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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Diversity at Spectator

I gave a really long interview to the Blue and White about the "up or out" system at the Spectator(and the B&W, where the pattern I pointed out is even more obvious). My main point was that if you want to have a diverse staff (in terms of race, gender, schools, ideology, skill sets), you have to have a diverse set of ways to succeed there that will attract different types of people. If you count membership on the managing board as the main indicator of success (which is, essentially, what the author did in the article), then you're only counting 12-18 people of a considerably larger staff. Is the associate board more representative of student demographics than the associate board? Is the staff as a whole? What's happening as people move up the hierarchy? In many (but not all) cases, managing board members have been tracked through a system of associate and deputy positions oftentimes from their first year at the paper, and lateral moves from one section to another are rare. The result is a relatively small pool from which to draw leadership positions and relatively few ways to enter it if you haven't been tracked through that insular system. If they're serious about diversity, they should look at retention, because the recruitment pushes may not work as well as intended when the institutional procedures are set up to winnow people out.

Having a managing board position isn't the only way to get journalism job after college (also, my Spectator experience was a huge influence on my professional development even though I'm not in journalism anymore), so why not present attractive alternatives to being a manager at the paper? Managing board positions shouldn't be the only place for visibility and attention at the paper. Some people don't want to attend meetings every day of the week; can't fit it into a part-time job schedule; don't want to be a manager and would rather write, take photos, design graphics and layouts, or work on programming. Their contributions are an important part of the paper, and Spec needs to find other incentives for contributing to the paper and remaining a staff member than gaining a title. What are other rewards to being on Spec staff that aren't being on the managing board? The annual photo contest drew a huge interest from the photo staff and outside the staff when Cory, Steve, and Rob initiated it in 2002. Having a sports, opinion, or A&E column is another alternative to being an editor or an associate, although many associates often have columns or started there. The addition of news columns in the past few years has been a reward for news staffers who stick around for a long time, including former editors. How do you retain copy and layout staff, where experience is a major boon but rewards are few?

I've thought a lot about this issue--particularly in the past couple of weeks, since a couple of Spectator editors are furious with me for phrasing an obvious point in such a sharp way (they insist the culture has changed since I was there)--and I've started wondering how to denaturalize the managing board experience as the only way to show commitment to Spectator. I cared about Spectator more than I cared about myself. I believed every single typo reflected on me personally. I micromanaged. I hurt people's feelings sometimes. But what about people who have different priorities? Most people who join the staff don't achieve membership on the board. Is one reason for Spectator's "sameness" the insistence that people have a relatively confined set of priorities and commitments, so that people become more and more like the institution as they move up the hierarchy? Just thinking here.

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Anonymous Christine "I have a message from your mother" Wood on Fri Feb 17, 10:47:00 AM:
i know you're distrusting of theory, but i was thinking. when i read your post, i thought of structural homologies. that's what i'm working on and thinking about right now actually. in the way that i'm working on it, it comes from bourdieu (theory of practice and then in distinction a little). but it's like...the structural characteristics/attributes of the cultural institution/object under scrutiny corresopnd to proximate and distant social groups. hrm.

it's worth putting out into the universe! despite my brain fartage.