I was on a diversity panel with Dori Maynard a couple years ago, and opened by saying it was like being on a watchdog journalism panel with I.F. Stone. I said if Dori and I happened to disagree during the discussion, people should follow what Dori said because she would be right.
We lost Dori to lung cancer yesterday, and I am heartbroken.
Dori was the conscience of journalism. She was a wonderful combination of fierce, gentle, patient and persistent, and an absolutely outstanding teacher. She constantly reminded and taught us that diversity is more than a social issue, it is a journalism value, a matter of accuracy. We need to reflect the diversity of our communities in our coverage to cover the community accurately, Dori would say. And reflecting the diversity of our communities in our staffs would help us achieve the goal of accurate, diverse coverage of the community.
Whatever your excuse for failing to achieve diversity goals — and journalists and newsrooms always have excuses about diversity, because we nearly always fall short — Dori had an answer. Not a combative answer that called bullshit (though you knew she was calling bullshit), but an answer that explained why and how you needed to do more. An answer that made you want to do more. And an offer to help you do more.
I can’t think of anyone in journalism who more consistently called on our profession to do better and be better and helped us do better and be better.
I first met Dori in 2001 at a newsroom trainers conference at the Freedom Forum, when it was still based in Rosslyn, Va. Dori had been named President of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education earlier that year. The institute continued the work of her father, the late editor and owner of the Oakland Tribune, a giant of journalism and an early leader in efforts to bring more diversity to newsrooms.
We were both pretty new to our roles in newsroom training and grew in the field together and collaborated frequently.
Diversity was the theme of that 2001 conference, where I met Dori, but she was a regular at the conferences, whatever the theme, and we’d meet annually until the trainers conferences petered out in 2007 or so. I’d also run into Dori at other conferences, such as the American Society of News Editors and the Online News Association. (It was at the 2013 ONA conference that we were on a diversity panel together.)
— Amy L. Kovac-Ashley (@terabithia4) October 19, 2013
Over the years, I worked with Dori and the Maynard Institute in several different ways and became a friend and an admirer.
In the early 2000’s, when I was helping lead diversity efforts at the Omaha World-Herald, we used the Maynard Institute’s Reality Checks program to examine how well we were reflecting the diversity of our community in our content. It’s a humbling experience to think you’re working hard to reflect your community accurately, but then to examine the data you collected yourselves that shows a much whiter, more male picture than you know your community to be.
I also helped the Maynard Media Academy as a trainer for a leadership program at the Nieman Foundation in 2010.
I helped another Maynard program on an impromptu basis. Friends working in that program learned through social media that I would be in Reno at the same time they would be leading a Maynard multimedia editing seminar at the University of Nevada Reno. They quickly made plans to add me to the program, leading a session on Twitter.
In 2011, MediaNews Group, which had bought the Oakland Tribune from the Maynard family in 1992, had decided to eliminate the titles of some of its newspapers, including the Tribune, in a consolidation of operations in the Bay Area News Group.
Before that happened, in September 2011, the Journal Register Company, where I worked, made a deal to run MediaNews Group, a deal which created Digital First Media. Before long, Dori, who still lived in Oakland and kept the institute operations there, was on the phone to me. She explained the Tribune’s history and importance to the community, much of which I already knew. She encouraged me to do what I could to keep the Tribune alive.
I said I’d do what I could and passed her concerns along to John Paton, CEO of the three companies. John and other executives were already re-examining several aspects of plans for the Bay Area operations, and the new plans, announced in late October 2011, included keeping the Tribune as a separate masthead and moving the Tribune’s newsroom from a suburban office back into downtown.
I don’t know whether I had any impact on that decision, probably not, but Dori was grateful, and DFM had a strong partnership with the Maynard Institute.
The Oakland Voices project, spearheaded by my Oakland colleague Martin Reynolds, was a partnership with Maynard. I attended a Fault Lines training program Dori led for our Diversity Council and Training Council. We provided Fault Lines training in several newsrooms and did Reality Checks audits in others.
Dori did a Q&A with me about the importance of diversity and why we were making it a company priority.
In 2013, Dori interviewed me about diversity for a series of videos for the Front Door Project, a project observing the 20th anniversary of Robert C. Maynard’s death by honoring her father’s vision for fair, accurate media coverage for all.
I didn’t know Dori had cancer. Different people handle this disease differently. I’ve been more public about mine. I haven’t seen Dori since at least last fall, but maybe she’d have said something if our paths had crossed more recently. From afar, she encouraged me in my treatment without complaining of her own illness.
I treasure this tweet from Dori (who didn’t tweet a lot), praising a blog post of mine:
— Dori J. Maynard (@djmaynard) August 15, 2013
No, Dori, thank you. Whenever I talk or write about diversity, I reflect what I learned from you. RIP, dear friend.
I don’t know who will lead the Maynard Institute now. But just as clearly as Dori carried on her father’s work, someone needs to carry on the work of Dori Maynard.
Update: You can donate to support the work of the Maynard Institute here. I just did.