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Native journalist, leader pushes diversity plan

CHICAGO - Karen Lincoln Michel, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, has unveiled a new plan aimed at better diversifying top media management to include more minorities, including American Indians, in the nation's newsrooms.

Michel, who has served as president of UNITY: Journalists of Color Inc. for approximately a year and a half, said during remarks at the July 23 opening ceremony of the organization's convention in the Windy City that increased diversity in newsrooms is ''crucial.''

UNITY represents four minority journalist organizations, including the Native American Journalists Association.

''As our nation becomes increasingly diverse, it is essential that we have managers in key positions who understand the nature and the importance of diversity,'' she said in a statement. ''That is true in terms of overall news coverage, as well as in the areas of recruitment, hiring, retention and promotion.''

In an effort to increase the number of journalists of color in executive-level management positions, UNITY, under Michel's vision, launched the new initiative, called ''Ten by 2010: Transforming Journalism Through Diversity Leadership.''

The goal of the program is to have 10 media companies commit to select at least one high-potential manager of color and to promote that employee to a senior management position by midyear 2010. UNITY organizers said participants should receive customized training to help prepare them for specific senior-level positions.

As a top journalist at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Michel said she's seen with her own eyes the quality and depth that diverse voices can bring to media projects of all types. She also noted that more than 50 percent of the population is projected to be people of color in less than a generation, so she believes it's ''unthinkable'' that the nation's news organizations would continue along their current non-diverse pathways.

Two top media companies, Gannett and The New York Times, have already signed on to the UNITY plan.

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Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., chairman of the New York Times Co., said in a taped announcement regarding his company's endeavor that diversity in newsrooms is ''more important than it ever has been.'' He added that his company looks forward to developing stronger stories and media projects by participating in the UNITY program.

Michel thanked both companies for their commitments, and encouraged others to sign up as soon as possible.

Cristina Azocar, president of NAJA and a member of the Upper Mattaponi Tribe of the Powhatan Nation, noted during the opening event that the field of journalism has changed dramatically since the first UNITY convention in 1994.

She called 1968 the beginning of the ''golden age of journalism,'' which saw many more Natives and other people of color begin entering the field.

But since then, she said, a ''backlash began,'' noting that anti-affirmative action laws have gained steam in some states in recent years, negatively affecting efforts to recruit minorities into many educational and professional endeavors.

Azocar said that efforts to diversify journalism have especially suffered as a result of the developments, noting that many news organizations have completely cut out training programs aimed at strengthening the voices of people of color.

''When news organizations remove the people who cover the stories that matter the most to communities of color, our democracy suffers,'' Azocar said to a round of applause from the thousands of minority journalists in attendance at the event.

Still, she said, programs like UNITY's ''Ten by 2010'' program are important developments, and she believes that the future can and will be much brighter.