I reach out to diverse sources on deadline. Only the white guys get back to me :(
— NPR‘s Education Team (@npr_ed) July 2, 2014
Exiting NPR ombud Edward Schumacher-Matos was interviewed (7/10/14) about his three years in the job. Asked about the recent incident in which NPR education blogger Anya Kamenetz was criticized on social media for a tweet in which she complained that she couldn’t make her stories diverse because “only white guys get back to me,” Schumacher-Matos said:
The best I can tell, judging from the background of this reporter and the kind of work she’s done, is that this is really an innocent frustration that could have been better expressed and just got her in a lot of trouble.
Sigh. With all respect to the reporter’s previous work, the criticism of the remark was not that her frustration wasn’t real–it was where she seemed to locate the blame for that frustration, namely with the perhaps underdedicated people of color and women who aren’t returning her calls by deadline.
To the extent that it reflected “innocence,” it’s of a sort people of color and women can ill afford from journalists, reflecting a worldview that simply does not consider that there must be a proactive effort–something other than business as usual–in order to include in public conversation precisely those voices that have been and still are excluded. It suggests a misunderstanding of fair representation as a frippery rather than a core journalistic value–which may indeed be common but, for those whose lives are impacted daily by their media marginalization, is not so easy to shrug off.
NPR‘s official response to the brouhaha was a memo, instructing staff to be more careful about sharing private thoughts on social media. Likewise missing the point that the problem lies in what the network does–and doesn’t do–in public.