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Kerner + 50 Symposium Looks to the Future

Dean Michelle Ferrier advocates a ‘grow your own’ approach

Staff Writer

From left: Moderator Marjorie Fuller, Dr. Michelle Ferrier, Dr. Cynthia Greenlee, and Dr. Meredith Clark discuss the challenges of implementing Kerner Commission recommendations…50 years later at West Virginia University’s Reed School of Media.

Fifty years after the Kerner Commission landmark report on the representation of minorities in our nation’s media, Dr. Michelle Ferrier says we must move beyond ‘warm bodies in the newsroom’ strategies and focus on building diverse content, code and companies to diversify voices in the media.

Ferrier, dean of the School of Journalism & Graphic Communication at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University, participated on a panel “Missing Voices: Diversifying the News” on October 26 at the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University. Ferrier was joined on the panel by Dr. Meredith Clark, Dr. Cynthia Greenlee, and Marjorie Fuller, director of the WVU Center for Black Culture & Research who moderated the panel. The panel focused on the successes and setbacks in achieving demographic racial parity in our newsrooms as well as fuller, more inclusive representation of minorities in the media.

Five decades ago, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders or the Kerner Commission, issued a scathing assessment of racism and diversity in our nation’s media. The February 1968 report said “The journalistic profession has been shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring and promoting Negroes.”

Ferrier, who began her new role as dean on October 1, 2018, has been a champion for a global journalism innovation and entrepreneurship curriculum and preparing students to create the change they wish to see through start-up companies, new formats and innovations that reach and serve underserved and underrepresented communities.

“Fifty years later, we are seeing glacial progress in our newsrooms,” Ferrier said. “We’ve focused on recruitment, at the expense of retention and creation of our own businesses.”

Ferrier, named a 2018 journalism innovation educator by MediaShift, is co-editor of Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship, an open textbook for students to learn how to assess, design and develop more inclusive news tools, innovations and businesses.

“We are tired of knocking on doors…asking for a chance,” Ferrier said. “Broadcasting entities have been better at diversifying, because there’s a penalty that affects the license holder if they do not bring diversity to their staffs and programming. Sadly, geographic racial parity in our newsrooms continues to be an elusive goal.”

Ferrier, who is also the founder of, spoke of the challenges of the current political climate here in the U.S. and the ongoing attacks on the free press. Journalists of color and women journalists are under attack online. Recent research by TrollBusters and the International Women’s Media Foundation shows a global increase in online threats, with more than 30 percent of women having considered leaving the profession as a result of online attacks.

Clark, a FAMU School of Journalism alumna and an assistant professor at the University of Virginia Department of Media Studies, is leading the 2018 research effort by the American Society of News Editors to study the recruitment and retention efforts of media organizations. Research efforts have been stymied by lack of response from media organizations to the survey.

Survey results from 2017 show that minority journalists comprise 16.6 percent of the workforce in U.S. newsrooms, a half percentage point decrease from 2016. In online-only news organizations, the newsroom diversity reaches 24.3 percent, an increase of 1 percent from 2016 numbers. EMBED: Graphic of Newsroom Diversity.

"This year -- 2018 -- gives us a point of reference in demonstrating the lack of progress in newsroom diversity," said Clark, "These disparities are reflected in the quality of our coverage in the U.S. It's important right now to center people of color in our coverage. It's people at the margins that have the most to lose."