Sincerely, Leaders of Color: There is no pipeline problem
Instead, a problem exists in how the industry treats historically marginalized journalists in the hiring process.
Commitments, Not Predictions: As we start 2022, Sincerely, Leaders of Color asked our fellow leaders, allies, and rebels — of all colors — to make commitments and promises for the year ahead, and how they’ll contribute to making safer, healthier newsrooms for all journalists of color. Here’s what they said. This special series is presented with support from The American Press Institute.
Update from Robert, March 17, 2022: Just like language, we are all constantly evolving and learning. A phrase that worked in the past, no longer feels accurate today and that means we must update our vocabulary. In the process of writing this piece I used the phrase “diverse candidate” and “diverse journalist” as a shorthand for a candidate of color or journalist of color. During the editing process, the editors and I discussed this and thought we changed all of the references, but we didn’t. I got some thoughtful feedback (thank you, Destinée-Charisse Royal) pointing it out. Using “diverse” as an adjective to describe an individual isn’t correct grammar or appropriate. She is right and I am updating my vocabulary. I’ll now be using “diverse pool of candidates,” among the other correct phrasing. Some of you may agree or disagree, but, honestly, there are only positives when we purposefully update our language to be more accurate and more representative. Like all of you, I am excited to always be learning.
There is, however, a problem with the hiring process. Lots of problems, actually.
To own my part in this system, this year I commit to helping solve this problem in hopes of diversifying our newsrooms, especially leadership. But that doesn’t mean you simply send me your job listings and be done with it.
This is a problem we all – regardless of what level of experience you have – need to take on.
Let me say this, journalists of color need to take active steps and apply for open jobs. While the hiring process is problematic, we, journalists of color, can’t complain about the lack of diversity in leadership and newsrooms if we aren’t making the effort to be in those positions.
Now let’s be real, that is one challenge but it is nowhere near the biggest obstacle in diversifying newsrooms.
In a recent, informal survey, I asked dozens of journalists of color about their experiences when applying for journalism jobs. What I heard was frustration.
This told me, again, that there is no pipeline problem, but their answers identified many, many hiring process problems.
While I commit to encouraging people to apply, I want those in a position to hire to make their own commitment to do better in the process.
Here’s what I think hiring managers need to do first:
First, when crafting the job posting, don’t ask for the moon. Be honest about what skills you truly need and what you value. Asking for everything not only turns away people who believe each facet of the job description is real, but it also pushes away qualified applicants who may suffer from imposter syndrome – these tend to be women and people of color.
What are you asking for in the applications? Resume, clips, references are a given. But one of the largest complaints from the applicants I spoke to was the extra, unpaid work they had to do while applying. That means taking an hours-long test or giving the hiring company original ideas they could use and benefit from, without paying the applicant. Many people told me about the hours they poured into the process only to not get hired, but to see their original ideas used afterwards.
If you are going to ask for unpaid labor, buy your finalists at least a cup of coffee. This may sound like a crazy idea, but if you really need your candidates to do genuine work for you, as stated above, show them you value their effort by buying them at least a cup of coffee via a gift card or something. Hell, you want to be truly fair, pay them the hourly, minimum wage for the estimated time it takes to complete your application. When you don’t offer any compensation, it telegraphs a culture of exploitation in your organization.
Even if you have the best intentions, don’t ask for your friend/colleague of color to share your job listing with their “diverse network” – especially if you haven’t spoken to them in a while. This communicates a clear message that you aren’t really committed to hiring a candidate of color. That act feels reminiscent of the NFL’s problematic Rooney Rule.
Let’s be blunt: Pay people (a cup of coffee goes a long way) for asking them to help you diversify your newsroom. I am proud of my network and it has been years of work to build it and you want access to it for free?
You want me to do work and help solve your problem of a non-diverse news organization that can’t attract a diverse pool of candidates? Think about what that communicates.
Instead of that ask, try this: ask your friend/colleague of color for advice on how you could diversify your own network – but remember you have to do the work. This is not a quick fix just so you can hire someone. This is an intentional, genuine act that benefits you and your organization a lot more than an immediate hire.
Diversify who you follow on social. How? Look at people of color you respect and currently follow and see who they follow.
Commit to engage and respectfully participate in gathering places for people of color, being aware that you are new to these spaces and there to learn. How? Attend, in-person or virtually, conferences like the NAHJ, AAJA, NABJ, NAJA, NLGJA and countless others. More than once.
Listen. How? In any form, whether networking or reading social, listen and read the room on how candidates of color are and are not being treated. Some of us are willing to speak to you in an effort to improve newsroom culture but others are tired. If you value those discussions, buy them a coffee and listen.
The biggest complaint I heard from candidates was the ghosting. Whether it was HR or the person who actively recruited them to apply, every one of the people I spoke to said that communication just dropped, despite them checking in.
In one case the CEO recruited a candidate, so they applied. They didn’t even get an interview and were ghosted by the organization and CEO who recruited them. You are only hiring one candidate, so you face a challenge with the rest of the candidates: will you either burn those bridges or foster a genuine network that will help you in the future?
No one – especially a journalist of color – wants to work at your news organization that has a reputation of mistreating their employees and has seen talent from underrepresented groups flee. And no person of color wants to share your listing with others only to be mistreated.
We all want this industry to improve and reflect the diverse reality of our communities.
Hiring is the first step to solving these problems. It’s arguably the easiest problem to solve, compared to retention, promotion, and fostering a healthy newsroom work environment.
I can’t commit to making your news organization treat their employees better (yet) but I do commit to helping newsrooms hire the countless talented journalists of color, some graduating from my program and other academic institutions across the country.
But I just laid out what the hiring process should be doing for people rather than what I am committed to do myself.
I am fortunate to have a strong, wide, diverse network that engages with different aspects of the hiring process, but the bottomline is I am not the one hiring or applying the process.
That said, I have a role to play.
I commit to holding myself, colleagues, network, and applicants to this framework I outline.
When someone shares a job listing with me, I will interrogate them about the skills required in the description, the level of pay, and what they have done to attract candidates of color. And, while I may share the link with my network, I need to be proactive and recruit – which I do, but not for every job. I will tell the hiring manager to be aware of how they communicate with candidates and ask them to buy coffee when they require finalists to do a lot of extra work. I will also ask for “a finders fee” that I will charge only if any of my candidates apply for their position. And that fee will immediately get Venmo’d to any candidates I recruit. Let them enjoy some coffee after applying for this position. The only ask that will benefit me is one I ask of everyone I help get a job: once you get your first paycheck, buy me a drink – Makers Mark + Ginger Ale + two limes.
There is no pipeline problem.
There is a problem of how you are treating the people in the pipeline, especially when attempting to hire them.
USC Annenberg / JOVRNALISM
This is a guest column, solicited by P. Kim Bui and Emma Carew Grovum and edited by Kim. We want to make sure to include voices from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. If you’re interested in guest writing, or have someone you’d love to hear from, let us know here.
Robert Hernandez, aka WebJournalist, has made a name for himself as a journalist of the Web, not just on the Web. His primary focus is exploring and developing the intersection of technology and journalism – to empower people, inform reporting and storytelling, engage community, improve distribution, and, whenever possible, enhance revenue. He is a Professor of Professional Practice at USC Annenberg, but he’s not an academic… he’s more of a “hackademic” that specializes in “MacGyvering” digital journalism through emerging technologies. His most recent work includes Augmented Reality, Wearables/Google Glass and Virtual Reality — he and his students produce VR experiences under their brand: JOVRNALISM™. Their work has won awards from The Webby Awards, The Shorty Awards, the Online News Association, Society of Professional Journalists, among others, and can be seen in Al Jazeera, The New York Times, NBC, NPR, ProPublica, USA Today, and in their own iOS/Android app. He has worked for seattletimes.com, SFGate.com, eXaminer.com, La Prensa Gráfica, among others. Hernandez is also the co-founder of #wjchat and co-creator of the Diversify Journalism Project. He has served on boards that have included Chicas Poderosas, InquireFirst, the Online News Association, and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (where he is a lifetime member). He is also a Journalism 360 ambassador and program lead. He is the recipient of SPJ’s 2015 Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award and the 2018 NAHJ Si Se Puede Award. He has made it to imgur’s front page more than once. He connects dots and people.