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Newsrooms flourish when all voices are heard

My love for newspapers started with my father. His parents from Spain would mail him bundles of Spanish newspapers to his adopted home in the Bronx. It was their way of keeping their first-born informed of what was happening in his homeland.

My dad would tell me, "If you want to learn about the world, read a newspaper." And so I did. I read the New York Daily News and New York Post and consumed television news voraciously.

I started to notice a recurring theme and it wasn't good. People who looked like me or lived in the Bronx like me were either criminals, uneducated or unemployed.

And if you read that message enough, and more importantly, if others who don't share your experiences start reading that consistent message, it becomes their "truth."

So why was this happening? I personally blamed the media for its coverage of my community. I decided to become a journalist because the industry lacked (and still does) diversity and proper training on how to cover minority communities.

And then the death of George Floyd — who was brutally killed by one Minneapolis police officer as three officers watched and did nothing − forced us as individuals, and as a company, to think about inequality and racism. It propelled uncomfortable discussions and made us at The Day think about how we can be an impetus for positive change.

We asked ourselves: Is this local newspaper covering the entire community it serves? Are the sources we're using for our stories diverse? Are we making efforts to diversify our workforce?

The Day formed a Diversity Committee made up of employees from various departments to address these and many more questions. We've been meeting bi-weekly to discuss how we can address racism, discrimination and inequality. Our staff recently started diversity, equity and inclusive training.

If you want to learn more about our diversity training, The Day's Engagement Editor Karen Florin recently wrote a column about it.

Our Diversity Committee realized early on that we needed people outside of the newspaper to hold us accountable.

So, we created an outside Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Board made up of different members of the community to help us cover more diverse topics, provide feedback, and help find more diverse sources. 

We didn't want this advisory group to tell us how wonderful we are. We wanted this group to hold us to task and let us know when we messed up.

The members of this outside advisory board are: Janelle Posey-Green, LCSW and co-owner of Magnolia Wellness, LLC; OutCT board President Edwin Ivey, Liz Stern, retired teacher and elder care advocate; Swaranjit Singh Khalsa, Norwich businessman and Norwich City Council member; Rachael Gavin, CEO and founder of PR(iSM) Resistance Coalition; Norwich Board of Education member Kevin Saythany; Lily Zaccaro, Waterford public school teacher and co-owner of Tox Brewing Company; Lizbeth Polo-Smith, a community health worker; and Jennifer Blanco, community impact resource program coordinator at the United Way of Southeastern of Connecticut.

We have already learned so much from them and we hope to add more members to the board.

When we used the word "Slaves" in a headline in a story we wrote, Gavin suggested that we should use the term enslaved, which she said allows "the descendants of the folks who have been historically enslaved to reclaim their power and reposition the narrative around their ancestors."

In another story about a white New London police officer who filed a discrimination complaint against the department, Posey-Green pointed that we misused the term reverse discrimination.

She said the term is rooted in privilege and "insulting to vulnerable communities that often fight for equality."

Posey-Green said she would like to use her expertise in clinical social work to help The Day achieve its goal of reporting news that is ethically and culturally sensitive as well as unbiased. She said wants to see stories written with a culturally competent lens.

"I feel this is important because I live and work in this community," Posey-Green said. "The news has an impact on communities, and how they are viewed. I would like to help support the uplifting and fair news coverage of vulnerable communities."

Singh Khalsa said he views his role on the board as an advisor who will help us embrace diversity and broaden the topics we cover.

"Media is an important pillar of democracy and with the change in demographics, the media needs to be more responsive and sensitive to issues which might be important to some nationalities or communities that live here," he said.

Their input is invaluable because it allows us to grow and learn from one another.

This is about fairness and about doing what is long overdue. We must do better, and with commitment and help from the community we will get there.

Izaskun E. Larrañeta is managing editor and chair of The Day's Diversity Committee.

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