How to Be an Ally in the Newsroom
Anyone can be a better ally to their marginalized colleagues, starting right now.
There are a lot of great resources available for people at all levels of employment who want to become better allies. This guide is meant to collect some of those resources and share examples specific to newsrooms and journalism groups.
Remember, there is no fully comprehensive guide that takes every single identity and potential conflict into account. There will be holes and missing information within this guide.
This is meant to be an actionable conversation starter for the journalism and technology community. There will be tips you can try today. There will be tips you can share with your boss, or your boss’s boss, or your team.
First, the easiest step
The easiest thing you can do is share this guide. Tweet it, Facebook it, post it in your favorite Slack community. Email it to your friends and colleagues. Print it out and post it in the break room near the coffee machine. Highlight key passages and share it with your newsroom’s leadership team.
What Being an Ally Means
Who can be an ally? You can! Anyone who recognizes their own place of privilege and wants to support diversity and inclusion can act as an ally.
What does it mean to be an ally? Being an ally is more than just agreeing that people from historically underrepresented backgrounds are valuable and have a place in society and our industry. Being an ally means:
Stepping outside your comfort zone
Stepping up to support your friends and colleagues
Acting to boldly amplify new ideas and advocate for inclusion
So what does this look like in real life? We’ve broken this list of ideas and tips into three buckets for different types of allies. Maybe you’ve never thought about diversity and inclusion a day in your life and—reading this article—you’ve had a lightbulb moment. Maybe someone forwarded this column to you, and you’re begrudgingly giving it a read. Maybe you already think you’re doing the right things and are looking to begin a deeper practice of being an ally.
No matter what stage of allyship you’re in, you can make a change today by adopting a new practice or sharing this guide with someone in your inner circle who needs to step up. So, you’re here. You’re ready. You’re willing. Let’s begin.
Try it Now
This list is for anyone who wants to make a change today. They’re just simple steps you or anyone can try.
- Normalize use of preferred pronouns by updating yours wherever possible. This signals to others that you’re aware of the concept of preferred pronouns and lets them know that you’ll be respectful of their preference. Places to update include:
- Email signatures
- Slack profile
- Twitter/Facebook bio
- Event nametags
- Don’t interrupt other people during meetings! Especially women. Especially women of color. Especially introverts on your team. But really, just use good manners universally, and you won’t have an issue interrupting and overriding other voices.
- Share your salary information with your colleagues. If you’re a man, tell a woman how much you make. If you’re white, tell a colleague of color how much you make. Transparency around compensation is easy and anyone can do it, formally or informally.
- Be aware of emotional labor and historically gendered tasks (note-taking during meetings, organizing social events, getting the birthday cards, ordering the team lunch, cleaning up after staff parties, etc) and find ways to have a role in absorbing this work. The easiest way is to just raise your hand and help do the work.
- Analyze your social sharing patterns, whether individually or from branded accounts. Are you amplifying mostly straight, white, male voices on Twitter and Facebook? Similarly, if you work with sources, analyze your own work: are you regularly quoting women, queer women, women of color, and so on?
- Analyze your social feeds: are you mostly following other journalists who do the same job as you do? Are you following people who retweet new voices into your feed, or are you trapped in an echo chamber? If you find your sources of information are overly monochromatic or sound like the same type of voice, spend 30 minutes looking for 10 new voices to follow.
- Buy a ticket and show up to events hosted by groups like AAJA, NABJ, NAHJ, NAJA, and NLGJA. You’ll often hear about Trivia Bowls or student scholarship fundraisers. Support the organizations in your local media market who are already advocating for diversity and inclusion. Show up to their events when invited. Buy a raffle ticket. Tweet about being there.
Try It Next
These are practices that you can start building into your daily routine. The keyword there is practice—these steps may make you uncomfortable at first, but they are designed to do so. None of this will change overnight. But these are some ideas for an ally who is looking to be more active and really change their behavior.
- Volunteer to be a mentor, a coach, or a sponsor for someone who comes from a different background than you do. This can be as simple as taking someone out for coffee and checking in on their career goals. It can also be as complex as referring someone from your network (again, who doesn’t look like you, doesn’t have the same background as you) for a new job or promotion.
- Actively amplify the voices of your underrepresented colleagues. Examples:
- “We’ve heard a lot from Todd, but I’m curious to hear more about what you think, Emma.”
- “That was a great idea you just had, Erika, can you elaborate on it?”
- Speak up against toxic or discriminatory language and behavior.This includes the umbrella of microaggressions and actions sometimes (wrongly) referred to as “casual” or “everyday” racism/sexism/homophobia. If you’ve only ever been on the side of the majority, the privileged or the aggressor in these situations, it can be hard to measure the impact of a simple intervention by someone speaking up to say, “Hey, that’s not cool.” It matters, and you can do it.
- Speaking of friends, get out there and make some! One thing you are totally in control of is the diversity of your own circle and personal/professional network. Not only does this improve the richness of your own experience, you’ll also start to have an answer when hiring managers ask, “Do you know any diverse candidates?” If you see a talented journalist of color or LGBT journalist whose work you admire, reach out to them. Meet them, connect with them, work with them, recommend them for stuff. Use the internet! Remember, if you’re a journalist, you regularly research, find, contact, and meet strangers for a living.
- Historically, women and people of color who advocate for diversity are penalized professionally for doing so. If you happen to be in a position of privilege, use it to make change in your workplace. It’s sad but true: in many companies, the same idea about how to boost diversity coming from a white man will be better received than if it came from a woman of color.
- Be humble about your cultural competency. Admit that you have holes in your knowledge base and educate yourself.
- Use your privilege to shine a light on colleagues who may fly under the radar, and leave a “paper trail” whenever you can:
- Be generous with compliments, but do even better by putting it in an email and CCing that colleague’s boss.
- Be generous with bylines and credits, especially for publication.
The Big Stuff
These tips and ideas are for folks who are not just in a position of privilege but who are also in a position of power. Maybe you manage a team of people. Maybe you’re involved in the hiring process for your organization. Maybe you’re a high-level executive looking to infuse your company’s culture with inclusivity and a prioritization of diverse experiences and thinking. These are some bigger-picture steps you can start exploring to bring about large-scale change.
- Post your jobs. Post them wide and far. Ask around—what Facebook groups or Slack communities should you be posting to, in addition to traditional job boards and email lists? You may even have to pay to post them to some communities—that’s OK! It costs real money to invest in diversity and inclusion.
- Host and require unconscious bias training for all managers or even all employees.
- Regularly bring in speakers and community leaders from underrepresented backgrounds. Again, this means stepping outside your comfort zone and may involve meeting some new people. Don’t be afraid! This is a great way to show that you value diverse voices, even if your current staffing levels don’t reflect that yet.
- Publicly pledge to not speak at events that don’t have a diverse speaker list. This includes keynotes, panel discussions, teaching workshops. Discourage your staff from serving on all-male or all-white panels. And if you do happen to have underrepresented employees working for you, do what you can to amplify their voices and elevate their profile. Support those folks if they ask to attend conferences or trainings or speak at events. (As in, give them the time off and offer to pay for their travel and meals.)
- Take reports of bias and toxic behavior in the workplace very seriously. Offer zero tolerance for this kind of employee.
- Make it easier for your staff to report incidents of bias and toxic behavior by providing anonymous channels and publicizing them. Communicate to your team how these reports will be handled and how often they will be checked.
A Few Caveats
Remember, people from historically underrepresented groups are individuals with unique life experiences. There isn’t a single, one-size-fits-all experience that encompasses all women or all Asians or all LGBT people. Don’t assume you are an expert on someone else’s background because you “have a [insert race/gender/orientation] friend.” It’s never OK to use the “but I have [insert race/gender/orientation’] friends,” defense.
A for “Affort”
Finally, let’s acknowledge that all of this takes effort. A few thoughts on the kind of energy and effort that this work requires:
- It’s better to make an awkward attempt at showing up as an ally than sit back and contribute nothing. Silence is acceptance. Don’t become complacent or complicit in toxic behavior.
- Educate yourself! If you’re reading this article, you’re taking a great first step. If you don’t know the right way to approach someone who is different than you, ask politely once. You may be met with negativity here; many folks are exhausted from constantly having to educate those around us. But often, you’ll be met with appreciation that you’re making an attempt to do better.
- There are no participation trophies… Sorry kids, there are no trophies, stickers or gold stars handed out daily to successful allies of women, people of color, or LGBT colleagues. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.
- You can only do so much. Know when it’s time to call in a professional or escalate a situation.
Rubina Madan Fillion
Lam Thuy Vo
The JOC Slack, with permission
The News Nerdery Slack #nerdettes channel, with permission
This list is far from exhaustive, and it’s far from being comprehensive. There are many ways to be a better ally. Here’s some more reading and additional resources on the topic:
The Distress of the Privileged (The Weekly Sift)
Thread about micro-sponsorship (Twitter)
Being an Effective Ally to Women and Non-Binary People (Code as Craft)
How White People Handle Diversity Training in the Workplace (Medium)
Video: How to Be an Ally (Evelyn from the Internets)
Obama’s Female Staffers Came Up With a Genius Strategy to Make Sure Their Voices Were Heard (The Cut)
Finally, a huge thank-you to the many people in my community and network who helped educate me on a variety of topics in preparing this list.
Emma Carew Grovum
Emma Carew Grovum is a journalist and technologist in New York City. As the founder of Kimbap Media, she coaches and consults with newsrooms on key strategy areas including leadership, product thinking, and diversity/equity/inclusion.