From the editor: Headline is a reminder of why we need diversity training

Alan D. Miller
The Columbus Dispatch
An inappropriate headline on a story this week did not reflect the values or standards of our newsroom.

A painful and embarrassing headline appeared on a story inside the Metro section on Tuesday. It used an insensitive and inappropriate word to describe immigrants who entered the country illegally.

The word dehumanizes already marginalized people. 

We understand the power of our words, the effects they can have, and how important it is to choose the right words. In this case, an editor chose the wrong word.

The headline did not reflect who we are. And it certainly did not reflect the values and work ethic of the reporter whose byline was on the story and who was hired specifically to illuminate the stories of immigrants and refugees. She did not write the headline.   

Such missteps are hurtful to our readers, and, as I told our staff in a memo on Tuesday, they undermine our credibility and our very deliberate efforts to be inclusive.

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I have addressed this with the editor who handled this story and who should have caught this. We also spoke with leaders of the team of page proofers to ask for their vigilance as the final gatekeepers.

The headline appeared in print the same morning that the newsroom staff was meeting with Courtnee Carrigan, CEO of Raising the Bar Performance Group in Columbus, for the second of three workshops to increase our sensitivity and help us do a better job of diversity and inclusion.

The headline was a stark reminder of why we need such training.

Carrigan told us of the need to be aware of our own biases, preferences and blind spots.

She explained the need to "actively seek and consider other views and perspectives to inform better decision-making."

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The editor who wrote that headline and allowed it to go forward clearly did not do that, and that person is now keenly aware of the mistake and the consequences.

Carrigan is a passionate and dynamic leader, one who has a positive outlook on the future based on a clear strategy to get there. She also has a remarkable way of making a person feel good about feeling uncomfortable, and she is committed to walking people through uncomfortable conversations toward making us better people.

She reminded us that we need to make people feel included by asking for their opinions. We need to be committed to staying the course when we commit to doing the right thing. We need to weave diversity, equity and inclusion into our business. We need to share our journeys. And we need to act.

Courtnee Carrigan,  CEO and executive trainer, Raising the Bar Performance Group:

And, Carrigan said, we need to act with empathy and humility, which allow us to understand and share the feelings of others, and to put others before ourselves. That's where we need to be so that we can encourage others to share their feelings and give them hope that we care about them and take their views into account.

We will do all of those things.

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Some of you already have expressed your feelings to us, and we want you to know that we do hear you.

The learning journey, as Carrigan described this process, can be uncomfortable and painful. This experience demonstrated that to us, and I appreciate both the grace with which she acknowledged that humans make mistakes and her firm direction that we need to own up to them when we make them.

And learn from them.

Alan D. Miller is editor of The Dispatch.



Alan D. Miller