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Distinguished professor gives lecture on the importance of diversity in the media

Oct 10, 2016

Posted in: News

It was April 4, 1968. Martin Luther King Jr. had just been shot in Memphis and the news was spreading around the country. Bob Levey was working the split shift as a reporter at The Washington Post when the news came over the wire.

Later that day, protests erupted in D.C. around 14th and U Streets. The Post wanted to send an African-American reporter to cover the demonstrations and rioting, but when they looked around they realized there was not one single African-American reporter on staff.

Levey, the Virginius Dabney Distinguished Professor this year at the VCU Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, opened his lecture with this story to illustrate the need of diversity in the news media last week. This was Levey’s first hard lesson on the importance of having a diverse reporting staff and one that he would carry with him through his entire professional career.

Levey’s talk, “The Challenge of Diversity in the Newsroom,” addressed the importance of diversity in news organizations and what should be done to better improve diversity in the media. 

“The great value of diversity is that it allows each person to bring their own experience to bear,” Levey said. “It allows news to be defined across a wider spectrum.”

Levey used his more than 35 years of experience at The Washington Post as a reporter and editor as a backdrop to discussing diversity in newsrooms. Over the years at the Post, Levey said, he saw a rapid amount of change and witnessed many great strides toward creating a more diverse staff both at The Post and at other papers—large and small—across the country.

“Bob Levey provided us with an excellent discussion of the challenges and importance of diversity in the newsroom,” said Clarence Thomas, Ph.D., journalism professor and chair of the School’s diversity committee. “As a former Washington Post reporter and editor, his perspective was valuable and enlightening."

Levey stressed the point that diversity must not only include gender, race and ethnicity, but also diverse political viewpoints (without interfering with objective coverage) as well. News will inevitably take on a singular perspective without all these strands of diversity in the reporting staff, he said.

In regard to anchors, hosts and reporters, the news industry has come a long way with diversifying in the last fifty years, but there is still an issue with diversity in the top-tiers of news organizations, Levey said.

“Things aren’t changing in the most important ways,” he said. “Newsrooms are more diverse than ever but the one thing that hasn’t changed at all is the executive suite. The CEOs are always white men.”   

Nearing the end of the lecture, Levey suggested that every person that works in the media must “push back” against this type of mentality to ensure a more diverse and robust media.

Read more about the Robertson School's Diversity Plan here.

Watch the full talk below!