Major Media Fund Will End Race-Based Journalism Programs With Colleges. A Settlement to a Federal Lawsuit.

By Mick Gregory

White students were excluded until today. Race-based affirmative action program ends after 40 years.

The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, a nonprofit organization supported by the Wall Street Journal, has agreed to cease operating summer journalism programs solely for minority students in response to a lawsuit filed by an advocacy group critical of affirmative action.

As part of a legal settlement announced today, the fund — which had been operating more than 20 program for minority high-school students in connection with colleges — agreed to open up the programs to members of any racial or ethnic group and to rename the programs to drop references to minority members. The fund has been awarding students of color only for four decades with the goal of inspiring minority students to pursue careers in newspaper journalism.

Today’s settlement comes in response to a federal lawsuit filed in September by the Washington-based Center for Individual Rights. The lawsuit challenged a summer program for minority student journalists operated by the newspaper fund, Virginia Commonwealth University, and the Media General Corporation, publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The suit alleged that the program’s race-exclusive eligibility criteria violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal protection under the law, as well as various federal civil-rights statutes, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits racial and ethnic discrimination by educational institutions that receive federal funds.

The plaintiff in the case had been Emily Smith, a junior at Monacan High School, in Virginia’s Chesterfield County, who submitted an application to participate in the Virginia Commonwealth summer program last March. The lawsuit alleged that Virginia Commonwealth initially notified Ms. Smith that she had been accepted for the workshop but then rescinded its offer after one of its faculty members called Ms. Smith, asked her race, and learned that she was white.

As part of the settlement, Virginia Commonwealth agreed to offer Ms. Smith admission to its workshop for 2007 and agreed that, if she accepted, she would “not be discriminated against on the basis of her race or because she filed the lawsuit.”

The Dow Jones Newspaper Fund’s guidelines for newspapers and colleges involved in its summer workshops previously had said that “each participant must be a minority (defined as U.S. citizens who are black, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, American Indian, or Alaskan Native).”

Among the other colleges involved in the race-exclusive programs last summer were Florida A&M, Kent State, Marquette, Monmouth, New York, San Francisco State, and Seattle Universities, and the Universities of Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Missouri, and Texas at El Paso.

In announcing the settlement of the lawsuit, Terence J. Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, said, “Virginia Commonwealth University deserves credit for taking the lead in promptly settling this case. Today’s settlement saves the taxpayers significant legal expense and ensures that this summer’s programs will be open to all, regardless of race.”

One thought on “Major Media Fund Will End Race-Based Journalism Programs With Colleges. A Settlement to a Federal Lawsuit.

  1. On the Limits of Race Preferences in Journalism: Would the Blair scandal be somewhat trivial if he was White?

    This constitutes a vivid reaction to one of the “more notorious scandals in modern journalism.”1 The issue rose from Jayson Blair’s resignation from New York Times after recognizing his misconduct in using plagiarism and forgery amid national news coverage. Most of observers attempt to probe the root causes of the scandal; some placing the blame on Blair; others condemning the New York Times and the race preferences policy in the corporation. I think journals need to be more offensive in building a general good reputation vis-à-vis the public and not to focus on individual matters. One observer suggest that “we can root out every error, every plagiarist, every bias-but it won’t do any good if we replace them with a gutless inoffensiveness.”
    Racial preferences have been in the core of this issue as it deprives so many talented black journalists out there, who brilliantly made their way to the realm, from their pride. And “far more troubling is that racial preferences, however well-intentioned, strip blacks of their individuality, their pride, their humanity.”

    As it appears to us, this situation is more or less driven by the fact that it involves race. We do contend that the issue would not have received that much attention had Jayson Blair not been African-American, and this, regardless of the fact that New York Times stands as one of the most highly respected journals in the country. In fact, this issue should not be primarily addressed as a racial issue. It should just encompass the broader issue of ethics in journalism. In the course of American journalism, other scandals have always broken from other reporters of other racial backgrounds without the hoopla that accompanies Blair’s case. The examples of White journalists such as Stephen Glass and Ruth Shalit are two of the most prominent.

    In the U.S., when such an issue involves black people, most of the discussion is confined to race and consequently shutters the emergence of promising perspectives for efficient solutions to future misconducts in journalism. We do also think that race preference does not really help ease this race-orientated discussion amid scandals involving a black protagonist in general.

    We strongly support that Affirmative Action makes it inevitably difficult to avoid that race-oriented debate in times of scandal involving blacks. Somehow, Affirmative Action can infer Black inferiority. In fact, “the indignity of walking around a campus (or workplace) susceptible to the charge that you are only there because the standards were lowered just doesn’t interest very many on the left.”

    The Blair scandal appears to be a real case study in issues concerning race and journalism. Blair’s attitude reveals itself deeply condemnable. Yet it should not constitute a way to confine the problem to race as it leads people astray in the search for solutions to a strongly established reputation for the media in general. Moreover, the policy of race preferences tends to make race-oriented discussions latent in scandals involving “people of color.” This explains the urgency for the reexamination of the concept of Affirmative Action in many ways.

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