Monday, November 19, 2007

Student newspaper copes with racism charge

The Hoya, the student newspaper at Georgetown University, recently found itself in a not-uncommon position for college newspapers: it was charged with racism.

The allegation came after the newspaper gave scant coverage to an all-day rally and candlelight vigil in September supporting the Jena Six, the group of six black male students who were charged with attempted murder after attacking a white student in Jena, La.

Shortly after the rally, which the paper covered in a mere news brief, someone chalked the words, "The Hoya is racist," in the university's Red Square, according to a column last Friday by outgoing Editor-in-Chief Max Sarinsky. The six-letter word was also scrawled across dozens of copies of the paper. The paper received angry columns and letters. And someone threw a rock through the editor-in-chief's apartment window.

The response has forced The Hoya staff to examine its composition and its coverage.

"As far as The Hoya is concerned, there are a lot of hard questions that we've been asking ourselves, though I'm sorry that it took such drastic action for us to do so," Sarinsky wrote.

On asking himself if the charge of racism is valid, Sarinsky said he is confident The Hoya is "not racist in its coverage, recruiting and training practices and the personal views of those on the staff."

However, he noted that the staff is far less diverse than it should be.

"The fact is, The Hoya is an unfortunate reflection of the divides that pervade this campus. If you were to put every member of our staff and each of their closest friends in a large room, some minority groups wouldn't be represented too well."

In the column, Sarinsky pledged to reach out to student organizations with the goal of diversifying coverage. He urged readers to reach out to others, too.

"Interact with the kind of people you may have given funny looks in high school. Stop self-segregating from the day you step foot on campus. And be critical of yourself and think of ways that you can be part of the solution."

The Hoya is not the first student newspaper to be called racist. Other papers have gotten that label for running racially insensitive cartoons and columns and for failing to cover events and issues of particular interest to certain groups.

How can students newspapers better cover the communities they serve? How can they avoid charges of racism? How can they be more inclusive and diversify their staffs? Post a comment below.

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