At a time when newspapers are folding, or going digital and local, Hartford Public Schools on Tuesday kicked off the 2013-2014 academic year by unveiling three renovated school buildings, including a state-of-the-art Journalism and Media Academy.
Officials said the Academy offers courses such as social media, sports journalism, television production, radio broadcasting, graphic arts, and mobile app design. The Academy has partnered with the Connecticut Public Broadcast Network and its brand new $3.5 million Learning Lab at the CPBN offices on Asylum Avenue, which also houses WNPR radio and CTMirror.org, mostly all-white media entities.
The renovated Academy building on Tower Avenue has “smart” classrooms, large MAC computers, top-shelf sound booths, TV and radio studios and a green room. All this is in a building much bigger than the former WFSB Channel 3 studio in downtown Hartford. Attracting only 53 students to its incoming freshman class and retaining about 140 students from the Journalism Media Academy in Weaver High School, many classrooms were empty on Tuesday.
No surprise there.
Building magnet schools to attract white suburban bodies to Hartford’s 95 percent minority school district is arguably a laudable goal under the Sheff v. O’Neill school integration plan. However, a journalism academy focusing on skill sets that mature on a solid academic foundation will unlikely benefit most high school students in Hartford—if they are thinking of going to college and beyond. Summer journalism programs, yes. But eight years of high school and college journalism courses is nonsensical and impractical, especially for black students.
The irony was evident when Mayor Pedro Segarra stepped in a class with seven black students and a white male teacher. Inside the room, Segarra introduced two white Hispanic communication professionals as the future of journalism. He got it wrong. It’s not the future; it is the current state of journalism, especially in the city of Hartford.
That classroom scene also reflects the issue of newsroom diversity espoused by the Kerner Commission following the 1967 Watts Riots. To those not privy to the historical perspective on the media diversity question, the mayor’s antics unwittingly revealed the same societal problem that existed before the Kerner report and the Civil Rights Movement.
A black journalist is an anomaly at city hall and elsewhere in Hartford. And Segarra reinforced that notion of disappearing black news professionals.
Consider this: The number of black journalists in the news business has been dramatically and systematically decreased in the last decade. According to the 2013 American Society of News Editors (ASNE)’s annual diversity survey, the number of black journalists in newsroom remained steady in 2013. That’s after ASNE’s previous report showed a decrease from 4.68 percent in 2011 to 4.65 percent in 2012.
ASNE’s goal is to have the percentage of minorities working in newsrooms to reflect the percentage of minorities in the nation’s population by 2025. Currently minorities comprise 37.02 percent of the U.S. population. By 2025, it’s expected to be 42.39 percent.
The implications for the lack of news coverage by black journalists in a “minority-majority” city has been articulated in the Kerner Report, which makes the case for a sincere commitment to racial and ethnic diversity because “the media media failed to report adequately on the causes of and consequences of civil riots and race relations.”
In Hartford alone, there are no full-time black journalists covering city hall or the school district. And since his election to a full term, the mayor has infused cash into the Hispanic media market and has seemingly made it a bargaining chip when doling out opportunities to corporate and nonprofit media.
Most recently, the city of Hartford awarded a grant to one local Hispanic publisher for her new enterprise, the Latino Way. Additionally, the largest newspaper in the state has selectively highlighted the work of other Hispanic media outlets, and WNPR devoted an entire radio show to a new Hispanic online media organization. But they have done very little for black and women-owned media organizations such as The Hartford Guardian.
Additionally, CPBN/WNPR in partnership with Segarra’s administration, received $1 million from the state’s bond commission to build a studio that is expected to “train students” in the field of communications.
CPBN is an affiliate of WNPR, which has a 4 percent minority listenership. It buys programming from NPR, a national public radio station. But is not owned by, or beholden to, NPR’s diversity policies, according to an NPR spokesperson.
From our vantage point at The Hartford Guardian, the mayor and his administration’s partnerships with these media organizations to benefit the Latino and white community should be of concern to most city residents. And should be investigated further.
Having a journalism and media academy will not attract smart students to Hartford. It has, and will further, strengthen an incumbent mayor’s alliances with corporate entities, improve CPBN/WNPR’s outreach to the Hispanic listeners, and serve as a playground for media professionals who like shiny toys.
The $37.45 million renovated Academy will benefit Hartford’s children the least, especially those who crave rigorous curricula for a diverse and global society. Given the state of media diversity in Connecticut today, to argue otherwise is a farce.