Digital media hiring diversity under the microscope

As Nate Silver and Ezra Klein were being criticized for their homogenous hires, suggestions for diversification came to the fore

On Wednesday, Emily Bell, director of Columbia Journalism School’s Tow Center and a member of CJR’s board of overseers, wrote a piece in The Guardian decrying the lack of diversity in news startups. “Journalism startups aren’t a revolution if they’re filled with all these white men,” she wrote, adding that, though the digital space was conceptualized as a meritocracy, in reality it’s duplicating existing industry—and societal—inequalities.

Bell’s article snowballed into another online conversation on the pitfalls of insular hiring practices, with hiring editors and the National Association of Black Journalists weighing in to suggest ways new outlets like Ezra Klein’s and Glenn Greenwald’s First Look Media could address pipeline issues.

The NABJ saw a pattern emerging in startups and wanted to do something productive to change the conversation, said Errin Whack, one of the authors of a letter the organization released on Friday in response to a string of recent, predominantly male, white hires. “What we want is a more diverse pool of qualified candidates,” that hopefully more accurately reflects American society today, she said.

Also Friday, BuzzFeed Deputy Editor Shani Hilton added to the discussion via a piece on Medium about the difficulties of building a diverse newsroom. She wrote:

“[D]iversity” doesn’t stop at hiring one person who represents each so-called different viewpoint, be it race or gender or sexual orientation or political leaning. Any newsroom in which the black staffer is expected to speak up for blackness while the white staffers only have to speak for themselves is a newsroom that’s failing.

Getting to that level of diversity takes work.

Finally, an earlier incarnation of the discussion about hiring inequities, surrounding September’s release of Riptide, returned to the fore with the launch of New/s Disruptors, a much-anticipated counterpoint to the preponderance of male, white voices in last year’s report. Published by three fellows at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center and hosted on Nieman Lab, Riptide presented an oral history of journalism and digital disruption that was exceedingly lacking in diversity. Two of the project’s most vocal critics, Jeanne Brooks, and Sabrina Hersi Issa, decided to start a project to create a more inclusive history.

“Media diversity has been an important topic for both Sabrina and I pretty much for our entire careers,” said Brooks. “I think what Riptide did is inspire us to take action.” Brooks also said that she and Issa would use listening sessions and community engagement to help decide which themes and areas New/s Disruptors would focus on.

However, nothing will really change until the entire industry decides it isn’t enough to just hire “the best person” for a job, and instead makes a concerted effort to cultivate a diverse pool. As Hilton wrote, “sometimes the best of all possible hires is someone who didn’t seem obvious on paper, and then brings something more to the organization — not just the job.”

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Edirin Oputu is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @EdirinOputu Tags: , ,