Pepperdine journalism advisor gives tips on covering diversity and inclusion in a visit to Harker Journalism


Lucy Ge

Elizabeth J. Smith, the Director of Pepperdine Graphic Media, discussed COVID-19 coverage and equitable reporting in a visit with Harker Journalism on Dec. 9.

by Lucy Ge, News Editor

Director of Pepperdine Graphic Media (PGM) Elizabeth R. Smith visited period four Harker journalism on Dec. 9, speaking about her experience advising Pepperdine University’s journalism staff and giving advice on covering campus diversity issues and the pandemic. 

According to Smith, since the March stay at home orders, the Pepperdine journalism program has been publishing “non-stop” on the Graphic news site and is currently working on a diversity study of their past 10 years of coverage to identify gaps in inclusion of voices in the publication. Smith showed upper school journalism staff Graphic’s latest special edition, titled “By the Numbers,” which features multiple stories on diversity and inclusion issues at Pepperdine, covering racial conflict, Pepperdine’s religious framework, and acceptance of LBGTQ+ students

“Think about what your audience needs to hear,” she advised upper school journalism students on reporting about diversity-related or COVID-related stories. “So students at your school, teachers at your school, what are the stories that they’re not hearing? Or what questions do they have that aren’t being answered by the administration?”

Smith, who was also a high school journalist, encouraged upper school journalists to be aware that covering issues like COVID-19 and racial justice can be “deeply personal” for journalists too and to give themselves “some grace” when covering such issues. 

Humans of Harker co-Managing Editor Esha Gohil (11) found Smith’s message of inclusion useful to think about for ensuring representation of different perspectives in the upper school’s publications. 

“When she said, ‘Who have you not covered yet? Think through that when you’re going through sources,’ I think that was really helpful, and if we started doing that more, we would be able to a broader, more diverse group [of sources],” she said.

Humans of Harker staff writer Sally Zhu (10) also enjoyed hearing from Smith and seeing a glimpse of the Graphic’s work on their website. 

“I was really interested in [what] her staff is doing, like the 10-year diversity review, and I’ll definitely go back and look at their special editions more slowly,” she said. 

Besides talking about reporting on diversity-related issues, Smith also answered questions from Harker Journalism students and talked about how the Pepperdine staff overcame the difficulty of covering sports in a pandemic, including giving updates on how past Pepperdine sports players are doing and using a weekly repeater to cover National Football League (NFL) updates. 

“The outline for what [the] sports [section] should look like was pretty cool,” Winged Post co-Sports Editor Muthu Panchanatham (11) said. “We can definitely do short pieces that we can have every week.”