In response to the well-documented issue of a lack of diversity within the journalism industry, a new hiring guide seeks to offer ways for newsrooms to identify job candidates with different experiences.
Put together by the Trusting News project, the guide includes a list of interview questions hiring managers can ask to understand how prospective employees would bring their life experiences to their work. The goal is to help newsrooms hire for “dimensions of difference.”
“Who we are as journalists, who we are as human beings affects how we do our journalism,” Trusting News director Joy Mayer said. “The way I think about dimensions of difference is bringing to bear a really broad consideration of how someone is showing up for work and how their characteristics and experiences could influence how they approach their work.”
Those differences don’t necessarily have to be demographic, like age, race or sexual orientation. They also don’t have to be things that would be listed on a resume, like languages spoken or skills obtained. Instead, they include all forms of visible and invisible diversity — experiences that would be found in a community and that a newsroom wants represented among its staff. Some examples Mayer gave include veteran status, experience living in a small town or having family who are immigrants.
The guide points out that journalists tend to be whiter than their communities and more likely to have a college degree. They also tend to be less likely to live in low-income areas or vote conservative.
Mayer noted that people who share similar characteristics tend to stick together, and newsrooms are not immune to that. But while those commonalities might make some journalists feel more comfortable in a newsroom environment, they can also make people who do not share those characteristics feel unwelcome.
The guide seeks to tackle the problem from a hiring perspective. Trusting News worked with four partner newsrooms — WITF, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Civil Beat and Arizona Luminaria — to generate interview questions that encourage job candidates to share how their experiences influence their journalism.
Among the 16 questions included in the guide are prompts like, “Tell me about a time you got into a debate about journalism with a friend or family member who does NOT work in the media” and, “How do you get to know a new community? Are there types of community involvement that are important to you?”
“We’re not going to ask someone at a job interview, ‘When did your family immigrate here?’ or any number of other things about their personal life,” Mayer said. “But we can ask questions about how they approach their journalism that would invite them to share those things.”
The guide warns that there are many personal questions that interviewers cannot ask directly and that newsrooms can be held liable for questions that are viewed as discriminatory. It also encourages interviewers to recognize and address the power dynamics involved in a job interview so that candidates understand that they can decline to answer certain questions.
“It is vitally important to create spaces and places in which people understand why these questions are getting asked and understand that they can opt in to answering,” the guide reads. “When they are asked if there are things from their own experiences they’d like to share, they need to know they will not be penalized for declining to answer.”
The ultimate goal is to change newsroom culture, Mayer said. Ideally, newsrooms should have a diverse set of experiences represented among their staff, and those journalists should feel comfortable using those experiences in their work. She said she hopes newsrooms will reflect on the perspectives they might currently be missing.
“For a newsroom to really use this guide well, it would have to come along with conversations with the whole staff about why these issues are important and what the goal is so that as people are brought on, they feel not only empowered to speak up, but rewarded for speaking up,” Mayer said.
Trusting News will be inviting newsrooms who use the guide to report back on their experiences. The guide is part of the project’s larger Road to Pluralism initiative, which started after the 2020 election and seeks to help local journalists contribute to pluralism rather than polarization among readers.