'Nothing Short of Right is Right'
We are all now, truly, witnesses.
The events of 2020 stand at a watershed, with core values, careers and families facing stresses that challenge our souls and our social systems. As part of an older generation, I remember the 1960s as a parallel era of great social change.
Today, however, in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis May 25, the ubiquitous video feeds from countless cellphones across media and social channels have lay bare the anguish and the anger for all to see. In full view, peaceful protest has spread across this land, punctuated by law enforcement overreach and sometimes citizen rage that took a damaging turn. We watch, appalled, inspired, angered, determined to act.
With a nation already numb and reeling from the coronavirus invasion, it all seems overwhelming.
And yet, as Jon Allsop wrote in Columbia Journalism Review’s The Media Today on June 8, “Amid emerging crises and with massive protests taking over the streets—in big cities and small towns alike—this feels like a tipping point in American history. It feels like a tipping point for journalism, too, or at least a crystallization—a moment of serious reckoning with industry structures, be they concerned with rhetoric or representation, that for too long have allowed injustice, particularly around race, to flourish.”
Commentators and citizens across the political and social spectrums have passionately added their rising voices to demand social justice, or to bemoan a system that seems at the breaking point. For many, however, the system has long been broken. We may yet be a land of opportunity, but the scales weigh more favorably for a privileged few then for many others who face barriers of race, identity and poverty.
In our School nearly all of us are or aspire to be professional communicators, be it in journalism, digital media production, advertising or public relations. Our professions place special burdens and obligations on us to seek information and present it accurately and fairly within our communities and workplaces. We provide context and deeper understanding of complex, deeply rooted issues. We tell stories that entertain and inform, that lift spirits and spur action.
Journalists in particular also have been under siege, with attacks on the profession in general and upon individual journalists during the protests. For journalists of color, the issues loom even higher and the stresses are even greater. But their voices have risen boldly in their newsrooms and workplaces as they demand to be heard and demand change.
They echo the voice of the late Bob McGruder, our first African-American editor of the Kent Stater who rose to national media leadership in the late 20th Century. He said, “Please know that I stand for diversity … I represent the African-Americans, Latinos, Arab-Americans, Asians, Native Americans, gays and lesbians, women and all the others we must see represented in our business offices, newsrooms and our newspapers.” See. And hear.
My faculty colleagues and I have watched with pride in recent days as our alumni and current students have risen to the occasion. Our Kent State student media students on duty this summer reported in KentWired on protests in Kent, Akron and Cleveland. Alumni across the country made their voices heard across social media, web, broadcast and print channels. They are doing their jobs with passion and with impact. We hope to tell some of their stories from the front lines.
But please know that we stand together as we face what comes and work for a more equitable and inclusive future. We have a saying etched in copper on the Franklin Hall lobby wall. It is from the founding director of our journalism and media program, Bill Taylor (for whom Taylor Hall is named). It fits our time. It fits our challenge. “Nothing short of right is right,” he said.
For links to resources and additional messages from Dean Amy Reynolds and Diversity Director AJ Leu, please visit https://www.kent.edu/cci/justice.
Jeff Fruit is Professor and Interim Director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, soon to be renamed the School of Media and Journalism