4 steps newsrooms are taking to boost diversity

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It’s hard to overlook the painful moments that arise from the lack of diversity in the news industry. NBC was accused of whitewashing after giving Megyn Kelly the 9 am time slot occupied by Tamron Hall and Al Roker; Reliable Sources featured a panel of seven media observers who were all white; and the San Jose Mercury News’ initial headline after Simone Manuel’s historic Olympic win was, “Olympics: Michael Phelps shares historic night with African-American.”

The benefits of having a diverse staff cannot be overstated: “Communities that are under-covered or poorly covered see no reason to read, view, or listen to a news outlet,” says William Celis, associate dean for diversity, inclusion, and strategic initiatives at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “Fewer consumers translate into fewer advertising dollars. It is all connected, but few dailies, television, and radio stations have connected the dots in meaningful, enduring ways.”

So what’s the answer? CJR asked for concrete examples of the practices media organizations have put in place to improve diversity on their staffs. The goal is to highlight ideas others may want to consider.

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The only way forward is to have an open conversation, yet many news outlets were unwilling to even engage on the subject. Only four of 10 top news organizations CJR contacted agreed to talk with us. After multiple emails and phone calls over the course of two weeks, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Huffington Post, NBC, Washington Post, and ABC either ignored our requests or declined to comment.

Here are four steps newsrooms that did engage with us are taking:

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Design fellowship, internship, and classroom opportunities geared towards people of color.

Melissa Segura in 2015 became the first investigative fellow for BuzzFeed News. The one-year fellowship was created to support mid-career journalists from diverse backgrounds interested in developing investigative reporting skills. Prior to the fellowship, Segura was a reporter for Sports Illustrated and SI.com. Since joining the team, she published a number of investigative pieces on wrongful convictions and police abuses. BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith tells CJR that they are proud of Segura’s work, and she has been hired on as an investigative reporter.

Other outlets and media centers offer a range of opportunities specifically for journalists of color. Some of those include: Vice Media and the Center for Communication’s summer fellowship; the Bringing Home the World: International reporting fellowship for minority journalists; and the Investigative Reporters and Editors Ottaway fellowship and diversity fellowships.

Offering programs or classes through schools is another way to connect with more diverse students. The USA Today Network partnered with Morgan State, one of the historically black colleges and universities located in Baltimore, Maryland, to create a journalism course co-taught by a staff editor and university professor. Students will contribute to the Policing the USA project. By working more closely with students interested in the field, the hope is twofold, USA Today Standards and Ethics editor Brent Jones tells CJR. It helps students develop skills and it exposes them to USA Today’s massive network of newspapers—which offers internship and job opportunities.

 

Open up new pipelines for talent.

BuzzFeed has made it a priority over the last couple of years to look outside of mainstream media outlets and well-known publications. Some hires they made over the years include Joel Anderson from the black blog PostBourgie and Katherine Miller from the conservative publication The Washington Free Beacon.  

What’s also beneficial about these hires is the networks they bring with them, Smith tells CJR. This relates to a larger point that diversity has to be a priority for everyone in the newsroom: “It doesn’t work as one person’s responsibility or one department’s responsibility, like so-and-so is in charge of diversity,” says Smith. “It’s a weird way of buffing responsibility off of everybody else.”

This team mentality seems to be working as BuzzFeed has been recognized over the years for its commitment to diversity, including winning the Best Practices Award from the National Association of Black Journalists in 2015.

CNN hosts one-day programs at conventions hosted by journalism affinity groups to help young reporters improve on their skills—such as ethics, leadership, and enterprise reporting. The result not only benefits the attendees, but also CNN as it creates a database of journalists who could eventually join the network, says Ramon Escobar, a CNN vice president responsible for talent recruitment, development, diversity and inclusion. “It’s a much more effective way to set up relationships with people then say set up a booth and say to people come by and say hello.”

 

Connect with the communities we cover.

The Courier-Post, which covers South Jersey as part of the USA Today Network, hosts a diversity summit every other month at various local sites on the impacts of race within the community. “They bring in community leaders and others representing really a host of ethnic, racial, religious, and other backgrounds to talk about issues with respect to race and equality gender and other things that matter to the community,” Jones tells CJR. These conversations have helped to develop story ideas and guide reporters’ thinking—leads and ideas may have been missed otherwise.

In addition to attending annual conventions with affinity groups (AAJA, NABJ, NAHJ, NLGJA, NAJA) the Associated Press meets with the leaders of these groups to develop a game plan. “We convene with the leaders—the presidents and executive leaders—of all those organizations in our New York headquarters for a conversation on how we want to work on diversity together and our own goals,” says Brian Carovillano, AP’s vice president of US news. The goal, he adds, is to make diversity a priority industry wide.

“News outlets should have a plan that produces a range of content that speaks to the widest interests possible, with context that connects the dots for the disparate communities covered,” says Celis. While the makeup of a newsroom is not going to drastically change overnight, turning to outside resources can help make a difference in coverage and progress towards diversity goals.

 

Train your internal talent and groom them for leadership roles.

While the first three practices have more of an outward focus, news organizations should also nurture the diversity they do have. The Associated Press trains employees in areas like career development and leadership to ensure they will be prepared to move into senior and management positions. This is key to making real changes in newsroom cultures, says Jean Maye, AP’s director of human resources. The goal is to identify people from diverse backgrounds who could eventually become newsroom leaders. She adds, “Offer alternative plans and grow [talent] from within. Be patient to be able to develop that type of diversity yourself in your own organization.”

Retention is often overlooked in diversity conversations, which is a mistake. When the American Society of News Editors last measured, the retention rate was 86 percent for white journalists and 78 percent for journalists of color. Why do they leave more often? Dan Sullivan, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication who studies how traditional media adapts to the changing communities they serve, found that journalists of color leave because news outlets fail to cover their communities, leading to doubts about the value of their presence in newsrooms.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of AP’s director of human resources.

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Carlett Spike is a CJR Delacorte Fellow. Follow her on Twitter @CarlettSpike.