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Columns: Generating Coverage of Diversity in Smaller Markets
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Making Diversity News

Generating Coverage of Diversity in Smaller Markets
Jim Klapthor, Associate Director of Communications, Albion College

Three colleges in Southwestern Michigan joined together to participate in the Association of American Colleges and University's Racial Legacies and Learning initiative. This coalition, including Albion College, Kellogg Community College, and Olivet College, was successful in attracting media attention for their project activities because of a concerted effort to always keep two-way lines of communications open with media outlets in our area.

Leaders at our three campuses tried to always keep each other, and members of the media that cover us, informed of events taking place on campus. When pitching an individual event for possible coverage, all three campuses would be noted in news releases and conversations with reporters.

We also found it important to stress three points to convince reporters that this was a potentially good story:

  • We tried to frame issues as "hot topics." Issues of diversity, for instance, are popular in the media right now.
  • We stressed the number of readers/ listeners/ viewers affected by a topic. For instance, serving the community was a goal of the project and is a goal of local media. We made sure that the media understood that the project was designed to serve the larger campus community.
  • We also found it effective to pique local reporters' interest with a national angle. Racial Legacies and Learning emerged, in part, as a response to the President's Initiative on Race. Simply mentioning Washington, D.C. is a quick way to gain small market reporters' attention.

These elements worked for us with newspapers with daily circulations of 2,000 to over 20,000 and radio-TV outlets with audiences of up to 100,000.

For instance, when Natalie Johnson, national coordinator of Racial Legacies and Learning, visited Albion's campus, we were able to get reporters to see it as a big deal. When the results of the national poll on campus diversity were released in Washington, D.C., we had fifteen local college and community leaders gather to comment on the study. Reporters saw that this was newsworthy.

We believe that media professionals must come to rely on us to let them know when something of major interest is occuring. But we do not deluge newsrooms with information, especially on topics about which it is unlikely they will be interested.

When topics of interest arise, we pitch a story to a selected number of reporters whom we know may have an interest. If the interest isn't there, we still make sure that the story gets communicated beyond campus through in-house publications.

Establishing common respect for each other's efforts is also essential to success in generating coverage. Because we are constantly working to maintain open and honest lines of communication with the media, we believe our area newspapers and radio/TV stations were more inclined to cover this particular story.

Our Racial Legacies and Learning project received attention in several newspaper stories. We got print coverage and air-time for Natalie Johnson's visit this summer and received print, radio, and television coverage of the release of the national polling data and local responses to it.

Because of groundwork established over time, we believe we were able to deliver the important messages of the Racial Legacies initiative to an audience that extended way beyond the campuses involved.

Media watch
News clips

In October, education leaders and commentators around the country responded in the media to results of the first-ever national poll to gauge public opinion toward diversity in higher education, which was released by the Ford Foundation's Campus Diversity Initiative. Here are some of their comments.

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"The greatest value of our diversity lies in the opportunities it offers us Americans to move from one world to another and back again. When we deny ourselves that opportunity, we cheat ourselves. If we deny it to the college youths who will inherit America's leadership, we will cheat America's future." Columnist Clarence Page. ("Modern America's Mixed Emotions About 'Diversity,'" Chicago Tribune, 11 October 1998)

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"I thought we were going to get a borderline, shrug-of-the-shoulders support for diversity programs. What I see is strong support across the board." Robert Corrigan, San Francisco State University President. ("Public Puts High Value on Ethnic Diversity, Survey Says," Los Angeles Times, 7 October 1998)

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"Our demographics are changing drastically in this country, and we need to pay attention to what that means so they (students) not only have the skills but the ability to be leaders in this type of diverse world," Millie García, Arizona State University-West Associate Vice Provost of Academic Affairs. ("Arizonans Value Diversity," Arizona Republic, 7 October 1998).

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"It's an affirmation of education as we have come to think about it in the last two centuries. A college education must address differences of racial, ethnic, international and geographic diversity." Lee Bollinger, University of Michigan President. ("Americans Favor Diverse College Campuses, Poll Finds," Detroit Free Press, 7 October 1998)

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"I believe all of education is formed by having students face-to-face with the unfamiliar. This is the nature of education. People don't come here to relearn that which they already know. People come here to deepen what they already know or to be thrust into circumstances with which they have no familiarity." Walter Massey, Morehouse College President. ("Emory, Morehouse Leaders Talk Diversity," Atlanta Journal Constitution, 7 October 1998)

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"Diversity itself is a part of education. We think that students are benefited enormously by the opportunity to share perspectives with people who are very different from themselves, to learn from faculty who have come from literally all over the world." George Johnson, Jr., LeMoyne-Owen College President. (Video News Release, 6 October 1998)

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