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How to Diversify Your Newsroom, Starting Now

Emma Carew Grovum on taking steps toward an equitable and inclusive organization


Sign on the Isle of Wight, U.K.(Ross Findon)

I’ve spent most of my career focused on media diversity initiatives. Many of my friends and mentors have come into my life through various programs and communities like the Asian American Journalists Association, the Chips Quinn Scholars program, and Crayhola! Journalists of Color Slack.

After a decade of working on media diversity, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time for non-diverse folks to pick up the mantle. It’s fine and good for a small-but-mighty group of journalists of color to gather year after year and discuss ways to make our newsrooms more diverse, and make our coverage more fair and balanced.

However, we need top leaders in newsrooms to not just take diversity seriously, but to embrace it fully and make it a priority. This work is not a matter of simply checking a box, but of shifting cultures to be more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

When ASNE released its most recent survey results, the numbers were bleak. The data told the story that although some major newsrooms had made strides in gender diversity, especially in top leadership and management, most newsrooms had also seen a backslide in journalists of color within their ranks.

So here’s the deal. It’s time to stop the hemming and hawing, the hand-wringing, and the preaching to the choir. If you’re reading this post, I hope you’ll consider sharing the list of to-dos that follows with your news organization’s management and leadership team. If you’re a newsroom manager or leader, I hope you’ll share which of the following steps you’ll be taking first in 2019.

(This list has been adapted from a Tweet thread and a blog post I wrote shortly after the ASNE numbers were released.)

How to Diversify Your Newsroom: Steps you can take today

  1. Meet the folks in “the choir.” There are hundreds of journalists working across the industry to improve media diversity. Many of them gather under the umbrella of affinity group organizations: The Asian American Journalists Association, The National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the Native American Journalists Association. These groups have existed for decades and many have chapters and boards in local markets around the country. If you don’t know who the local leaders in your city/region are, look them up and reach out today.

  2. Post. Your. Jobs. Those folks you just introduced yourself to in step 1? They have access to pools of diverse talent via Facebook groups and email lists. And while you’re at it, try adding some language to your job posts that encourages folks to apply, even if they don’t meet every single qualification listed. Imposter syndrome is real, and many of us are less likely to apply based on that alone.

  3. Support the journalists of color already working for you! This does not mean, “ask them for more diverse candidates” every time a position opens up. No one likes doing recruiting for free, and journalists of color are constantly getting hit up for access to our networks and connections. Traditionally media organizations have focused their diverse hiring efforts on early-career and entry-level positions, then seem surprised when they have no one to hire for more senior roles. If you don’t have a clear growth plan for your journalists of color (that they’re a part of developing), don’t be surprised to see them leave after a year or so.
  4. Admit that you are not doing a good job with diversity and inclusion. Ask for help and be prepared to invest. Diversity and inclusion take hard work, commitment and—to be brutally honest—money. Money is needed to hire, to retain, to train, and to recruit.
  5. What are some things you can pay for?
    • Annual memberships to AAJA/NABJ/NAHJ/NAJA
    • Sending journalists from your newsroom to the annual conventions held by these organizations all over the country.
    • Supporting local events held by these orgs like trivia nights, scholarship fundraisers, etc.
    • Sending journalists of color from your newsroom to leadership trainings, like AAJA’s Executive Leadership Program or Poynter’s various leadership offerings.
  6. Kill your “backdoor” diversity programs. Don’t just sneak diversity hiring in through the backdoor with a 2-year residency or 1-year contract position. If you want journalists of color to work with you, give them real jobs with real money. Many of these programs actually end up harming the journalists of color they claim to help, by setting them up to fail and start their career a step behind.
  7. Ask us anything. Seriously. There are journalists of color at all levels of experience, in almost every nook and cranny of the industry. Reach out, ask us what we know about your newsroom. Is it a good place to work? Is the culture toxic? Can journalists of color succeed in your organization? If you do not currently know any journalists of color, get out there. We’re here and we want to help.
  8. Hire diverse leaders. I almost didn’t include this one, because it seems so obvious. But change happens from the top down as well as from the bottom up. If your newsroom is primarily led by journalists from a single background profile, it’s time to shake things up.
  9. Hire leaders who value diversity. Again, this should be a no-brainer, but I was recently part of a conversation about this exact topic. How do you evaluate a candidate’s commitment to diversity and inclusion? Here are a few questions to get you started:
    • Have you put in meaningful work to advance the careers of journalists of color, either as individual contributors or by helping them ascend into leadership and management?
    • How have you seen previous diversity and inclusion initiatives fail or succeed? What lessons would you bring from those past experiences?
    • Looking for more examples? Check out this list from Portland State University; many of their questions can be adapted for newsroom hiring.
  10. Take complaints of bias and toxic culture seriously. Hold leaders accountable for ensuring that the culture is inclusive. This is really important. No one wants to admit that the newsroom they lead is a bad place for journalists of color to work, thrive, and succeed. But the honest truth is that there are a lot of places where it’s not cool to be a journalist of color. Be aware of microaggressions and watercooler chatter that may make people feel excluded and unwelcome. Make it clear to every person working with and for you that the culture you’re working to create and foster is an inclusive one.

All this is to say, if you want to increase the diversity of your newsroom, you can. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be expensive. And it’s going to take time. But it’s certainly less costly than the status quo, and there are little steps you can take today to get the ball rolling.

Remember:

  • Almost every newsroom in America needs to do work on diversity and inclusion. Yours included.
  • It’s possible for anyone to contribute toward making their staff more diverse and their newsroom culture more inclusive.
  • Not only is it possible for everyone to contribute to this work, it’s essential. Journalists of color need white allies. And we need them now—at all levels of the organization.

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