Gentle reminder to SND: diversity matters

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Just received the promotional mailing for this year’s international conference for the Society for News Design, to be held in Buenos Aires at end of September. Opened it up to the roster of speakers, a cavalcade of design stars, including a few friends. Some of whom spoke for us at seminars and conferences I directed in the visual journalism program at Poynter. Good people, all. (And aging well, friends!) This may be only an early accounting of the speakers lineup, with more thorough updates to come later. However, out of 34 speakers promoted in this piece with titles and mug shots …

  • Only four women?
  • Not one black speaker? Not one Asian? (The blue mug shot of an admired friend does make the cut.)
  • Very few seemingly under 40, or even 45?

Now, with respect to the organizers of this conference and others, attaining diversity in a roster of speakers is always tough. And this is an especially difficult year, due to SND internal challenges, and the economic climate, for planning such a conference. The invitees may reflect the practicality that South American speakers could attend more readily than those from the rest of the world (if this can be presumed).

But one of the first lessons taught to me when I came on board Poynter, by my mentors and dear friends Mario Garcia and Pegie Stark Adam (a torch carried on by Kenny Irby and Sara Quinn), was that the speakers we invited to seminars and conferences had to reflect a wide range of backgrounds (racial and otherwise), sizes of media outlets, and new blood in the industry, if our programs were to remain fresh and sharp. Youth was especially important, even if we ourselves needed to step off the stage to allow it. (And we did.)

Diversity of age (i.e., youth) is more important now than ever. As SND goes (wisely) more digital, it needs to keep the conversation fresh and provocative, via folks who weren’t trained in “the old ways” as many of us were, and who indeed stand to reinvent the industry. Fresh blood is needed in news design, as well as the conversations and conferences that guide it.

My admiration goes to those speakers who have agreed to give their time and talents (and perhaps travel money) to the conference, and to the organizers who, typically unpaid, work long hours outside the office to make it all happen. (And bravo to SND for eliminating or subsidizing student tuition to the conference.) But along with this, perhaps a challenge is in order: what if each of the design stars on the speakers roster were to identify one new star of color and/or age diversity, and bring them on board? As a co-speaker, panelist, or someone whose work they can showcase? Surely even in close-to-home countries in South America, these folks exist, and will enliven the good dialogue already being planned for Buenos Aires. Those of us not able to make it to that beautiful city will look forward to seeing these new voices represented in live blogging, other web posts, and the SND Design Magazine afterward.

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