The Disappearance of Diversity

“Diversity has been marginalized, stalled and stagnated.”

Those words came from ASNE president Gilbert Bailon in a recent interview about what he is learning as he interacts with colleagues across the country. And it has been hard to shake them from my mind.

There is no one thing working against diversity, Gilbert added. But the reality of all of the other pressures showering down on editors and publishers and other news leaders have caused it to essentially disappear from the agenda. And this bleak situation arrives at the same time the latest census figures show a minority population of more than 100 million. The trend forecasts a nation without a majority sometime in the middle of this century.

So what does this shift in demographics, coupled with our inability, or lack of effort, to make our newsrooms reflective of our communities mean? Are we studying the diversity numbers before we launch layoffs or buyouts? What are the diversity recruiters and trainers and human resources folks saying, if anything? Or how about editors and publishers and company CEO’s?

Some of those same questions were posed at a meeting of Lutherans I attended recently to discuss what the mother church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and more specifically the Northern California Synod, can do about bringing more diversity into the pews.

What does diversity mean to you? That was one of the first questions the moderator asked. The answers flowed quickly: Different ways of expressing ourselves; understanding our sameness and our differences; accepting all people as they are; honoring individual needs; learning from each other; the ability to communicate without knowing the other’s language; connections.

My beliefs, as I have expressed before, are that diversity is about inclusiveness, about tolerance, about giving people a chance, about helping to build a community and discovering all of its dimensions, about the fundamentals of democracy.

It is recognizing all of our backgrounds and lifestyles, all of our physical and psychological contrasts, recognizing that we become better when we exchange ideas and experiences and build a bridge across our differences.

It’s honoring the thoughts and points of view and values that mark us as individuals. It’s about creating a common community language so that people can listen to each other and so that all voices can be heard. It’s understanding that to achieve balance we must give weight to many different perspectives and not think there are only two sides to every issue. It’s caring for the hopes and needs and dreams of others and embracing new ideas and new initiatives.

I left the meeting with mixed emotions: Pleased that we were having the conversation and yet unsure that it was going to make any real difference. But at least we are talking and seeking solutions.

Can we say the same for the news media? Mark Trahant, editorial page editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and a longtime champion for diversity, told me recently, “Many diverse groups have opted out, creating their own space on the Internet that is rather exclusive. What are the implications of that? What are the implications for democracy?”

And as Mark pointed out, the Hutchins Commission Report 60 years ago talked of its fear that isolated groups of Americans wouldn’t have a communication bridge to other isolated groups. Sounds as if that could happen.

Yes, technology has changed our world, flipping it upside down. Thousands of media jobs have been lost. The search is on for economic formulas that work and can satisfy shareholders. And concerns about survival consume us on a daily basis.

But does it make sense to marginalize, stall and stagnate diversity when the faces of our cities are changing so rapidly? Absolutely not.

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