Diversity Aids Coverage of Sikh Killings

Journal-isms: Black editors helped to frame the questions after the shooting in Milwaukee.

Ed Brud/Journal Sentinal
Ed Brud/Journal Sentinal

Black Editors Helped Frame Questions in Milwaukee

A diverse newsroom leadership team helped deepen the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s coverage of Sunday’s killings at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, Martin Kaiser, senior vice president and editor, told Journal-isms on Monday.

Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran with white supremacist ties, opened fire before worship services in nearby Oak Creek, Wis., and killed six people before he was killed by police, U.S. Attorney James A. Santelle said Monday.

“The more diversity there is, the more that people ask questions,” Kaiser said by telephone. “If everybody grew up together and they all thought alike, I don’t think we’re going to get the best questions. It’s the culture of the newsroom that says, ‘how do we explain this to our community?’ . . . I love going down the newsroom and asking, ‘What have we forgotten?’ “

Leading the newsroom when the story broke was Ron Smith, assistant managing editor for production and an African American. Jill Williams, deputy managing editor for features, entertainment and new products, also a black journalist; Sherman Williams, a black journalist who is assistant managing editor for visual journalism; and Berford Gammon III, director of photography and a black journalist as well, were among the newsroom leaders, Kaiser said. “That sensitivity is really important.”

The Asian American Journalists Association on Sunday night issued a media advisory with “a few guidelines for organizations reporting on this tragedy,” starting with such basics as “The word ‘Sikh’ is pronounced ‘seek.’ ” It was updated on Monday.

Kaiser, a former president of the American Society of News Editors, said that “one of the first things we did was post a story for our readers to understand the background” on Sikhs. However, “the Sikh community owns a lot of gas stations in town,” so they aren’t as unknown as they might be, and Journal Sentinel staffers live near the temple. Visual Editor Ed Brud was one who lived nearby, and he shot photos of people at the temple after the incident.

Moreover, Sikhs had been in the news after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when many mistook them for Muslims.

On Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!,” Rajdeep Singh, director of law and policy at the Sikh Coalition, a civil rights and advocacy group based in Washington, faulted the news media for insufficient coverage of violence against Sikhs.

“Since the 9/11 attacks, unfortunately, the prevailing stereotype, which has been perpetuated by the media, is that if somebody wears a turban, they are associated with Al Qaeda or other forms of extremism,” Singh said. “That is obviously not the case. Unfortunately, ignorance is a breeding ground for bigotry and discrimination and Sikhs have been subjected, not only [to] crimes around the United States, but also to school bullying, job discrimination and racial profiling.”