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Dori Maynard, Journalism Diversity Advocate, Dies At 56

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We're going to look back now on the life of a powerful advocate for diversity in journalism. Dori Maynard was 56 when she died this week of lung cancer. NPR's Sam Sanders has this remembrance.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Since 2001, Dori J. Maynard was president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. Her father founded the organization in 1977. Dori Maynard told The HistoryMakers archive that the mission of the group was simple.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

DORI MAYNARD: We have to be able to tell stories that accurately and fairly reflect all of us.

SANDERS: Maynard said she wanted journalists to see things different ways and through different people's eyes. Dori Maynard helped start a program at the institute that pushed journalists to recognize blind spots in their coverage across five distinct areas - race, class, gender, generation and geography. In that same interview, she described the program in action.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

MAYNARD: We sent some people once to a neighborhood that had a lot of immigrants in it. And we asked the reporters to ask community members, how can people better cover you? And the community members said, well, you can stop looking at us from your middle-class point of view and stop calling us poor. You see two families living in one house and sharing a car, and so you think that's poor. And we say, we have a house, we have a car. We're not poor.

MARK TRAHANT: There was a decision made that diversity should include everybody.

SANDERS: Mark Trahant is the chair of the Maynard Institute's board of directors. And he says Dori Maynard's work wasn't just for people of color.

TRAHANT: From the very beginning, you had white people taking the same training programs as people of color. And what that did was it allowed people from a very privileged background to be, for the first time in their life, a minority. And it just changed the equation.

SANDERS: After her father died in 1993, Dori Maynard began working full-time at the institute. Before that, she'd spent years reporting at local papers throughout the country. Dori Maynard had big shoes to fill at the institute. Her father, Robert Maynard, was the first African-American to own a major metropolitan newspaper, the Oakland Tribune. Under his leadership, the paper went from being labeled the second-worst newspaper in the country to winning a Pulitzer Prize. Dawn Garcia is a managing director of the Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University. And she says, just by the sheer number of lives she touched, Dori Maynard succeeded.

DAWN GARCIA: There are very few journalists of color that don't know Dori (laughter).

SANDERS: Garcia says Maynard mentored many journalists, pushing them to go for that job they didn't think they'd get or advising them as they mapped out their careers. And Garcia says Maynard had a soft-spoken yet firm way of speaking truth, not just to journalists, but to institutions as well.

GARCIA: Sometimes people shy away talking about diversity, talking about race in journalism, not wanting to rock the boat. Dori was fearless.

SANDERS: And also relentless. Dori Maynard was holding meetings about the future of the institute and diversity in journalism on the morning of her death. Sam Sanders, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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