Sep 272005
Authors: Vimal Patel

An ethicist and former editor of the Seattle Times said journalists should be aware of their prejudices and delve below the surface to sniff out stories that would otherwise be ignored.

"People who tell me they're color blind, they're blind," said Aly Colon, diversity program director at the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists and teachers of journalists. "We need to recognize our prejudice and bias, and that it's a human condition."

Colon spoke to about 250 students and community members Tuesday in the Lory Student Center North Ballroom at 2 p.m. as part of the Fifth Annual Diversity Conference.

Many believe Colon is white, he said, but he and his family were born in Puerto Rico.

People approach him and say, "You don't look Puerto Rican," to which he responds, "What's a Puerto Rican supposed to look like?"

Their reply is an awkward "Can we talk about something else?" Colon said.

It's this kind of stereotyping that journalists, and all human beings for that matter, need to consciously be aware of, he said. Colon warned journalists to be careful in their reporting and to take into account that those written about are real human beings.

"Remember, everybody that you do a story on is somebody's mother, somebody's sister, somebody's father, somebody's close friend," Colon said.

Journalists often grapple with how and when to address race in a story. As an example, Colon described a scenario where two CSU students, one Mexican and one black, are watching a football game, get into an argument and fight. Journalists should not mention the race of the individuals unless a racial epithet was used or the fight was in some way related to race, he said.

"If it doesn't play a role in the story, you don't need to add it," said Colon, who earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Loyola University in New Orleans and his master's in journalism from Stanford University.

The media ethicist urged journalists to be sensitive in their coverage of race.

"Think about a time you felt strange or out of place," Colon said." Think about that and you'll begin to realize the challenges of people (who belong to minority groups)."

Also, to become good storytellers, journalists need to dive below the surface of a story, he said.

"You want to ask questions to people so you could know who they are and they could be more real," he said, adding that the best way to learn more and become a better storyteller is simply by asking the question, "What do you mean by that?"

"Even among each other, when someone says something off the wall, ask 'What do you mean?'" he said. "I think a lot of disagreements come from one person hearing one thing and the other hearing something else."

Melva Seal, kd a senior English major, said Colon's talk pushed her out of her comfort zone.

"It forced me to think about people in a different way," she said of the afternoon conference.

"He shows journalists how to find the untold stories," said Tony Frank, kd CSU provost, in his introduction of Colon.

Colon was a Seattle Times assistant metro editor. He also worked at The Herald in Everett, Wash., as an executive editor of business and features, and at The Oakland Press in Pontiac, Mich.

Poynter, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., offers professional training for journalists, including providing seminars, workshops and specialized training for individual newsrooms.

Despite his prolific journalistic career, Colon indicated his wife does a good job of deflating his ego.

"My wife reminds me that journalists are not the only people trying to save the world," he said. "They just act like it."

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