Journalism class to examine Omaha World-Herald coverage for racism

Friday, January 28, 2022 - 3:00pm

A spring 2022 class in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications is engaging students to examine past coverage by the Omaha World-Herald to determine if the coverage was true, fair and accurate.

The Omaha World-Herald was founded in 1885. Throughout its history, the state’s premier daily newspaper has covered major events and eras both locally and nationally.

In the fall of 2022, current Omaha World-Herald editor Randy Essex approached Shari Veil, dean of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications, about partnering on a project to examine past OWH reporting to determine if racism existed in its coverage. Dean Veil agreed and quickly tapped two of the college’s faculty, Joseph Weber, Jerry and Karla Huse Professor of News-Editorial and Shoun Hill, visiting professor and photojournalist for the Associated Press, to teach the course.

“The proposed project presents a tremendous opportunity for the college,” Veil said. “Our students will gain a deep understanding of bias and racism in reporting, while we help the state’s largest newspaper examine its history and improve its practices.”

The class will be conducted as an independent investigation. While the Omaha World-Herald is assisting in archival research, the editors will defer to the students and faculty in the course’s examination of past coverage.

Twenty-one students are enrolled in the course ranging from freshmen to graduate students and adult learners. Students will work together to identify what topics to focus on including past historical events and eras. “We are seeking to cover topics from Wounded Knee to George Floyd,” Weber said.

Once the topics are finalized students will collect OWH coverage of those events. They will also identify experts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and elsewhere on the selected topics and work with them to review the coverage.

After a review, students will conduct in-depth interviews with the experts. According to Weber, the key question for the experts will be “was the coverage fair, accurate and complete? If it wasn’t, that will become apparent, and our students will pose questions about any shortcomings to experts and people involved in the stories. ” The evaluation will include both the writing and visual portrayals included in past coverage.

Students will then produce stories sharing the experts' findings. The stories will include visuals as well. “For me, my goal is to get the students to think visually when they are researching their stories,“ Hill said. “That means looking at and showing how the OWH portrayed, or didn’t, people of color, but most importantly for the students, they have to figure out the visuals for stories without historical photos. I think that will be their biggest challenge. My challenge will be guiding them to get the photos they need and that best tell the story.”

The Omaha World Herald linked to 18 student reports in the article "UNL journalism class explores World-Herald's past coverage of race" by Christopher Burbach on Dec. 18, 2022.

Computer Screen of the Omaha World-Herald