What kind of change could we create, if we truly came together?
Why the DEI Coalition Slack exists, and the truths about anti-racism and equity work that journalism needs to stop ignoring.
We heard repeatedly in 2020 that people wanted a space dedicated to anti-racism and equity work, where they could also share working knowledge and ask questions. So many people scattered across journalism organizations are already trying to make their newsrooms anti-racist and equitable — what kind of changes could we bring about if we worked together, shared knowledge together, took action together, and helped each other?
In March 2021, OpenNews and more than 100 members of the journalism community launched the DEI Coalition Slack, a digital community space dedicated to sharing knowledge and taking concrete action in service of a more anti-racist, equitable and just journalism industry. As one community member said:
“I love this project and space so much already for its collectivism. And by starting with that collectivism and broadcasting it as a defining feature … it signals to a broad swath of people that there must be something in here for me. Something I can believe in and actually do. It’s like that same conversation that I’ve already had a number of times … working in this field, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we weren’t scattered all in a bunch of different newsrooms and could work together towards this one goal?’”
Within the first four hours of launch, the DEI Coalition Slack averaged one sign up per minute, and after the first day, 400 people had filled out the sign up form. As of today, there are more than 800 members in the space, with more sign ups every day.
As we built the Slack and after we launched, many people shared with us their hopes and dreams for this space, and at the same time shared that their experience advocating for anti-racism and equity in journalism is grueling, heart-wrenching, and isolating work.
We heard from the community that doing anti-racism and equity work in journalism is:
- Isolating. Journalism institutions and leaders need to create more support for any staff doing this work, and as a community, we can create more support for each other by coming together.
- Personally and professionally costly. This is especially true for journalists of color. As a community, we can help alleviate that cost by working collectively and supporting one another.
- In need of solidarity. We all have something we can contribute today, and it is the responsibility of the entire industry and not just a select few, to take on that work to improve journalism.
A year ago, in April 2020, we wrote to newsroom execs and managers on ways to uphold their diversity, equity, and inclusion values during COVID-19. Now, we want to bring to the forefront the words of members of the journalist community and their experience doing anti-racism and equity work specifically.
One journalist shared, “As the only person of color on leadership I want to effectively have more influence and not feel tokenized,” a sentiment we heard repeatedly and that drove our work on this project.
The quotes that follow are only a representation of the dozens of quotes we saw in each of the themes above, and the journalism industry needs to listen:
“My day job is isolating when it comes to DEI.”
- “Each and every one of us can be better or do more to make our workplaces more inclusive and equitable. …But doing that requires coordination with others doing similar work, and it calls for continuous learning — which is nearly impossible in a vacuum.”
- “When I started the [diversity committee at my newsroom], I didn’t really know who else was doing this work, or who I could look to for advice. I don’t want anyone else to feel alone or lost when they’ve already taken the courageous step to initiate DEI efforts.”
- “I have been *feeling* the need for this for so long and didn’t know how to articulate it. … Thank you for recognizing that managers are in this, too, and that the needs are different. This has been something that I have been struggling with alone… so happy to not be alone anymore!”
PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY COSTLY:
“I hope to … be able to influence the leadership team in making decisions through a DEI lens without being emotionally traumatized or sounding confrontational.”
- “It shouldn’t be solely on me to head up the charge for diversity and inclusion and get leadership to care about it at my organization, still I want to be able to share my experience with other journalists and seek help from others on how to go about this.”
- “I hope this community will help take the load of DEI work off of [journalists of color] and give me practical tools for changing our leadership’s attitude from the bottom up. We currently have one leader who is not white … and this work is disproportionately on [that person’s] shoulders. I can see it’s exhausting and I do my best to advocate from my position, but I want to do more.”
- “I have seen these issues for years, and frankly often felt helpless to make a difference, or that it wasn’t my place, but in the past years, I have moved past that and want to learn more about how I can help improve the situation for those in the field and especially those who come after us.”
IN NEED OF SOLIDARITY:
“[I want] to bring more effective change to an organization that has thus far failed to practice what it preaches, largely due to blind spots held by the people in power.”
- “I just started working in a new newsroom and am just learning its strengths and weaknesses, and who has power and how they use it. I hope this space can help me figure out how to support and advocate for more equitable practices in a place I have relatively little power/social capital, especially as compared to my last position.”
- “As a queer nonbinary person, and one of the only LGBTQ+ employees, I have a personal stake in these issues. But also as a white journalist, I feel it’s my responsibility to use my privilege and voice to confront institutional racism and advocate for diversity, equity and belonging in the workplace.”
- “There are a lot of people …who are situated such that it’s difficult for institutions to punish us for saying and doing things that challenge the status quo. I would really like to be involved, in whatever way makes sense, in figuring out how we can use that to shield/support those who could face professional consequences for doing this work.”
At the beginning, we wanted to built a place where anyone working on making their newsrooms more anti-racist, equitable, and just, could come together and share what they’ve learned — be it strategies or language or anything else — and do it in a space where they knew they weren’t alone. We want to create a place where they knew that they were many.
Now that we’ve launched, that hope hasn’t changed, and our original hopes for the space resonate just as loudly as they do now, nine months later:
“We sincerely hope that [the DEI Coalition] can help connect the dots between spaces, as well as other spaces who aren’t yet connected to each other but want to be, as they need it. We hope that truly, it can serve as a tool for the community to create change — by bringing allies together so that they can fight together and plan movements together.”
Join us in this collective work. Sign up to join the DEI Coalition Slack.
Thank you to all the community members and volunteers who gave us permission to share their words.
Sisi Wei is Co-Executive Director of OpenNews, where she envisions and executes transformative initiatives to help create a journalism industry that is more inclusive and equitable, especially for journalists of color and local journalists. Previously, she was the Assistant Managing Editor at ProPublica, during which she edited and managed news apps, graphics, visual investigations and large, interdisciplinary projects. Sisi has won numerous Malofiej, SND Digital and ONA awards, the Gannett Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism, and the 2016 Data Journalism Award for Best Individual Portfolio. She has served as an adjunct professor at New York University, The New School and CUNY, and she is also the co-founder of Code with me, a high-impact, nonprofit workshop that teaches journalists how to code. She is based in New York City.