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strategic communicator - Author - Facilitator - Workshop Presenter - Ghostwriter

Author: Jennifer Farmer

My Top 6 Books for Effective Communications

Often, when we think of skills, we focus on hard skills. But being able to communicate well is one of the most important soft skills you can develop. It is also a key determinant to success. Think of your doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant, sitter, or your child’s teacher. Your relationship with these individuals, and your confidence in them, is influenced by how well they communicate.

Being able to communicate effectively can make or break the company or the leader. If you are a communications professional, there are a host of resources that can help you improve. In addition to conferences, workshops and webinars, there are a ton of books that focus on everything from how to write, how to pitch the media, how to cultivate relationships and how to navigate difficult conversations. Below are my top eight books to improve your communications game.

Talking the Walk: A Communications Guide for Racial Justice. Hunter Cutting and Makani Themba-Nixon’s “Talking the Walk” book is a how to guide for communicating around issues in racial justice. The book is a resource for persons seeking to interrupt dominant but harmful narratives about people of color and for persons doing media work on issues in racial justice. There are so few guides that focus on communicating about race that this book is a treasure. It is also helpful for persons seeking to learn strategy and strategic communications.

Words that Work. Frank Luntz’s “Words that Work” is the last book I’ve read on communications. Luntz brilliantly describes that people hear what you say through the lens of their own experience. He argues that communications is less about what you say, and more about what people hear. This is why certain words are deeply triggering for certain communities. For instance, I bristle when I hear words such as urban, and riot because they are code for Black, and not “code” in a good way. Every community or group has words that are triggering of course. These just happen to be mine. The point of this book is that focusing on what people are likely to hear is a preventative measure for ensuring your message lands as intended.

It’s worth noting that Frank Luntz and I are not aligned politically. But I believe everyone has something to offer and something to teach. Politics aside, I read this book and saw its genius and for that I’m thankful. “Words that Work” is a must read for all people who value communications and whose job depends on communicating well.

On Writing. Regardless of what you do, or who you are, at some point you will need to put ideas and thoughts to paper. From standard office correspondence, to long-form essays, to business documents, and reports, you are bound to write. One of the most inspiring and helpful books on writing I’ve ever read is Stephen King’s “On Writing.” He covers everything from the mechanics of writing to his personal journey with the written word. The book is humorous, easy to digest and inspiring. It is helpful whether you are a professional writer, aspiring writer or someone whose job depends on communicating well.

Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life. bell hooks is one of the most prolific writers of all times. Like Stephen King, she produces full manuscripts the way many of us communicate via text message – nonstop. “Wounds of Passion: The Writing Life” focuses on hooks’s early career as a writer and the process she followed to produce some of her earliest works. Like King’s “On Writing,” hooks’ book is somewhat autobiographical as it provides insight into her journey and, well, writing life. She documents the trials she experienced, including an abusive relationship, while she was discovering herself as a writer. If you are serious about effective communications, and need help demystifying the process, Wounds of Passion is required reading.

Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide. Of course, I can’t write an article on communications as a profession, without including my own book. If you are interested in learning strategies for promoting your work and ideas, Extraordinary PR is an excellent resource. The book highlights case studies from actual social justice campaigns and the strategies me and my team used to place important issues on reporters’ radars. The book also focuses on how to cultivate relationships with reporters, who can have an outsize impact on how your audience views you and your work.

Crucial Conversations. We live in a society where telling the truth, especially unsolicited truth, is not always welcome. In fact, it takes tremendous courage to be direct. Working in strategic communications, I routinely am asked to give feedback when people I work with have media interviews. A person’s ability to improve, with the media or otherwise, is directly correlated to the coaching and feedback they receive, but that doesn’t necessarily make telling the truth easier. You risk backlash and resentment. However, no relationship works without each party having the freedom and the space to tell the truth in love. “Crucial Conversations” is a road map to having difficult but necessary conversations in the workplace and at home.

Jennifer R. Farmer is an author and strategic communications practitioner for socially conscious organizations, leaders and celebrities. You see her musings and writing here and at Lifehack.org. Follow her on IG/Twitter using @pr_whisperer.

 

What Else You Should Expect as a New Communicator (Part II)

by Jennifer R. Farmer

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on what new communicators/public relations staffers can expect walking into a new communications job. There was so much to cover, it was impossible to share everything in one post. I’m sharing other helpful info in this follow-up article. From learning public relations is larger than media, to fangirling over journalists, below is a list of what you can expect as a new-ish communicator.

You’ll idolize journalists.When you spend weeks sending pitching without landing a story, you’ll be elated when you finally capture the attention of the fourth estate. The feeling of getting a return email or voicemail is like receiving money from the friend who borrows but never pays back. It’s like receiving an unexpected deposit in your checking account. Of course, not all journalists are pleasant, but the positive ones far outweigh their counterparts.

You’ll work with consultants. At some point in your career, you’ll work with a communications consultant. If you’re territorial or have control issues, you’ll hate working with consultants. If you’re open to elevating your game, or appreciate having an extra set of hands, you’ll love it. Here’s the thing, not all consultants will be the right fit for you or your organization, but you can learn from every experience. I remember working with a consultant early in my career who was demanding and at times, unpleasant. I would sometimes complain about their approach, but a senior executive helped me to appreciate the opportunity to learn all I could from someone who’d had significantly more experience than I did. With this executive’s coaching, I was able to put personal feelings aside and focus exclusively on what this individual had to offer. When I got out of my feelings, I got on with learning and that I grew tremendously. Another benefit of consultants is they can bring a fresh perspective, helping you generate creative approaches to challenges or get to or remain on the cutting edge. The key is to pick the right one, and then insist they bring you and other communications staff along. In other words, you need to know how the consultant is doing the work as well as their reasoning in order to grow your skill set.

You’ll learn PR is more than media. To expand on my last point, PR pros and our colleagues must remember that PR is more than media relations. Your team’s and your own skills and voice are critical to anything external facing from your company. The executive assistant should not be writing your CEO’s talking points and the program team should not be approving their own materials.

You’ll learn Project Management. Sure, you’re a PR staffer, but you’ll also be a project manager and will use more project management skills than is realized by other industries or taught in communications schools in college. Working with consultants or other departments in your company requires managing them. Consultants are incredibly useful and your colleagues in other departments are critical to your work, but you’ll learn the value in being firm and clear with expectations and goals. If you work as an in-house communications associate with consultants or an agency, you will have to manage your relationship with them in the same way you manage campaigns or initiatives.

Now that I’ve shared my tips, feel free to share them with others. Best of luck!

 

Jennifer R. Farmer is a strategic communicator, lecturer and the author of “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide.” Connect with her on Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR or visit www.jenniferrfarmer.org.

What You Can Expect as a New Communicator

If you’re prepping for your first day in an entry-level communications position, you’re probably unsure what to expect. You may have questions about the company culture, or perhaps you want to know the rules of engagement for navigating your new environment. If this is the position you find yourself, you will love this post. From being a brand ambassador to learning different parts of the organization, below is a list of what every new communicator should know prior to stepping into that communications position.

You’ll be captain of the company fan club. To be effective in communications and public relations, you must believe in your company’s vision, mission and purpose. The work is too hard to be a less eager enthusiast. For all of the organizations I have worked for, I have believed in their mission. I may have had concerns with the internal workings or the management style, and that is not to be taken likely, but the reason I stayed was because I believed in the broader vision. The vision also aligned with my viewpoints and life’s calling. In these cases, I didn’t mind putting in long hours, because I believed the company was making a difference.

You’ll learn more than you imagine. One of the best parts of my career in communications is having had an opportunity to work on a host of campaigns that I might not ordinarily have engaged. Because communicators are among the few departments that touch an entire organization, communicators have an opportunity to learn a ton. For instance, if your organization has three main issues areas, chances are you’ll have to work with those departments to help communicate their work internally and externally.

Your colleagues will become future references. Even if your first job isn’t ideal or you don’t love your supervisor, you may need them in the future. Everyone knows someone and each time you apply for a job, the new employer may knowingly or unknowingly contact former colleagues for references. Find a co-worker you connect with, and who could serve as a reference when you do move on. In the best of circumstances, recognize when you have a really amazing boss and/or team, and make the effort to stay in touch. Long term professional relationships and mentors are incredibly valuable. You may not even realize how much you learned or how talented your colleagues or boss were until you’re not working with them anymore.

You’ll work hard, but it will be worth it. PR is one of the most fascinating career fields. Every day is different.  You may literally go from flying high after a major event to reeling from an unexpected crisis. One day you could be celebrating a huge grant and another you could be staffing your CEO who is speaking at the World Economic Forum. Whatever it is – it’s likely to occasionally go beyond a strict 9am – 5pm job. If you’ve managed a major event, one where you garnered media attention, you’ll find yourself getting up before dawn to search for media coverage of your event. Your schedule may be unpredictable, but it will also be exciting. PR people are on the front lines and that means you will learn the skills necessary to not only be a great PR person, but a real leader.

You’ll occasionally meet non-communications staffers who think they can do your job. You read that right. Communications is a highly skilled arena, but people who do it well, do it so well that others think it’s easy. I don’t want to suggest that communicators shouldn’t accept feedback or solicit ideas from people outside of the communications department. Some of the best ideas for campaigns are co-created with legal counsel, development, political or organizing staff. That being said, you should expect that many people will see you work effortlessly and believe they can do your job. When this happens, offer context and remind your colleagues that a leader wouldn’t send a communicator into a court room and ask that individual to argue a case nor should someone untrained in managing communications be sent in unaided and uninstructed to lead a press conference or arrange a company public affairs campaign.

There, now you have it. These are a few things you should know as an entry-level communicator. With this insight, you’re well on your way to a successful career in communications and public relations.

Jennifer R. Farmer is a strategic communicator, lecturer and the author of “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide.” Connect with her on Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR or visit www.jenniferrfarmer.org.

Building a Brand from the Inside Out

Building a Brand from the Inside Out

by Jennifer R. Farmer

Put your money where your mouth is. We’ve heard this phrase since early childhood. It usually implies the tried and true lesson of say what you mean and do what you say, or it can literally mean spending time or money on causes or issues you claim of personal importance. But it is also critical in internal business practices, both for protecting the workplace culture and also the organization’s reputation. As public relations professionals, we have the responsibility to advise colleagues, company leaders, as well as clients to adhere to the organization’s mission statement in both external and internal communications. Building a brand must start from the inside out.

Many of us have had professional experiences that did not match up with what was claimed on the website or sold in an interview. Being victim to bait and switch advertising in hiring has farther reaching consequences than unhappy employees. Once an organization develops a reputation for poor internal culture, the effectiveness and credibility of the business itself is at stake.

The tragic downfall of Thinx CEO Miki Agarwal is a prime example. The fiercely feminist company selling “underwear for people with periods” was known for its shocking NYC subway advertisements, which even seemed to overshadow the company’s cause; however, the campaign was so successful in awareness raising, it also brought to light the mismatching HR practices with the feminist ideas the company promoted. Accused of horrible benefits at best and worst sexual harassment at worst, Agarwal made a less than heroic exit, and the company’s reputation was ruined.

As progressive communicators working on social impact campaigns, implementing fair and equal practices in the workplace is critical to effectively communicating our message. To become a brand people trust, your people must trust their leadership and each other.

That means building a team of individuals that will not only work hard, but work well together. Many organizations go through standard team building exercises and personality tests, but nothing replaces a natural commitment to collaboration and inherent respect for one another and new ideas. Often attitudes are most affected by the internal environment and what is allowed to become “normal” or “standard”. Avoid an internal PR crisis by committing to a transparent, authentic, and morally sound work environment, just as you would advise your company or clients in external communications.

Inspirational speaker Alexander den Heijer has said, “When a flower doesn’t bloom, we change the environment in which it is growing, not the flower.” Whether building, reorganizing or adding to a team, implement the right organizational practices, attitudes and leadership that will allow a team, the company, and its message to thrive.

Jennifer R. Farmer is a strategic communicator and the author of “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide.” Connect with her by following Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR.

Here’s How to Make Your Next Presentation Pop

by Jennifer R. Farmer

 

Few things are as gut-wrenching and anxiety-inducing as public speaking. It doesn’t matter how much you prepare, there are almost always worries that, despite your best efforts, you’ll freeze up the moment the spotlight shines your way. Public speaking elicits a host of what ifs and worst-case scenarios – “what if no one shows up?” “What if the audience rejects or heckles me?” “What if I have a wardrobe malfunction?” – that left unchecked, could ruin your speech or presentation before it even begins. While there are few tried-and-true methods for easing the anxiety associated with speaking in public, there are a few things you can do to increase your likelihood of success.

  • Speak with the End Game or Desired Outcome in Mind. For a speech to be effective, you should be clear about your desired outcome. Your remarks should be driving toward a unifying purpose or goal. When you’re clear about your desired outcome, you are careful to reiterate key points to ensure your audience understands and retains your main message. When you’re clear about your desired outcome from a speech, it will have focus and direction, which is then easier for your audience to follow. I was working with a presentation coach, Meghan Dotter of Portico PR, and she really upended what I thought I knew about public speaking. Before I met Meghan, I believed my job when I spoke publicly was to wow my audience with how much I knew. I would ramble off fact after fact or case study after case study to underscore my breadth of knowledge. I shared so much information that I was actually undercutting my goal of inspiring people to purchase my book. With the cliff notes version I gave in my speech, I essentially shared everything that was in the book, prompting some to wonder, “Do I really need to purchase this after all?” After a presentation coaching session, I learned that I only needed to share enough information to inspire listeners to buy the book. I’ve since learned to get clear with myself on not only the topic for the speech or presentation but also the desired outcome: What do I want people to do as a result of sitting through my presentation or speech.
  • Make it Interactive. For many of us, it is extremely difficult to sit through a presentation that is longer than 15 minutes. It is also really easy to check out, especially with smartphones, computers and other devices that offer myriad things we can do to make time go fast. Unless your presentation is interactive, you will struggle to get and maintain your audience’s attention. Interactive presentations also lead to increased retention and learning. You can introduce interactions with your audience by including exercises, asking questions, soliciting volunteers and generally planning points of engagement.
  • Adapt to Your Audience. When you prep for a speech, you may envision how everything will flow. You may have a sense of when you’ll hit each point and how the audience will react. But as with most things in life, speeches don’t always go according to plan. I recently facilitated a communications training for a group of leaders who were honing their campaign manager skills. The attendees were lively, engaged and fired up. They were far more engaged than most audiences I typically train, and I had to adapt and match their energy. When I sensed the room was fired up, I decided in the moment that I needed to engage them and give them a role in my presentation. I quickly recruited an “Amen Corner,” a table of participants who could back me up at different points throughout the presentation. I then asked the audience of 50 people to help me select the table that would be the Amen Corner. This set the tone for the presentation and subtly suggested to the audience that I was looking for group I believe my willingness to adapt helped me to deliver one of the best presentations I’ve ever given. I left the room energized and excited, and judging from evaluations, I believe attendees did too.
  • Set the Atmosphere. When you present, you are contending with a host of factors. You are dealing with whatever happened to you the morning or the day before your presentation. You may be experiencing jitters, and you may be questioning whether you are adequately prepared. In the same way that you are contending with a lot, each person in your audience is contending with his or her own bag of blues or challenges. This could cause audience members to tune out. When you speak, it’s critically important to set the atmosphere. You could do this by creating ground rules such as “step up, step back,” where you encourage attendees to be mindful of how they and others engage, or “throw glitter, not shade,” where you encourage attendees to share affirmations versus harmful critique. You could even set the atmosphere by including music at breaks, having designated people to engage the crowd between breaks to keep them present and excited. The point is that excellent speeches rarely happen – you have to create the conditions that make them possible.

While many typically fear public speaking, these tips are gleaned from actual experience and may very well help you deliver an engaging and memorable presentation. Be sure to drop me a line in the comment section below to let me know any other tips you have to offer.

 

Jennifer R. Farmer is a strategic communicator and the author of “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide.” Connect with her by following Facebook.com/Tips4ExtraordinaryPR.

In Today’s Media Landscape, Opinion Essays Are a Communicator’s Best Friend

By Jennifer R. Farmer

It is becoming more challenging than ever to secure earned media, or media one doesn’t have to pay for. Not only do public relations pros outnumber journalists 4 to 1, but journalists are increasingly asked to do more with less. Further, it appears the media is consumed with the latest offering from, or the latest activity in, the Trump administration.

Even when an issue is noteworthy, communicators face an uphill battle garnering media coverage. While it’s harder than ever to secure media coverage, the desire for media attention is unrelenting. I’m responding by utilizing opinion essays. Opinion essays are guest columns usually between 700 and 800 words. They have one or two bylines and represent opinion bolstered by provable facts.

If you’re interested in pursuing opinion essays as a strategy to share your message, here are five tips to ensure your column is published.

  1. Know Your Outlet and Who It Caters To. I once submitted an essay three times to a publication before I nailed exactly what it was looking for. The opinion editor was patient, but in an age where journalists must do more with less, she is likely an anomaly. Most editors won’t bother to respond to a pitch or essay that isn’t carefully tailored to their publication. While the sting of rejection is biting, op ed writers can decrease the prospect of rejection by researching the angle of the publication prior to pitching. Reading the publication’s opinion section provides insight into the content the publication is most likely to publish.
  2. Review the Publication’s Submission Guidelines. No two publications are the same. Some require exclusivity; some do not. Some accept anonymous columns, while others do not. Some require opinion essays to be between 700 and 800 words, and some want long-form essays or pieces containing at least 1,000 words. Since most media outlets include submission guidelines on their platforms, take care to ensure your essay conforms with what various outlets require. The submission guidelines are generally posted on the opinion section of online media outlets. In some instances, publications, such as The New York Times, Inc. and Truthout, write articles highlighting what they look for when considering opinion pieces.
  3. Include Links Backing Up Your Position. While an opinion essay is your opinion, if you’re seeking to be published in a journalist outlet, you’ll need to include supporting documentation to prove claims you make in the essay. Even if you believe your position is beyond dispute, insert links in your article to verify your point. Not only does doing so increase your credibility, it also saves opinion editors the time of having to research the points made in your essay or column. Separately, with persistent claims of #FakeNews, media outlets are under increasing scrutiny. To protect their interests and corporate reputation, they must verify claims published on their platforms.
  4. Be the First to Weigh In. Like other journalists, opinion editors are inundated with content from policymakers, influencers and savvy communicators. Waiting even a few days to respond to a breaking news item may be a few days too late. Some opinion editors accept the first well-written, error-free guest columns they receive. So, if you’re seeking to share your message with the world via an opinion essay, strive to be the first to weigh in. This means submitting your essay within hours, but at the latest, within a day of breaking news. The trick is to be timely without sacrificing quality. If you can do this, you’ll likely see your name, not quite in lights, but in the opinion section of notable media outlets.
  5. Know Whether Exclusivity is Required. Many publications such as the Washington Post insist on original content, meaning they won’t publish your work if it’s been posted on publishing platforms (LinkedIn Pulse, Medium or Facebook), posted on a personal blog or shared with other media outlets. Prior to submitting an essay for publication consideration, understand whether exclusivity is required and then honor the publication’s preferences.

By following these tips, I’m confident you’ll have success sharing your message via columns and opinion essays. And should you still not find success, you could always post your content on self-publishing platforms such as a personal website, Facebook, LinkedIn Pulse or Medium. In fact, one of the keys to boosting traffic on your personal blog or website is regular, fresh content. So, if your goal is to increase traffic to your website, posting essays there may be your best route. If your goal is to reach a specific subset of people who subscribe to, say, the Wall Street Journal, you’re better off trying to get your article published there. The bottom line is that even in today’s crowded media market, you have several options to secure media coverage.

The Path to Media Attention is Action

By Jennifer R. Farmer

Throughout my career, I’ve met countless people who had lofty dreams and larger-than-life aspirations. Most of them were passionate about a particular issue, and they wanted the world to know. It’s not hard to understand why; media attention offers a type of validation that signals to clients, potential clients, funders, allies and others that an individual is making a positive impact.

For much of my career, I’ve worked to help leaders and organizations receive media attention for the incredible work they were spearheading.

But media attention is highly addictive. Regardless of how much one gets, there’s usually a desire for a bit more. The exception, of course, is when the media is lambasting an individual. Outside of negative coverage, many of us have an insatiable appetite for media coverage.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, the path to sustained media coverage is action.

When I think about truly remarkable leaders, I realize that they are active; they are constantly doing something in furtherance of their calling or working to influence positive change.

The experiences of two of my favorite entertainers and producers, Tyler Perry and Steve Harvey, underscore this point. When Perry got the idea to produce stage plays, he invested all he had on his first show, only to attract a mere 30 people. He spent $12,000 – his life savings at the time – on the show, rented out a theater and a little more than a couple dozen people showed up. He had this experience for years before ultimately finding success. In his case, the path to success was to refuse to stop, even in the face of disappointing failure. Harvey also suffered through years of disappointment, estrangement from his family, financial lack and homelessness before finally striking it big. There would be no “Steve Harvey Morning Show,” “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” or Harvey as host of “Family Feud” had he embraced a life of inactivity. These leaders didn’t necessarily set out to garner media attention; they set out to share their gifts with the world. The media attention was a byproduct of their life’s calling.

If you’re a communicator under pressure from colleagues who want to be recognized in the court of public opinion, encourage them to get busy doing work they care about. Help them tease out the pieces of their work that may be most appealing to the media and be a thought partner offering honest feedback. Listen for what’s unique about their work and then use the uniqueness as an entry point to pitch them to the media.

If you’re an executive desiring more publicity, the path to notoriety is sustained, long-term action. By “action,” I mean doing work that you truly care about, and work that fills a void.

It doesn’t hurt to hire public relations staff but be clear that a communicator’s role is to amplify; it’s to serve as a megaphone testifying to what is already occurring.

For example, I recently arranged a meeting with media executives and colleagues who work on gun violence and mass incarceration. The discussion went well, and I expect it will result in media coverage. While I set up the meeting, the discussion would have been futile if my colleagues didn’t have a body of work that demonstrated their promising approach to addressing gun violence and mass incarceration. Had they lacked experiential evidence of their work, the interview may have gone poorly.

The bottom line: If you want media attention, get busy working on your craft or your life’s purpose. I’m confident you’ll find that media coverage is a byproduct of sustained action.

 

Kerner at 50: A Lot Has Changed, and Much Remains the Same

It’s been 50 years since the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission, declared “our nation is moving towards two societies, one Black, one white – separate and unequal.” Named after Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner, Jr., the panel consisted of 11 elected officials, labor and civil rights leaders from across the country. Formed at the behest of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the group was charged with not only determining the origins of the race riots of 1967, but issuing recommendations on how to prevent such upheavals in the future.

Just seven months after they began their investigation, the commission detailed their findings. Chief among the findings, the commission determined that the media was partly culpable for the riots. They found that “The press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and white perspective.”  They did this by maintaining predominantly white staffs, and greatly sensationalizing coverage of African Americans. To remedy the problem, the commission recommended racial diversity in the media.

Five decades since the explosive report, and newsrooms around the country have a long way to go to ensure racial diversity in hiring and promoting staff of color. In their 2017 annual survey of newsrooms, the American Society of Newsroom Editors “…found that 25.5 percent of the news organizations reported having at least one minority journalist among their top three editors, and 74.8 percent reported having at least one woman in a top-three position.” While this is progress, it is not the ideal.

It’s not that there hasn’t been improvement in the racial composition of media outlets. But journalists of color are too often locked out of high-profile political reporting assignments. Since the issuance of the Kerner report in 1968, reporters covering the White House as correspondents, are mostly white.

Even when the ranks of journalists of color swelled, the increase didn’t necessarily correspond to an increase in power or decision-making authority. This has disastrous consequences for people of color. Without racial diversity, media coverage of people of color sometimes lacks context and humanizing information. And sometimes the words and phrases used to describe African Americans are belittling or less-than-flattering. In an article describing American Urban Radio Network White House Correspondent April Ryan being omitted from the White House Holiday Party, Newsweek labeled her “combative.” Black women already contend with the “angry” label, and the media doesn’t need to pile on.

Separately, many media outlets and reporters tend to humanize white subjects, even when they are accused of heinous crimes. When Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock opened fire from his Mandalay Bay hotel room, killing 59 people and injuring at least 500 others, multiple media outlets, as Sarah Ruiz-Grossman pointed out, charitably labeled him a “lone wolf” and a “country music fan.” I can’t imagine an African American, Latino, or Native American man inflicting as much harm as Paddock without media outlets reporting on a pathology of crime and criminal mischief.

In articles highlighting police brutality, some reporters and media outlets highlight the victims’ mistakes as if to suggest they are undeserving of sympathy or to blame for their poor treatment. After McKinney, TX police officer Eric Casebolt aggressively manhandled 15-year-old Dejerria Becton — grabbing her by her braids, shoving her face-first into the ground, and then straddling her vulnerable body – several media hosts suggested she provoked the attack. NBC’s Megyn Kelley, who at the time worked for Fox News, quipped that the 15-year-old child “looked like a woman, not a 15-year-old girl” and that she “wasn’t a saint either.”

When Brock Turner stood trial for sexually assaulting a female student, some media outlets referred to him as the former “Stanford Swimmer,” rather than a sexual abuser. I’m not suggesting that people who make mistakes shouldn’t be afforded grace, but too often the grace is given based on race. I believe greater diversity in media newsrooms would correct for this, but everyone loses when media corporations hire one profile of people.

If we want to build bridges that allow people from all races and walks of life to “see” and sympathize with one another, racial diversity in the media must be a higher priority.

Roughly 50 years after the Kerner report, a lot has changed and much remains the same.

 

Jennifer R. Farmer is a strategic communicator and author of “Extraordinary PR, Ordinary Budget: A Strategy Guide.” Follow her on Twitter @Farmer8J.