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Michael Days, New Haven Register Selected As McGruder Award Winners

Wednesday, September 03, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Angie Muhs
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Michael Days, editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, and the New Haven Register are the recipients of the 13th annual Robert G. McGruder Award for Diversity Leadership, awarded by the Associated Press Media Editors in partnership with the American Society of News Editors and other journalism organizations.

Days and the Register were recognized Tuesday, Sept. 15 at the annual awards luncheon of the ASNE-APME conference at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Chicago.

The McGruder Award for Diversity Leadership is given annually to individuals, news organizations or teams of journalists who embody the spirit of McGruder, a former executive editor of the Detroit Free Press, managing editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and a graduate of Kent State University. McGruder died of cancer in April 2002. A past president of APME and a former member of the board of directors of ASNE, McGruder was a relentless diversity champion.

This year, the 13th annual McGruder awards were sponsored by the APME Foundation, ASNE, The Plain Dealer and Kent State University. Supporters include the Detroit Free Press, the Chips Quinn Scholars program of the Newseum Institute and Annette McGruder. The honorees will each receive $2,500 and a leadership trophy at the awards luncheon.

Days and the New Haven Register are being honored for their commitment to diversity in news content and in newsroom recruiting and staff development.

"This year's McGruder recipients have diligently and relentlessly made diversity a key priority in their newsrooms even as so many other urgent priorities pull for attention,'' said APME President Debra Adams Simmons. "We are proud to honor their work. Each of these news organizations faced considerable challenges during the past year, yet they held true to diversity as a core value. When we look at news developments around the nation and world, in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Israel, there is no question that diverse voices make us stronger and make us better."

In the nominating letter for Days, his colleagues wrote:  "These days, when covering basic news is a challenge, a commitment to diversity might be considered by some as a luxury, a fashionable trend we all pursued in better times. At the Daily News, diversity has never gone out of fashion.

"It is deeply embedded in our DNA, and Michael ensures that it remains critical and relevant," the nomination said. "Under Michael, the Daily News has become what may be one of the most diverse newsrooms in the industry, and both our day-to-day coverage and our daily discussions bear this out."

The Philadelphia Daily News newsroom is 22 percent minority, three of the paper's four regular columnists are women; of the 15 columnists across all departments, six are minorities, six are women. Readers of the newspaper are evenly divided between whites and non-whites. And of the non-white readers, 44 percent are African-American.

"Those are the data," the nomination said. "What is harder to quantify is the spirit of diversity that Michael encourages and inspires. Ours is a street-sales paper in a big city with many challenges, including poverty, a nearly bankrupt school system and a legacy of political corruption. In many ways we're a city of underdogs and one of our core missions is championing the underdog. We speak for the little guy, and constantly challenge the status quo — especially our own. Even our obituary page, a leader in the industry for transforming 'death notices' into a repository for human stories, reflects the full fabric of the city: janitors and grandmothers get the same treatment as political leaders and dignitaries."

Days fosters a sense of community partnership, making the Daily News a convener of conversations about President Barack Obama's "My Brother's Keeper" initiative and public education. And, he brokered a collaboration with Al Dia, Philadelphia's Spanish-language newspaper, to publish World Cup soccer sections at the beginning and end of the games. Reporters, editors and designers from both papers worked together to create bilingual sections that were published in both papers.

The New Haven Register's attempt to tackle the online comments on Web stories unveiled some important truths. The Register's nearly all-white newsroom three years ago, its unsuccessful attempts at recruiting and retention, and limited staff development were reflected in the paper's content and disconnect with readers. The newspaper developed an action plan and quickly got to work. In 2011, the New Haven Register and its sister publications in Connecticut had three minority journalists in its 120-person newsroom. In the spring of 2014, there were 15 minorities out of 100. Today, there 13 out of a staff of 83. The newspaper's leaders recruited staff members in non-traditional ways. For example, they identified a community member who was managing a cellphone store, active in a local mosque and volunteered at a food bank who had some experience writing for the Muslim Journal and connected him with the Chips Quinn Scholars program for training.  He is now the Register's community engagement editor. Within a year, they hired another fellow from the training program.

The New Haven Register also diversified its leadership team. And it encouraged risk-taking and debate within the newsroom. It now has frank discussions, and in one example published a story about the media attention generated by Sandy Hook compared with the sometimes limited coverage of gun violence in urban New Haven.

"Our approach over the past three years has been not just to report and offer options, but to engage and facilitate," the nomination said. "The Register is regularly an outlet that now helps the black community talk through and debate important issues."

The newspaper's front pages now include black and Hispanic faces in all kinds of news stories. It has developed community relationships; hosted live and online forums on education, violence, neighborhood redevelopment; hired a talented reporter from a sister publication, and came up with a new strategy for online comments — each comment is reviewed before it is posted. The paper stopped calling undocumented immigrants "illegal."  It also worked closely with Digital First corporate leaders and has placed 10 Chips Quinn scholars in Digital First Media newsrooms.

In his nomination, Matt DeRienzo, Group Editor of Connecticut Digital First Media, said the news group experienced a wake-up call: "We were limited by our own world view, our own life experiences and our own circle of friends and contacts, which were homogeneous. In that moment, we learned one of the most valuable things of all: we didn't, and couldn't, know many things about life in our community and country. If that was going to change, if we were to become a better newspaper, we would have to diversify our newsroom and the leadership of our newsroom. We decided it would be a top priority."

The 2014 judges included representatives from APME, ASNE, The Plain Dealer and Kent State University and previous recipients of the McGruder award. Jurors assessed nominees based on their significant contribution during a given year or over a number of years to furthering the cause of diversity in content and in recruiting, developing and retaining journalists of color.

Associated Press Media Editors

APME is a professional network, a resource for helping editors and broadcasters improve their news coverage and newsroom operations.

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