down and photographing stories. They write them up on deadline and put out their own newsprint publication.

Institute director Yuxing Zheng.

Zheng: “We need stable funding. The students that we help in our program, many of them are low-income minorities. They come from the types of families that would not be able to pay for this type of experience. And they’re precisely the types of voices, frankly, that were missing in America’s newsrooms.”

Zheng attended the institute and now works at a reporter at The Oregonian. Meeting a diverse group of students helped Zheng embrace her own background.

Zheng: “I was at an age where and time where I wasn't entirely comfortable with my Chinese heritage growing up in Albany. It was rather challenging at times.”

She now views her race as a newsroom asset, not something to hide.

In recent years, unionized newsrooms' “last hired, first fired” policies disproportionately affected younger, more diverse reporters.

Oregon State University’s student media director Julia Sandidge is part-Cherokee Indian. She reported on Native-American issues in Colorado. Sandidge says including marginalized voices promotes more balanced, in-depth journalism.

Sandidge: “Any time we might make a mistake, as journalists because we were insensitive to an area, now we will have young people like this in the newsrooms with us, to help us flag those mistakes, before they happen.”

She says the institute needs to raise about $10,000 this year to ensure its future. That way young minorities like Raju Woodward and Yuxing Zheng might still find their voices in Oregon’s largely white newsrooms.

Copyright 2012 KLCC