This is not an obituary.
This is a series of memories that in some way, have to explain depth of the loss .
A noted activist, journalist, and president of the Robert C. Maynard institute for Journalism Education, Dori J. Maynard died last night at the age of 56, her life’s work still in progress.
I met Dori about seven years ago, at a conference about racial justice. After I wrapped my panel, she walked up to me, as immaculately turned out as always, and asked for my help in understanding a new tool: Twitter. Over the years, we became close, meeting up at the Harvard Club, having hilarious dinners at cozy little spots in and around Oakland, heading to her friend Jan’s jewelry store and spending leisurely afternoons at Market Hall and Monkey Forest Road. Dori became an advisor, a mentor, and a beloved friend.
I don’t know how to summarize her life in a way that would make sense to someone who doesn’t know her. It’s very easy to point to her accomplishments, as there were many. I could say she was the first daughter to follow her father’s footsteps and win a prestigious Nieman fellowship. (Later, she would change my life by forcefully encouraging me to apply to the Knight Fellowship at Stanford University).
Dori was definitely her father’s child. Robert C. Maynard was a media titan, a newsman, and a fierce advocate for diversity. His kind face stared out from photos in almost every room in her home, his books tucked away in the bookcase upstairs. She took on his work as her own, as if she could extend his life by extending his work.
I could talk about the Maynard Institute, which provided incisive media commentary and criticism and a robust training program, The Maynard Media Academy, which invested in up and coming executives of color. Under Dori’s leadership, the Media Academy transported journalists of color to Harvard Yard, to learn from the professors at Harvard Business School, to work on case studies, to create business plans, and to receive the kind of in depth training that most organizations don’t give any longer.
I had so much more to learn.
It isn’t enough to say that Dori was a tireless champion for diversity. Her calling in life was to help people understand one other. She never minimized the role of race in society, and courageously brought the subject up again and again. She countered every excuse she could find, always holding journalism to a higher standard, to truly represent the people of the United States of America. She often stressed the path to accuracy and fairness in journalism required a commitment to broadening the ranks of the press corps.
Dori’s death is a blow for many reasons, but it hits particularly hard considering the abysmal state of diversity in the news industry. In her own words:
“Every year when the American Society of News Editors releases its newsroom diversity census, we have the same dispirited conversation that sags under the weight of previous fruitless discussions.
For years, progress in diversifying newsrooms has stalled, and we never approached the goal of having the nation’s newsrooms reflect the nation’s diversity by the year 2000, instead the goal was revised to 2025.
According to the 2013 survey, only 12.37 percent of full-time daily newspaper journalists last year were people of color. People of color make up 37 percent of the U.S. population. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that people of color will be 42 percent of the population by 2025.
The nation and its news media are going in opposite directions, and the public is paying the price.
To tell the stories of communities of color, we’re relying increasingly on people who may have little or no knowledge about them.”
Dori knew that changing the tone, tenor, and composition of newsrooms was key to advancing racial justice across the nation. As long as the news peddled in stereotypical and discriminatory imagery, as long as it played a role in stoking the fear and mistrust of nonwhite citizens, our nation could never be whole.
I visited her last October, her illness was beginning to take hold. At the time she hadn’t put a name to it – I don’t know if she knew then and was just trying to shield us from the knowledge or if her doctors hadn’t figured out what it was yet. Richard Prince reports the cause of death was lung cancer.
Dori kept asking me to work on things: she wanted to build presentation take to venture capitalists to recast the Maynard Media Academy toward digital entrepreneurship; she wanted to host intimate events that would reshape the idea of talent acquisition by introducing the greatest minds of color in dinner parties and salons. As we talked, she tired easily, and I started to see that something was very wrong. We conducted most of these meetings from her bed, swaddled in blankets, bottles of red wine on the floor, Dori still rocking her hospital tags as she scheduled meetings and made plans.
I said this isn’t an obituary. It’s more of a call to action. We must honor Dori “Journalism” Maynard and her legacy, remember her work, and ensure that every single newsroom around the nation carries her words, not just in remembrance, but as a mantra:
For those who question the necessity of diversity, this should be a reminder that having people with different perspectives in the room can help us see what we are missing.