July 9, 2018

On Monday, The Philadelphia Inquirer announced a newly created position — vice president for diversity and inclusion. Michael Days, who previously was vice president and editor for reader engagement, will serve in that role.

“It’s been clear to me since I first walked into a newsroom decades ago that the composition of a newsroom weighs heavily on how the organization views those for which it writes and how that community views the institution,” Days said in a press release.

In the role, he’ll lead diversity and inclusion training and work to find, keep and develop diverse staff.

Diversifying the newsroom was a priority of the newsroom itself in an “A Call to Arms” report created in 2016 as the journalists there approached digital reinvention. In May, the newsroom added six fellows whose goals included engaging “new and more diverse audiences.”

Poynter recently created a similar position, hiring The Washington Post’s Doris Truong as its first director of training and diversity. NPR’s Keith Woods, who previously worked at Poynter, serves as that news organization’s vice president of newsroom training and diversity.

In October, ASNE released its annual survey on newsroom diversity, which found that, despite some progress, newsrooms were still mostly white and male. 

"I think this is wonderful news from the Philadelphia Inquirer," said Jen Christensen, president of NLGJA and a producer at CNN, in an email. "As journalists, on our best day, we cover the breadth and depth of the community in which we work."

When NLGJA and AAJA worked together on the Heartland Project, aimed at working with local media to better cover diverse communities, they saw that "even well-intentioned journalists don’t always know what they don’t know. We heard countless stories from the large immigrant communities there and from the LGBTQ community that they felt left out of local coverage and they didn’t always feel like they had a voice. Stories would be overlooked, in large part, because the newsrooms didn’t fully reflect the diverse make-up of the communities they were covering and diversity wasn’t a specific priority."

Hiring someone to focus on diversity does a few important things, Christensen said: 

  • Just being in the room where decisions are made can help broaden the conversation about what gets covered.
  • "If that hire is given the authority and they have allies in decision making positions who amplify their message, they’ll inspire others to action, to think about stories and projects through this lens."
  • It shows to the people already at the organization that diversity matters, Christensen said, and is a priority.

"That often means that other people in the organization will be empowered to speak out and their ideas will be valued in a new and important way. We look forward to seeing the positive impact of this hiring decision." 

Trying to diversify the newsroom isn't enough, said Sarah Glover, president of NABJ, in an email. 

"They must also be inclusive — in coverage, staffing, executive management and community outreach."

Days' new position is the right first step, Glover said.

"A strategic diversity and inclusion directive from the very top ranks — publisher, general managers or owner level — is absolutely necessary for diversity in newsrooms to succeed and be sustainable. Without a clear commitment, it’s just talk. It’s excellent business in an ever-changing media ecosystem where audiences are shifting and emerging among the vast number of platforms where people get news and information. I applaud my former employer for this efforting and the industry looks forward to their work. In just 25 years, the U.S. census bureau says America will be majority minority. The question is — are U.S. newsrooms ready? The answer is a resounding — no. Hopefully others will join PMN and NPR in being purposeful about diversity and inclusion."


Editor's note: This story has been updated to include quotes from NABJ's Sarah Glover.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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