My friend Dori Maynard passed away last week. She was just 56 when she succumbed to lung cancer.
If you don’t know Dori Maynard, she had the pedigree and the legacy to fight the good fight for diversity. Her father was the late Robert Maynard, the noted African-American reporter for the Washington Post, who later went on to become the editor and co-publisher of the Oakland Tribune.
It was a natural that Dori would become a reporter, working her way up from Bakersfield, California, to Quincy, Massachusetts, and then on to the Detroit Free Press.
It’s a similar path for a lot of minority journalists. Like a baseball career, you take a shot and hope to go from the minors to the bigs.
My path in TV and radio news took me from Houston to Boston to St. Louis to San Francisco to Reno. Then Dallas, San Francisco, Washington, then back to San Francisco. There was a lot of discouragement along the way. But I didn’t give up. But maybe I should have from the start. My first real job in broadcasting was a part-time six-hour-a-week shift at $3/hour, playing records and reading news wire.
Oh, and did I mention? I never encountered more than a handful of journalists of color along the way. Black, Latino, Asian, Vulcan. Very few.
What’s alarming is we’re talking journalism. The Fourth Estate, essentially, a public trust. How could there be so few journalists of color?
Out of necessity, Dori’s father, along with Dori’s stepmother, Nancy Hicks Maynard, founded the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in 1991.
Dori became its president in 2001.
Dori and I knew each other from all the journalism events and conferences we attended. When I wasn’t a reporter, columnist, broadcaster or host, I was an adjunct professor. At San Francisco State I taught Journalism 610, dubbed “Diversity in Journalism.” In my required class I coined my equation for diversity in journalism, where diversity equals coverage plus employment.
As people of color, we want our communities, our stories, our concerns to be heard.
But we need to be employed in the newsrooms to assure the demand for that coverage is recognized.
That simple equation became the basis of my friendship with Dori, who used the institute to develop programs that trained and prepared young journalists of color for the often harsh reality of the business.
The institute served as a kind of reality check for naïve J-school grads or English majors looking for employable skills. And Dori was there to lead the way.
I always felt she had the right combination of practicality and moral authority. She could be the angry activist, but that would be too strident. It was her political instinct and savvy that enabled her to survive.
But it was always a struggle, especially during the last decade when the bad economy and the disruption of the digital age have had everyone in media from top to bottom scrambling to find a sustainable business model.
I was always amazed at her resilience to the current business environment. But I think a lot of it was due to her fierce independence. Through the institute, she had a platform that could effect change far more effectively than the existing minority journalism organizations that exist. I’ve always thought their advocacy too often is compromised.
How can you be critical of news organizations’ hiring and coverage practices when you’re also beholden to them for financial support?
Lately, I would see Dori at all the incredibly shrinking journalism conventions. We’d greet each other as longtime fellow travelers, shaking our heads, reading glasses bobbing. But always staying optimistic about the goals of improving coverage, employment, diversity.
Maybe the lesson from Dori’s passing is that the battle for diversity in media is no simple thing.
Like every moral fight, it’s a lifelong battle that takes generations to make right. It shouldn’t take that long. But by time the American of Society of Newspaper Editors finally gets it right, it’s likely no one will be reading newspapers anymore.
I’ll miss Dori a lot. The memory that sticks with me was from an Asian American Journalists Association convention in Atlanta. We were in the hotel lobby chatting when I got an email alert on my cell phone. Our dear friend, newspaper editor Chauncey Bailey, had just been shot dead.
We didn’t know the details then, but the suspicion was Bailey was silenced for an investigation into the criminal activity of a local bakery. Few of my AAJA colleagues even knew Chauncey back then. I had him on my TV show as a guest many times.
The only person I could share my grief with was Dori.
That’s about how I feel now. But I’m even more stunned because the news is about her. And she’s gone.
Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race, culture and politics for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog). Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media; Twitter@emilamok.