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Editing while Black: Robin Watson joins The Day newsroom team

Robin Watson joined us over the summer as a multiplatform copy editor.

Her name isn't in the paper, but her edits and layouts, powered by her voracious consumption of news and almost-photographic memory, are visible on a daily basis.

Watson improves our products in another crucial way. She brings her perspective as a Black and biracial woman. She is the daughter of a Black father and white mother.

Watson offered to be interviewed for this column, saying readers might like to know she's here.

"They may feel more comfortable connecting with the paper after learning that there is a Black person at The Day in the newsroom," she wrote in an email a couple of weeks ago.

Watson said people of color likely will recognize there's a person of color involved with the way we present our content, noting they should keep an eye on headlines and photos.

"They might ask, 'Why is DWB (driving while Black) in the headline, or why is there a picture of a little Black boy swimming that never gets in there?'"

Watson, who grew up in Bristol and recently celebrated her 46th birthday, told a familiar story about her career path. 

"I've always known I wanted to work in journalism since I was a little kid delivering papers," she began.

She loved reading the Mini-Page, a newspaper supplement for kids. In eighth grade, she took part in the Explorers program at the Bristol Press, which she said involved going to the paper's office once a week, eating pizza and talking about journalism.

She attended St. Paul Catholic High School. The school didn't have a student newspaper, but that didn't stop Watson from learning as much as she could about journalism. She attended the Diversity Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She took part in a program designed to provide journalism training and diversify the profession. 

She attended Northwestern University for three years, returning to Connecticut after three years to finish her bachelor's degree at St. Joseph University.

Watson went to work as an editorial assistant for the Connecticut Post in Bridgeport in 2004. Her job involved typing up brief articles, calendar events and engagements. Whenever she heard somebody say they needed a person to go conduct an interview, or do something else that provided a learning opportunity, she raised her hand.

When a friend who worked as a copy editor said she was leaving, Watson told the friend, "I'm going to take your job." And she did.  

She moved on to The Advocate in Stamford, where she worked for four years, before leaving the industry for several years to work as a proofreader in a corporate setting.

Her story sounds like others I've heard from my co-workers, except that for most of the time she worked in newsrooms, she was the only Black person. She said she never saw any Black people being groomed for leadership positions.

Watson couldn't stay away, especially after she saw that two of our newsroom leaders, Managing Editor Izaskun Larrañeta and Assistant Managing Editor Carlos Virgen, are people of color.

"They are the most senior journalists of color I've seen in Connecticut," Watson said. "You don't see people of color in higher positions, and that's because of racism. Everyone talks about representation. We have to see it to know it's possible."

The Day has renewed its commitment to diversity.

"Diversity is a very important issue to the company," Publisher and President Timothy Dwyer said. "We not only strive to have a diverse work force, but we try to be very self-aware in the diversity of our news coverage."

In the spring of 2020, the company formed a diversity committee comprising employees from different departments. Larrañeta is chairperson of the committee, which meets bi-weekly. The company also formed an outside community advisory board on diversity — we will share more on that committee in the near future —  and we are finalizing plans for companywide diversity and inclusion training.

"We know we have a lot of work to do on this issue and are committed to making our work force and our coverage more representative of the communities we serve," Dwyer said.

Karen Florin is The Day's engagement editor. She can be reached at k.florin@theday.com or (860) 701-4217.

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