Board member blog post: The JAWS Workout

hilarypowell_1340225795_58By Hilary Powell, JAWS Board Member

Giving back is an infectious energy inherent to JAWS. So are differences.

There is an effortless muscle of mutual support flexed when you attend CAMP, regional events or reach out to a fellow JAWdess online.

As part of the JAWS mission, we members strive to create a “more accurate portrayal of the whole society.” In my experience, since I joined JAWS six years ago, there is, ironically, but one homogeneous trait among members: the will to amplify diverse voices.

Inclusion matters in journalism. And JAWS is one way to claim a chair at the industry’s table. A series of studies released by Indiana University this month show uneven opportunities persist in American newsrooms. The percentage of minority journalists decreased from 9.5 percent to 8.5 percent in 2013, and a wage gap among men and women is still present.

These numbers give context to an urgent concern. Diverse reporters can illuminate a tapestry of untold stories. As a reporter, I have noticed how diverse faces in the newsroom can sway a narrative. As a multimedia reporter, I approach people in my coverage area who tell me they’ve never been approached by media. I seek truth in all spaces, but make a special point to seek marginalized voices.

A recent fellowship I first heard about on the JAWS listserv has helped me continue to do so. JAWS member Dawn Garcia sits on the Institute for Justice and Journalism Board and is an example of the broad involvement of our members that is the norm more than the exception. Garcia says “diversity is an important element of accuracy.” In a society where race can be a four-letter word, Garcia’s words resonate with wisdom.

Differences – whether gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status – must be present or openly discussed in newsroom culture. Newsrooms that mimic the diversity of their audience can hope to deliver more accurate stories, or at least amplify different experiences.

Currently, the JAWS diversity committee is working to determine the demographic profiles of our membership and board. The task has raised interesting questions on how to truly define diversity. I embrace the fact that we can ask the tough questions about inclusion among our group. Getting real about diversity in spaces like JAWS helps women feel more confident flexing that muscle in their newsrooms. I always get a familiar burning after a JAWS encounter. Maybe it’s muscle memory – a phantom reminder that every voice matters.