Civil rights panel to discuss media coverage of issues

by Casey Campbell / Beacon Correspondent • February 12, 2014

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Professor Cindy Rodríguez will be hosting the panel on Feb. 13.
Professor Cindy Rodríguez will be hosting the panel on Feb. 13.

According to professor Cindy RodrÍguez, the problem with the media’s coverage of civil rights nowadays is that there simply is not enough of it.

On Thursday Feb. 13, in the Multipurpose Room, Rodríguez will moderate the panel “Covering Civil Rights: A Discussion.” The event is taking place from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and all are invited to attend.

The discussion will focus how journalists can cover today’s civil rights issues. Attendees will be able to participate in the talk.

“We need to come together as a group and see our commonalities and see that we are all human beings that need to be treated with respect,” said Rodríguez. “Even if it doesn’t apply to me, if I don’t stand up for other people’s rights, then next time around it’s my rights that are being chipped away at.”

Throughout her career, Rodríguez has covered immigration, cultural, and race issues as a writer for The Detroit News, The Denver Post, and The Boston Globe. She now teaches Topics in Advanced Multimedia and Advanced Reporting at Emerson College.

Rodríguez invited two guest panelists, journalists Phillip Martin and Farah Stockman, both of whom have direct experience in reporting on civil rights and equality issues. Martin is WGBH-FM’s senior investigative reporter. He also contributes to WGBH-TV’s program Basic Black, a panel that discusses news and topics in black communities. Stockman is a columnist for The Boston Globe and has covered issues from United States foreign policy to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Stockman, journalists have a specific job when it comes to civil rights.

“I think journalists play a huge role in uncovering civil rights violations,” she said. “Martin Luther King’s strategy of shaming America for the treatment of blacks would not have worked if the stories had never gotten out about what was happening. It was the pictures of Selma, and what happened to the Freedom Riders that shocked people in the north. Had we stayed silent, and swept it under the rug, change would not have happened.”

This panel was inspired by Emerson professor Roger House, who teaches African American History, History of the United States, and Specialized Reporting. He started a civil rights celebration this academic year, called “Victory Stride—Things to be Appreciated, Things Still to Do.”

House said that this is to commemorate the advancements America has made in ending discrimination. House said he hopes the events throughout February will recognize that success and how people can still do more. 

“Emerson students will play a prominent role in shaping the public culture,” House said. “What they write, film, market, and perform will influence public values and actions. The socially-engaged journalist, in particular, is on the frontline of reporting the facts and illuminating the truth.”

House has encouraged Emerson teachers to take part in the Victory Stride by incorporating Black History month into their curriculums. Rodríguez said she could not include this topic in her classes, and this drove her to lead a public discussion for journalism students to learn how to attack these issues.

“It’s very tricky to be in a newsroom where you want to write about issues that make a difference,” Rodríguez said. “You have to get your editors to allow you to work on these stories. So often we are focused on what is going on today and right now. We should just take a step back and see that not all parts of the United States are equal, even today.”

According to Rodríguez, the problem is that many editors assign stories that deal only with the news of the day. She said she has found that editors don’t give reporters time to work on civil rights investigations.

House said that he also hopes young journalists will step up to the plate and tackle these difficult stories.

“Aspiring journalists need to appreciate that covering civil rights is important because social justice is important,” House said. “The goal of fairness and opportunity must be reinforced with each generation.”

“Covering Civil Rights: A Discussion” will touch upon all of these issues and how they can be taken on. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own opinions on what civil rights means to them, according to Rodríguez.                      

“One of the main questions I’ll be asking is, ‘How as journalists should they go about making sure it is covered?’ You can report on this topic, but if people don’t feel compelled to act in the end, then it’s not enough,” she said. “That is what’s required of a democracy.”