4 Ways Newsrooms Can Address a Lack of Diversity

The Editors, Columbia Journalism Review, June 16, 2016

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Newsrooms have addressed the issue in fits and starts over recent decades, but those efforts have stagnated in the past 10 years. In fact, the portion of newsrooms made up of people of color has actually ticked downward one percentage point during this period, according to the American Society of News Editors, from nearly 14 percent to less than 13 percent.

The lack of long-term change in this regard stems at least in part from media-wide apathy. But it’s a question of resources as well, especially in the face of the industry’s daunting financial prospects. How do you hire a staff that includes people of different races, genders, and experiences?

1. Acknowledge There Is A Problem

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Notably, the projections show states with the most collectively diverse newsrooms still average less than 50 percent minorities among working journalists. Narrowing the lens to New York City, the disparities between media companies and local populations become even more obvious. There’s no way to spin the data.

Breaking down job categories by race is equally telling: Journalists of color hold less than 10 percent of leadership roles, where major editorial decisions are made. Encouraging various perspectives in the newsroom fosters an environment of distinct ideas and stories that may ultimately help attract a broader readership. But before hiring for diversity, news organizations must first acknowledge that there is a problem.

2. Consciously Work To Overcome Barriers To Entry

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Betsy Wade, the first female copy editor at The New York Times, says companies have to put in the work to close the gaps in skills and groom individuals of color who have potential.

“For a while, the education of [minority journalists] had been neglected at each stage of the game,” Wade says. “So in order to prepare them for the newsroom, it’s going to cost news organizations extra training, extra time, and extra effort.”

In a 2015 manifesto on diversity, Stephanie Foo stresses the need for organizations to step outside their comfort zone when hiring. She mentions NPR’s Snap Judgement, which places job postings on Craigslist. It’s a unique way to attempt to open the pipeline for nontraditional candidates.

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4. Focus On Retention

Hiring with diversity in mind is just the beginning. Keeping minority journalists on board can be even more challenging. The retention rate for white journalists in 2015 was 86 percent across the industry, according to ASNE data, compared to 78 percent for journalists of color. This discrepancy contributes to the racial imbalance in leadership positions over time.

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In 1978, ASNE set a goal of increasing diversity within newsrooms to match that of the population by 2025. But it acknowledged in a press release last year that the lofty mission might not be accomplished. Let’s hope the organization is wrong, and that the increasing diversity of media–from old platforms like newspapers to new platforms like Snapchat–can be matched by that of the journalists who work there.

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