Why Newsroom Diversity Matters|Dominique Dickens

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The faces that represent the American news media have never truly reflected the diversity of our country, but should it matter who reports the news? According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 77% of positions within the newsroom (reporters, photographers, videographers, editors, etc.) and throughout the media industry were represented by non-Hispanic whites. Outside of journalism-related fields, all other industries (combined) fare better at 65%. Additionally, the study finds that approximately six in ten employees (61%) are men. The bottom line is that newsrooms are more likely to be staffed with white males.

Journalists are supposed to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best decisions about their lives, their neighborhoods and their governments. How can the media provide fair and truthful news when their voice is exclusionary of the very people it is presumed to represent? Diversity can be an effective means to opening the aperture for a broader scope of opinions, ideas and insight into coverage.

Teri Hayt, American Society of News Editors Executive Editor, says having people who “understand” the culture is vital in the newsroom. “Diversity for me means your ability to capture and engage all of the communities that you are covering. Having those people that have that life experience that can tell that story [is paramount].”

Despite meager representation across the journalistic spectrum, minorities of all flavors (African Americans, LGBT, working poor, women, etc.) have ultimately found ways to present the news that matters. As early as 1890, Ida B. Wells – a black investigative journalist, documented lynchings throughout the South. According to the Columbia Journal Review, the mainstream media often ignored or failed to accurately report these injustices. Wells’ stories were carried in Black-owned publications and kept the community informed.

“Investigative reporting is the most important work that journalists do in a democracy, yet these premier and critical jobs are still almost uniformly filled by white journalists…” says Nikole Hannah- Jones, New York Times award winning reporter.

Hannah-Jones co-founded the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, an organization focused on educating mass media about the value of diversity. “The more prestigious a job is, the more skills it requires, the less likely people of color are to get the mentoring, training and opportunities to take on those jobs…”she said. She aims to provide the necessary coaching that will make it difficult for newsrooms to say they cannot find “qualified applicants.”

Media outlets such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Buzzfeed have introduced programs to encourage diversity and attract new staff members to ensure their perspectives remain fresh and far- reaching. In a perfect world, the news would reside in a robust information network that contains truthful, accurate journalism while connected to open dialogue that fairly represents, embraces and supports the various groups, ideals and beliefs in a community. None of this can happen until we no longer have to ask the question, “Does it matter?” Media organizations must be open to change and challenge the status quo to foster growth and communication.

References:

Chideya, F. (2018, May 18). ‘This deepening division is not inevitable’: The failing diversity efforts of newsrooms. Retrieved from https://www.cjr.org/analysis/newsroom-diversity-failing- efforts.php

Cjr. (2016, June 16). 4 ways newsrooms can address a lack of diversity. Retrieved from https://www.cjr.org/b-roll/4_ways_newsrooms_can_address_a_lack_of_diversity.php

Grieco, E. (2018, November 2). Newsroom employees are less diverse than U.S. workers overall. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/11/02/newsroom-employees-are- less-diverse-than-u-s-workers-overall/

(2019, August 15). The Ida B. Wells Society For Investigative Reporting. Retrieved from http://idabwellssociety.org/