The 10th annual American Indian Journalism Institute is currently underway on the University of South Dakota campus, and the man who helped make this yearly event possible said the need to bring diversity to news organizations across the nation has never been greater.
"In journalism, whether it be in print or broadcast, or whatever form, you can't do a fair job of appealing to your audience unless the people who are producing the product have the same characteristics that your audience has," said Al Neuharth to the AIJI Class of 2010 Friday night at the Al Neuharth Media Center on the University of South Dakota campus in Vermillion. "If a newspaper or broadcast station or any form of media wants to appeal to a diversified audience male, female, irregardless of race you can't have a bunch of middle-aged white males running the show.
"It's so obvious, it's so apparent, but it took awhile to convince the decision makers of that. You're fortunate that it is the case," he told the young AIJI participants. "You don't have to fight that battle. There is no longer any questions that decision-makers understand that you must have a diverse staff producing a product if you want to have a diverse audience buy it and appreciate it."
AIJI, founded in 2001, is an academic, scholarship and internship program for college students run and underwritten by the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute.
Native American students arrived in Vermillion earlier this week to learn the craft of journalism through several AIJI classes taught on the USD campus. This year's program concludes the end of next week.
One of the AIJI students asked Neuharth for advice on how to be successful in a modern newsroom.
"Minorities in this day and age don't need too much advice that's any different from what white folks get," he replied. "I don't know of many newsrooms in the country now that don't welcome minority journalists, and many of them can't find enough of them. I would give them the same advice that I would give people of any color do a good, fair job of gathering and reporting the news in a way that will appeal to and be fair to the total reading audience."
Neuharth is the founder of the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to free press, free speech and free spirit for all people. The Freedom Forum funds and operates the Newseum, the First Amendment Center and the Diversity Institute.
He was chairman of the Freedom Forum from 1986 to 1997, and was a trustee of the foundation and its predecessor, the Gannett Foundation, from 1965 to 1999.
Neuharth is founder of the nation's most widely read newspaper, USA TODAY, and former chairman and chief executive officer of the Gannett Co.
Neuharth said, in response to an inquiry from an AIJI participant, that he hopes the government never becomes financially involved in the news business, even though the industry has suffered in recent years because of the recession.
"I hope I don't live long enough to see that, and that you don't either," Neuharth said. "If the government got involved in funding or in any other financial aspect of newspapering, it would really be a problem. There would be no question that you would have those idiots on Capitol Hill telling you how to run them, and what news to publish in them.
"I think journalists, men or women, news-oriented or business-oriented, are much more likely to make financial success out of the news business than any politician wo
uld," he said.
Neuharth no longer describes himself as a "newspaper person," even though he is known as a pioneer in that field.
"I believe that any journalist can not be really successful if he or she thinks of himself or herself as a newspaper person, because that's not what journalism is anymore," he said. "Journalism is the news and information business, and there are so many people who want their news and other information in any number of ways."
There's been some bad news regarding newspapers and journalism in recent months, as newsrooms cut staff, and several well-known national newspapers have closed their doors.
That trend has done nothing to change Neuharth's optimistic outlook about the craft of journalism.
"I don't care where you go in the world," he said. "People are more hungry for news and advertising and entertainment than they have ever been. It's not going to be just print, and it may not be predominantly print, but the news and information business, delivered in ways that the consumers want it, has the greatest future that it has ever had in my lifetime."
Accepted students are placed in an appropriate course based on their experience, interests and previous coursework. Students attend AIJI for free and receive other financial assistance, including room and board during the program and a scholarship/stipend upon completion of the program.
AIJI students also may be eligible for 2 hours of college credit.
After successful completion of the program, top AIJI graduates are hired for paid summer internships as reporters, copy editors, photographers or multimedia journalists with daily newspapers and with The Associated Press.The American Indian Journalism Institute, founded in 2001, is an academic, scholarship and internship program for college students run and underwritten by the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute.