UC Berkeley News
Web Feature

UC Berkeley Web Feature

 Rich Bunnell (left), '05, former editor in chief and arts editor of the Daily Californian, with Sanjay Patel, third-year student and former classifieds manager, in the student-run newspaper's offices at Eshleman Hall. (Photos courtesy Daily Cal)

Laugh all you want as Daily Californian launches diversity scholarship with comedy fest

– Much to their chagrin, newsrooms around the country are overwhelmingly staffed by white, middle-class reporters and editors. The Daily Californian, UC Berkeley's award-winning, student-run newspaper, is no exception. Last year, only 1 of its approximately 115 employees was African-American, and just a handful were Latino.

The Daily Cal, however, has decided to do something about it. The newspaper's ratio of underrepresented minorities (and robust Asian-American membership) generally parallels that of the overall student body at UC Berkeley. But "just because the campus is like that doesn't mean we can't do better," says Adeel Iqbal, Daily Cal editor in chief and president, and a third-year student.

"We have a group of students who look and talk the same [as each other], and move in the same social circles, and I don't think an organization that looks and talks the same way can truly represent what's going on around this campus."

Iqbal's staff reached out to Berkeley student groups to discover what was behind the poor percentages, and heard from many that the Daily Cal was perceived as elitist. "They didn't feel like the paper was theirs," he says. More significantly, perhaps, many potential staffers also faced a financial barrier. Currently, beginning Daily Cal reporters earn only $8 for an article, even one that may have taken eight hours or more to report and write. "A lot of students can't write for us because they have to make rent and cover their school fees," says Iqbal.

To address that financial disincentive, the Daily Cal plans to launch a new diversity scholarship fund (goal: $50,000) that it hopes will entice a broader spectrum of applicants for both its editorial and business staff.

Daily Cal First Annual Comedy Fest
Tickets are $10 for the comedy show (8 pm) or $20 for both the show and the NFL alumni reception (6 pm). Both take place in the Pauley Ballroom of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union. Buy tickets

On Thursday, March 2, the Daily Cal will host its first-ever comedy night, with all profits earmarked for the diversity fund. An impressive array of 11 Bay Area comedians has volunteered to amuse and scandalize audiences on the Daily Cal's behalf, including San Francisco resident Ali Wong, who riffs on local targets from Chinese grandmothers on MUNI to white Haight Street men wearing dreadlocks, and Edwin Okong'o, a Berkeley journalism graduate student better known as "the African Prince of Comedy." Also performing will be "Godfather of Comedy" Frank Kidder, who created the San Francisco International Stand-up Comedy Competition in the '70s and helped launch the careers of Robin Williams, Ellen DeGeneres, Jerry Seinfield and Eddy Murphy, to name but a few.

Before the show, several members of the Northern California NFL Alumni Association will mingle with ticket holders at a reception. Among the former football stars are Henry "Model T" Ford (Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns), Steve Kinney (Chicago Bears), and Gary Weaver (Oakland Raiders & Green Bay Packers).

Although the details of the diversity scholarship fund have not yet been worked out - "since there's nothing in the fund yet," Iqbal admits cheerfully - the general plan is to set up several scholarships of around $500 to $1,000 to augment regular Daily Cal salaries.

 Adeel Iqbal Daily Californian editor in chief  and president
'The skills that you learn here not only prepare you for a career in journalism, they prepare you for any number of careers. We want to open up that head start to people who can really use it.'
-Adeel Iqbal
Daily Californian editor in chief
and president

Iqbal stresses that the fund will be open to anyone. "We're looking for all forms of diversity - economic, people with disabilities, even political," he says, laughing that campus Republicans definitely qualify as an underrepresented minority. "True diversity comes from having different opinions."

Fund recipients will not be expected to write about their respective communities, Iqbal says, pointing out that although he is one of the Daily Cal's three Muslims, he does not feel confined to covering his religion on campus. Rather, scholarship recipients will be able to give better feedback about the accuracy of pieces that do touch on those communities, and provide an awareness of where sensitivities might lie. (It's a safe guess that certain Danish newspapers probably had no Muslims among the staff members who decided to publish racially and religiously offensive cartoons recently.)

The Daily Cal is looking to diversify its business side as well, including its accounting, advertising sales, distribution and production teams. "The skills that you learn here not only prepare you for a career in journalism, they prepare you for any number of careers," says Iqbal. "We want to open up that head start to people who can really use it."

UC Berkeley does not offer an undergraduate degree in journalism, although it is home to one of the country's top graduate schools for the field. Many joke that the Daily Cal plays the role of journalism boot camp, before students go off to the newsrooms and business departments of major media outlets around the country. Daily Cal alumni can be found at the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other places.

Eight-six percent of the staff in those newsrooms are white, according to a 2005 national survey. Only 5.6 percent of their employees were African-American. In order for big media to increase its diversity, the places that prepare the troops - journalism schools and student newspapers like the Daily Cal - have to bulk up their ranks to create a trickle-up effect.

"Everyone's talking about it, but it has to start at the base level," points out Iqbal. "If you don't have people who are trained, who will they hire?"

 

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