AEJMC Trailblazers of Diversity – Paula Poindexter

AEJMC Trailblazers of Diversity in Journalism Education

Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

School of Journalism

University of Texas at Austin

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Interview Subject: Paula Poindexter
Interviewer: Martin do Nascimento
Interview date: 5/7/2014
Number of Recorded Segments: 3
Interview length: 01:13:24
Language: English
Reviewer: Carlos Morales
Date of review for index: 5/14/14

Table of Contents:
Early Experience in Journalism (3-6)
Diversity and Academia (6-12)
AEJMC*( (7-)
AEJMC and Diversity (12-16)

*Poindexter begins to mention AEJMC here with frequency, by page 12 the mentions are more related with diversity

0:09 Poindexter is the president of AEJMC – the association of education in journalism and mass communication. She’s also a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

0:21 – 3:38 (Preamble and miscellaneous)

Early Experiences in Journalism

3:48 Poindexter’s interest in journalism was completely “accidental.”
3:55 When she graduated from college, she was a radio-television-film major.
4:03 Poindexter wasn’t involved in journalism or interested in it. Her goal was to become a television producer in Los Angeles.

4:16 The first full-time job as a news reporter and producer.

4:31 She says at this time there were very few women and people of color in the newsroom. Her job was at KPRC-TV, the NBC affiliate, in Houston, Texas

4:47 She says she had “no idea” what she was doing because she hadn’t studied journalism, but she was familiar with video and film.

5:02 The program she worked on was a daily news and feature program. She was a co-producer. She – and her team – were responsible for making a local news feature in the Houston area.

5:27 It’s here she says that she learned about producing features.

5:47 She discovered journalism on the job and it became something she was very interested in.

6:00 Next, Poindexter realized that she didn’t like the particular line of work, particularly because she didn’t like being on television; she wanted to remain behind the scenes.

6:20 Additionally, she grew apart form the field because she was restricted to mainly feature type work, which didn’t seem as important. From here she decided to go to graduate school.

6:30 She was at KPRC-TV for almost 3 years.

6:35 She then left for graduate school in Syracuse.

6:41 She decided she wanted to become a magazine journalist. Syracuse, she said, was a pipeline to New York City and magazine work there. However, while there she was introduced to research.

6:58 Poindexter had a research assistantship in the communication research center and had an opportunity to work under Doctor Maxwell McCombs, a renowned international scholar.

7:17 Their research work involved public opinion surveys of various communities around the Northeast.

7:22 They were interested in understanding and learning why people were interested in the news.

7:32 That was the first time that she had been exposed to learning about things from the news-consumers perspective.

7:38 After she finished her Master’s, Poindexter decided to stay and get her Ph.D.

7:46 While there she had both research and job opportunities

7:53 She moved to the University of Georgia where she taught for a year

7:58 Athens, according to Poindexter, was pretty isolated and she didn’t enjoy working there.

8:06 She had an opportunity to work at the LA Times. She met the publisher, Tom Johnson, and went to work for the LA Times.

8:30 At the LA Times she was on the business side as opposed to the newsroom.

8:34 Poindexter enjoyed this because she had an opportunity – having already worked in a newsroom – to see journalism from both sides.

8:49 Until relatively recently, Poindexter says, the business side has been kept separated from the newsroom.

9:18 Learning the business side of journalism was a great experience for Poindexter

10:20 Poindexter says there’s a particular moment in which she became aware of diversity in the newsroom.

10:25 However, she does say that she’s aware of the need for diversity because of the state of Texas’ longstanding history of segregation, because it was a slave state, and because UT Austin still employs very little African Americans

11:00 She says that consciously, she didn’t necessarily translate this into the field of journalism but when she did work for the TV news in Houston, she did make a point of seeking out diversity in terms of the stories they covered.

11:35 “You can’t help – certainly in the time that I grew up and also in the state of Texas – it’s just a part of you.”

11:48 Poindexter recalls some of the stories that she covered.

12:03 She had come up with this idea that she wanted to do a documentary on Blacks in Houston. It was called “On the Other Side”

12:16 The news director approved it. It was an hour-long documentary that aired, which is unheard of, Poindexter said.

12:23 She made an effort to really explore Houston and specifically African-Americans from a cultural point of view.

12:39 Poindexter says it was more of a feature documentary, but she did want to bring that awareness to people.

12:51 Poindexter also had the opportunity to do several features on the Houston Museum of Art, which had become an art fixture both nationally and internationally.

13:32 Poindexter says that she made a conscious effort to make sure that African-Americans were included, too.

13:57 Poindexter would also work behind the camera, shooting and editing. It was important, she recalled, for her to learn how to do all of that.

14:09 It was a time that she learned about the production – researching, writing, reporting, shooting and editing it

15:29 When Poindexter began working in TV, women were just starting to get into the newsroom and blacks as well.

15:41 TV was probably doing a better job hiring minorities, Poindexter says, only because the FCC required it.

15:51 Stations had to keep records of their diversity in the newsroom, in the TV stations.

16:01 Poindexter says that TV stations are licensed, so if there’s no effort at diversity at all, someone could challenge their licensing

16:15 TV stations were very concerned about having diversity in their newsroom for this reason

16:28 It made news directors more aware, Poindexter said, but at the same time “there was only so much that was going to be done.”

16:40 Poindexter said when she was younger she really didn’t think about diversity in the newsroom, but that later she “developed a consciousness about this.”

17:51 Poindexter has spent more time in the academy than in the profession

18:00 “We do need to keep in mind that today there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.”

18:10 Poindexter says it’s better than in years past, but there’s still a lot of ground to be made.

18:14 This includes, hiring more people of color in newsrooms, but also retaining people of color in newsrooms and making sure they have opportunities for leadership.

18:32 Poindexter believes this is a huge part of the problem.

18:36 Poindexter believes that the admirable goals of the ASNE – to have parity in the newsroom – will never be achieved. The group had to scale their goal back

19:18 They were never even able to come close to it, Poindexter says.

19:22 If you look at census data today, you can see that it would be extremely ambitious to reach that goal, Poindexter say.

19:30 Poindexter says that they have to keep in mind that not every person of color wants to enter in this field.

19:41 The truth is everything is open now. “You can be a rocket scientist, you can be a physician, you can be an attorney, a teacher, a nurse – it’s completely open and at one time it wasn’t.”

20:20 It’s unrealistic, Poindexter says, to expect that we’re going to have parity in the newsroom. There needs to be a back-up plan.

20:27 She believes that the back-up plan should be that everyone in newsroom – despite his or her color – has a responsibility to understand why diversity is important. Everyone in the newsroom needs to be knowledgeable so that they can include and accurately report.

21:11 The priority the, Poindexter says, is to ensure that the way the news is covered is inclusive and not filled with stereotypes.

22:39 TV station requirements for diversity changed things

22:44 That focus was just on employment not on content, meaning that the stories that you cover were not a focus.

23:05 Because there was an expectation to have diversity in the newsroom, news directors began hiring a small number of people of color. Poindexter says she was one of them, she knows she got her first job because she was African-American.

23:30 Today you must have a lot of experience to join a network.

24:01 Poindexter says that there were advocacy organizations that were challenging licenses of TV stations.

24:15 Newspapers, however, weren’t doing a lot.

24:25 But that changed for ASNE after the Kerner commission in 1968

24:37 It was extremely critical, Poindexter said, of news organizations, saying they were not doing a good job of diversity and of telling the story of race relations in the United States.

25:01 The effort to diversify newsrooms has been going on for a while. And that’s when the goal for parity, Poindexter says, came from.

26:01 Poindexter doesn’t recall discussions of diversity in graduate school.

26:03 Those discussions really took place in AEJMC.

26:11 She attended her first AEJMC meeting in graduate school. That’s where she began experiencing these issues of diversity in a more systematic way.

26:42 Specifically, it’s within the MAC (minorities and communication) division of AEJMC that she experienced this.

26:47 There are many niche divisions within AEJMC

27:13 The founder of MAC, Dr. Lionel Barrow, according to Poindexter, singlehandedly made an effort to push for the development of diversity.

27:52 He was the one who “raised the consciousness of AEJMC”

27:59 One of the things, Poindexter says, that we have to keep in mind is that there is at least one person who is getting the conversation started, but it boils down to being persuasive and explaining its importance

28:38 A lot of Barrow’s work started with him and came out of the MAC division.

28:47 Poindexter says he did it singlehandedly in the sense that it was his idea. AEJMC has a responsibility since they’re training the next newsroom generations.

29:22 That’s how AEJMC became a leading force in the changes taking place in journalism education, Poindexter said.
(mic fix)

30:30 Journalism education is lacking people of color, Poindexter says. There aren’t many Hispanics in this field.

31:15 The vast majority of AEJMC members are from universities, but there are professionals that are engaged with these issues.

31:40 The organization allows people to come together from all backgrounds and discuss these issues.

32:16 Dr. Barrow was from Howard University – a predominantly black university.

32:36 It’s not a surprise that Dr. Barrow pushed for the MAC division. Considering the time, his background and experience it made sense.

33:09 Poindexter says that we take it for granted or we forget that the news industry is founded on the first amendment of the constitution. That means it’s unique – there’s a special responsibility that journalists have that you might not have in other fields.

33:48 Addressing diversity is a natural fit, Poindexter says because of the sense that this field is different, combined with the social responsibility aspect of the job, and what you expect of Universities.

34:34 Often there are very few minorities on staff

35:00 These discussions have influenced Poindexter’s studies

35:16 Poindexter says she was probably amazed when she went to her first AEJMC conference and noticed that these conversations were taking place.

35:31 It influenced her research areas: 1) The audience for news 2) Diversity in news coverage 3) research methods and ethics

36:12 Poindexter says that her research area the diversity in news coverage directly grew out of attending her first AEJMC conference.

36:24 After that conference Poindexter added her second research area,

36:36 She also created a course that’s called African-Americans in the media.

36:49 That particular course is even more important today than when she first created it, Poindexter said.

36:56 The bottom line, Poindexter said, is that AEJMC, more than anything else, has had an impact on her research, teaching and her worldview.

37:38 AEJMC is organized around three areas: research, teaching, and PF and R (Professional freedom and responsibility).

37:58 Poindexter further explains each area

37:58 People do research and submit conference papers. If the paper is accepted then it’s presented at the August conference.

38:21 There are several initiatives and teaching components at the conference.

38:47 The course Poindexter teaches is focused on African-Americans on the media. But there are other courses at UT that center on gender.

39:13 Teaching is very important to AEJMC. Every year at the conference there are many panels about being more effective teachers

39:33 And from time to time these panels are about diversity.

39:39 Poindexter says diversity remains one of the most important panel topics and needs to be covered more.

40:38 Poindexter says there’s an urgency that’s not felt by many.

41:04 If you want to be in an accredited university there are certain things you have to do.

41:12 One of these requirements is that you have to have a diversity plan. That plan means what it is what you’re trying to do to increase diversity in your faculty, what you’re doing to increase diversity in your curriculum.

41:33 If you want to be an accredited university that’s one of the things you have to do

41:40 The are other things you have to do – that’s just one of the standards that’s required every six years you go up for re-accreditation.

42:00 Many universities around the country are struggling with diversity. They’re certainly trying to diversify their faculty.

42:12 But as Poindexter pointed out earlier, diversifying faculty – like diversifying the newsroom – can be difficulty. Not every minority is getting their doctorate in journalism – there are other fields they’re pursuing.

42:32 By that same token, Poindexter adds, some might choose to work in the newsroom instead of in academia

42:32 There are a lot of hurdles and challenges, Poindexter says.

42:55 Even the universities that are challenged with filling this diversity requirement are making an impact where they can.

43:13 “You can still have an impact on the curriculum. You can have a very diverse curriculum, you can make sure you’re integrating diversity throughout the curriculum – which is the ideal.”

43:33 To do that, Poindexter says, it does require engagement with faculty. Poindexter says workshops could help bring people up to speed.

43:45 The bottom line is that there several steps you must take to be apart of an accredited university.

43:59 Some things are hard, Poindexter says. Diversifying your curriculum is easier than some of the other things

44:05 You may not have success in your hiring, but there are things you can do. You can look as widely as possible to try and diversify the search process as much as you can while hiring.

44:22 We can certainly do a better job at UT Austin.

44:32 It boils down to, Poindexter says, down to commitment. “Every university is not committed. Every university does not see the benefit, the value.”

44:46 “For a long time when some news organizations, and certainly the ASNE, were trying to diversify…they would say ‘this is good business.’”

44:58 Poindexter believes otherwise. “This is a social responsibility.”

45:03 This goes back to an earlier point that Poindexter made about the press being in the first amendment.

45:13 There is a reason, Poindexter says, for that.

45:21 “I think if universities recognized that social responsibility then they may get it, why this is important.”

45:33 Universities are also training future journalists, so there’s a pressure on them to properly inculcate their students.

45:49 It gets harder to teach these generations as time goes on, Poindexter says.

45:51 For example, the generation after millennial is the post-millennial generation and they will be farther and farther away from the Civil Rights movement and the experiences that inspired people like Dr. Lee Barrow.

46:11 “This generation is so far away from that they have no idea.”

46:18 Poindexter says that this generation doesn’t realize that things weren’t always this way.

46:24 “The bottom line is that we have a lot of work to do and AEJMC needs to continue to help people, help universities, help individual faculty members, continue to support.”

46:42 Poindexter says that AEJMC is one of the most supportive organizations around when it comes to diversity.

(talking, question asked)

48:53 Poindexter says that it’s no question that there’s less emphasis on diversity in newsrooms now than in the past.

48:57 She says it’s understandable, however, in the sense that newsrooms have been trying to survive.

49:06 Newspapers in particular, Poindexter says, were extremely profitable. For a long time, these groups were slow to change.

49:39 Instead of getting ahead of the issue, newspapers were behind and they got caught.

50:14 The newspaper industry in particular, Poindexter says, was in bad shape. It’s a business, she said, if you want to be successful you have to be successful with your news but you also have to be successful with the business side.

50:48 If you’re spending all of your time trying to figure out not to go under, then it’s hard not to think about all these other things, e.g. diversity.

51:02 Poindexter believes this has a lot to do with it

51:12 Journalists are now having to do a whole lot more than before. You’re doing more with less.

51:36 The past few years, Poindexter says, it’s the first time that every other news article isn’t about the news industry dying. “The bleeding has stopped”

51:55 In the mean time it hasn’t changed the fact that diversity needs to be a priority.

52:02 Poindexter says that she understands why diversity hasn’t been a priority recently, but it’s time to change that.

52:26 She says the same is true of journalism and communication schools.

52:32 Because of the fact that many of these schools work closely with news organizations, when their students aren’t being hired because they can’t hire anybody.

53:04 Poindexter says we need to go back to having a diverse as possible newsroom and that we need to improve coverage, being more inclusive and not stereotyping.

54:18 Poindexter first became a member of AEJMC when she was in graduate school.

54:21 She says it’s an expectation. If you’re in a Ph.D program, it is the case that you’ll become a member.

54:49 That’s what distinguishes a graduate program that’s oriented towards research, Poindexter said.

55:10 When she started her Ph.D. program she received a doctoral diversity scholarship. It was a part of Dr. Barrow’s efforts to increase minority representation in journalism and communication.

56:03 Poindexter says that the scholarship, which was created by donations from AEJMC members, reveals that they were serious about increasing minority faculty.

56:12 To get a minority faculty you need to establish a pipeline where there are more minorities going to graduate school and a Ph.D program.

56:39 Poindexter says that if you were to look across the country at the various racial and ethnic groups who are now teaching at various universities, you’ll see that many of them were probably recipients of this scholarship.

57:06 She presented research papers at these conferences and even won an award for it.

57:16 When she became inspired about doing research that dealt with race and ethnicity, a colleague and her did a review of the literature.

57:27 They looked at the studies that had been published about blacks and the media.

57:50 It was a literature review, a meta-analysis. From that they published an article in Journal Broadcasting.

57:59 Her involvement with AEJMC was multifaceted. She was a recipient of the scholarship, she was active in the MAC division, she did research, and she ran for office early on.

58:31 AEJMC really supported Poindexter in her academic endeavors.

58:35 She stayed active with AEJMC until she went to work for the LA Times.

58:53 When she returned to teaching at UT Austin she got involved with AEJMC again.

59:10 Her involvement since then has only grown.

59:13 There are many divisions, Poindexter says. “There are 30 or 40 divisions, interest groups and commissions.”

59:21 You are not only a member of AEJMC but you are a member of any division, interest group or commission you select.

59:39 Through the MAC division, Poindexter was eventually elected “first vice-head, then head” of the group.

59:54 From there she was elected, across the whole membership, to the standing committee on research. There’s several of these committees. She has served 2 3-year terms.

1:00:21 That committee has responsibility for the awards that are given across the division.

1:00:31 When she chaired that committee she had the chance to start a new award. This is the seventh or eighth year that the award is given now.

1:00:50 When you chair that committee you also serve on the board of the directors.

1:01:19 Poindexter finished her terms. Shortly after which she was nominated for a new award – also named after Dr. Barrow. It’s for recognizing one’s contributions for research, teaching and leadership.

1:01:58 This was an important award for Poindexter because it recognized her in the areas that were most important for Dr. Barrow.

1:02:09 A few years later she received a call from nominations and elections committee chair, saying they wanted Poindexter to run for Vice President of AEJMC.

1:02:36 Poindexter, who was finishing up a book at the time, didn’t think she would have time. But she ended up running and winning.

1:02:45 Poindexter has been in a leadership role for AEJMC

1:02:53 This year, 2013-2014, is Poindexter’s year as president. She will preside over the conference in Montreal. As president of AEJMC, she has several initiatives.

1:03:27 Every president writes a column for the AEJMC newsletter and the column that Poindexter is going to write is about diversity.

1:03:40 It’s to remind people that it’s important, it still matters, and there’s still work to be done.

1:03:47 The president of AEJMC, Poindexter says, has the opportunity to make difference in many ways.

1:04:04 AEJMC celebrated their centennial anniversary 2 years ago. One goal for that year was to reach a pledge of $300,000.

1:04:21 A portion of the money they raised specifically went towards diversity programing.

1:04:31 Poindexter was on the board that got to decide how they would spend that money.

1:04:45 “You can have an impact and I believe I’ve had an opportunity to have a positive impact on diversity.”

1:04:49 Poindexter isn’t the first African-American president of AEJMC. There have been 3 before her.

1:05:09 What this says, according to Poindexter, is that AEJMC “walks the talk.” They don’t just say that diversity is important.

1:06:14 Poindexter recently attended the Unity Diversity Caucus in D.C. representing AEJMC

1:06:24 Unity was originally composed of all of the minority journalism associations, but two have dropped out.

1:06:44 At this particular caucus they asked each representative how the organization they were there for had had an impact on diversity.

1:07:13 In her initial comments Poindexter said that diversity is in its DNA – it is who they are.

1:07:24 “When you say AEJMC you are talking about diversity.”

1:07:32 If you look at the bylaws, it’s in the bylaws.

1:07:36 There is a concerted effort to make sure there is diversity in every single way in AEJMC

1:07:56 The group doesn’t always succeed as much as they would like to.

1:08:02 These different divisions sometimes can’t as diverse as they’d like to because (again) the population for it isn’t there. “You can’t make people appear if they’re not in the pipeline to appear.”

1:08:24 The bottom line, Poindexter says, is that AEJMC is at good place in the area of diversity.

1:08:47 There’s an award that was started to recognize a university’s progress at diversity, areas like hiring, curriculum, teaching, etc.

1:09:16 When Poindexter joined AEJMC they primarily had the MAC division, so there weren’t these other ways to acknowledge the importance of diversity and award those efforts.

1:09:39 The real question, Poindexter says, is where do we go from here?

1:09:43 The incoming president will restart a mentorship initiative to get more diverse administrators.

1:09:58 So those on faculties who are interested in being deans or department heads could get that training/mentoring

1:10:09 AEJMC originally funded that program for seven or eight years, but then because it was no longer able to receive foundation support, it wasn’t able to continue and placed on hiatus.

1:10:24 But as a result of the centennial program that Poindexter mentioned, they’re now able to restart it.

1:10:38 AEJMC is still working to do as much as it can to stay ahead, Poindexter says.

1:12:09 The foundation stopped supporting it – Poindexter is unsure why, but now they’re able to support it again.

AEJMC Trailblazers of Diversity

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