It’s impossible to deny the facts: The demographics of the United States are changing. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau has predicted that the U.S. will become a plurality nation, in which non-Hispanic whites are the largest group but no longer in the majority, by the year 2043. Unfortunately, many people (and even presidential candidates) fail to see how this will change many facets of American life or why practices and policies must change.
For journalists and the media, a more diverse nation means a more diverse audience. Most media outlets still perpetuate the lily white male cast of reporters, anchors, personalities, editors and owners. According to Riva Gold of The Atlantic, the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) found that as of 2013, non-white minorities only represented 12.37 percent of newsroom jobs, despite composing about 37 percent of the total U.S. population. But does it really matter who reports the news? The short answer is yes.
Study after study has shown that audiences are more likely to engage with a news outlet if they can relate to what they see. If the newsroom itself does not reflect the diversity of the community it covers, readers are less likely to trust the outlet and are less likely to consider it as a source of news. The same goes for the type of sources used in stories. By relying on a diverse range of sources rather than supporting the status quo of affluent, white, male voices, reporters can help combat the stereotypes perpetuated in the media.
Bringing diverse voices into the newsroom and as sources can also inform the public better than a homogeneous news team. Diversity allows for broader discussions of ethnic, racial, religious, gender, political and socio-economic issues and changes the way society discusses those issues. This, in turn, leads to a deeper understanding of the nuances that surround just about every newsworthy event, whether it is a national or local story.
Current events dictate that newsrooms must focus on diversity now more than ever. With presidential candidates calling for mass deportations, rising tensions between African Americans and police and the unending discussion of how women are represented in the media, journalism is positioned to help the public understand experiences outside their own and change how policies are formed in American society. Throughout this series on diversity — published the third Friday of each month — we’ll explore how to cover issues involving disabilities, race, gender and sexuality; how to ensure coverage includes a diverse range of sources; how newsrooms can build a diverse news team; and how minority journalists can conquer challenges in the workplace.