May 25, 2023

Morehouse's New Journalism Program Promotes Representation, in the age of Black Media

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In efforts to increase diversity in the workplace, predominately white newsrooms are pledging to hire more employees from marginalized groups. However, dismantling racism and institutional discrimination in the newsroom is beyond new hires; it’s making diversity and inclusion a standard, customary practice.

On August 4, 2021, Morehouse College announced The Morehouse College Board of Trustees decision to approve a new Bachelor of Arts program, Journalism in Sports, Culture and Social Justice. The program, originally introduced in 2007, “aims to amplify Black voices and representation,” according to Ron Thomas, the director of Journalism, at Morehouse.

“The program started with Spike Lee creating the foundation and fundraising for the program,” Mikki Harris, Senior Assistant professor of Journalism at Morehouse said. “Spike is a big New York Knicks fan, and I remember when I first heard about the program, it was ‘We have to make sure we have Black journalists in [sports] spaces that have been traditionally reserved for white men.’”

The lack of inclusion at major publications, suggests that the needs of the Black community are not being met; contradicting itself and the true definition of journalism. “If you want to know what’s happening in the world, read the sports page,” Lee said, in a 2007 Morehouse panel introducing the Journalism and Sports program. His comment, synonymously representing the industry of journalism and the fight for diversity and inclusion in newsrooms. But examining journalism outside of sports, representation is still a lack thereof.

The Journalism, Sports, Culture and Social Justice program, is exploring diversity outside the realm of sports. Students are now able to choose one of three tracks: Sports, Culture or Social Justice. The program features an updated curriculum of preparing students to work in the modernized, 21st century model of journalism.

“If we’re looking at journalism today, there are some content areas that journalists can focus on but they need to be able to do everything,” Harris said. “You need to have visual skills. You need to be able to tell a story in different ways that are dynamic.”

The program emphasizes storytelling through the use of digital tools and innovation that prioritize inclusion, making stories that are digestible for today’s society. While inclusion is one aspect of the program, upholding the program’s motto of, “changing the face of journalism,” is incorporated throughout its curriculum.

“Changing’ the face of the industry looks at ‘how do we also tell stories in dynamic ways, where we embrace who we all are as individuals and we embrace the people who are our sources and neighborhoods and the spaces where we are creating these stories?” Harris said.

“Our courses, our conversations, our assignments allow us to not pigeon-hole people into certain roles or perspectives. You can embrace who you are, claim it, and go into spaces where you are writing stories that speak to this great diversity of human beings and who we are,” she added.

Creating a space for everyone to feel represented, mirroring the purpose of the Black press. Thus, Black publications like Freedom’s Journal, the Negro History Bulletin and the Chicago Defender, serve as pillars for news in the Black community.

“There was this connection and role that we, as Black press, played because of access to the community. Showing a perspective or having a perspective that outsiders did not have,” Harris said. “I try to look at that in how I teach, “how do you look at access?”

Elaborating further, Harris adds that when [journalists] are telling someone else’s story “it shouldn’t be this external story about what’s surrounding them-- it needs to be getting to know this person and revealing who they are from do we access people and show who they are through engaging them as opposed to this outside, birds-eye view of reporting from a far.”

Ironically, that may be the true issue, in which representation lacks in newsrooms. Publications aren’t “engaging the community, getting access to people and to their lives, sharing who they are as people.”

“True representation is when we see people,” Harris said. “When we’re introduced to stories that can connect us as human beings in so many ways but values and appreciates the diversity of who we are.”  

Just last year, reporters were writing about the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and had not, truly, spoken about them as humans with lives; but as “reasons to riot.” There was a lack of true journalistic coverage: empathy, research and engagement; coverage that Morehouse’s new journalism program seeks to bring, regardless of the track a student chooses.

“For someone that says that I am on the social justice track, what does that mean? You’re now able to bring a perspective and be challenged to look at how you cover and share truth in a way that leads to some social change,” Harris said.

“The classes are ones where you get a good foundation in storytelling, then when it comes to focusing on your track in classes like Advanced Visual Storytelling, you are going to be able to present stories that deal with social justice issues because that’s your area. It allows you to tell stories that change the world.”

For the Fall 2021 semester, students were able to register for classes offered within the Journalism, Sports, Culture and Social Justice major. The 30-credit hour program features courses like, Social Justice Journalism, Multimedia and Visual Storytelling, Movies, Music and Celebrity Journalism and Drone Journalism. For further involvement, students are encouraged to join Morehouse College’s newspaper, The Maroon Tiger. Students at CAU and Spelman can cross-register to take Morehouse journalism courses as electives.