When newsrooms around the country were releasing statements about diversity in 2020, Gannett went one step further. It promised to publicize its staff demographics each year.
For three years, Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the country, kept that promise. But this year, the company has yet to release demographic breakdowns of its largest newsrooms, raising questions among some staff.
“We thought it (the annual reports) was a great step at Gannett because we are a diverse community, and it showed the community that Gannett also agreed that having a diverse newsroom is part of being able to cover the community well,” said Florida Times-Union metro reporter David Bauerlein, who serves as co-chair of his newsroom’s union. “So we were disappointed to see that it hasn’t happened, especially when they had committed to doing it.”
Shortly after the Black Lives Matter protests began in 2020, Gannett announced it had set a goal of achieving gender, racial and ethnic parity in the communities it serves by the end of 2025. The company would also report its progress annually.
That August, then-president of Gannett’s news division Maribel Perez Wadsworth published a column in USA Today outlining the company’s diversity goals. It included links to diversity reports at more than 90 of its over 200 publications.
In September 2021, Perez Wadsworth reiterated that promise in another USA Today column. Diversity and inclusion were “moral imperatives” that were also key to business success, she wrote. Once again, the column had links to individual reports at Gannett’s various publications.
“We are committed to achieving our 2025 goal as part of our mission to expose injustice in all its forms and accurately reflect the interests, issues and lived experiences of the people we serve,” Perez Wadsworth wrote.
Former USA Today editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll wrote the 2022 update, which included demographic statistics for Gannett’s content division as well as individual newsroom reports.
A diversity and inclusion statement at the top of staff directories on Gannett’s news sites also references the company’s pledge to be transparent about its demographics.
“Inherent to our mission is a commitment to ensuring our coverage reflects the diversity of our communities and the people we serve. It is essential that our staff also is diverse and that we foster an inclusive workplace for all,” the statement reads. “Annually, we will publish a snapshot of who we are and the steps we are taking that lead to progress.”
From 2020 to 2022, the latest Gannett released newsroom-level demographic information was Sept. 1. As October draws to a close with no report in sight, some journalists are wondering whether Gannett has stopped its annual disclosures. The subject has been a point of discussion among union leaders at various Gannett papers, said Indianapolis Star photojournalist Jenna Watson, who heads the Indianapolis NewsGuild as its president.
The Florida Times-Union Guild made a series of posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, in mid-September, calling out “shortcomings in Gannett’s inclusion pledges.”
“Aside from still waiting on that 2023 report, our newsroom has gone in the wrong direction for diversity and inclusion under Gannett’s ownership,” the union wrote.
Bauerlein explained that though new hires over the past two years have come from diverse backgrounds, the Times-Union has also lost a lot of staff, causing the newsroom to become less diverse overall. It’s “one step forward, one step back,” he said.
Asked about the status of the 2023 newsroom reports, Gannett spokesperson Lark-Marie Anton wrote in an email that the company is “assessing.” She pointed to the company’s workforce diversity page, which includes demographics for its various departments and was last updated July 1.
The data shows that at Gannett Media, which includes five departments in addition to its news division, 57.1% of the workforce identifies as men while 42.7% identify as women. The staff is also nearly 70% white. Black employees and African Americans make up 11.5% of the workforce, Hispanics and Latinos make up 7.9% and Asians make up nearly 3%.
Since 2022 — the last year Gannett made newsroom-level data available — the company has undergone significant turnover. It laid off more than 600 people last year, and top executives including Perez Wadsworth and Carroll have left en masse. Since then, Gannett has hired more than 260 journalists.
The Florida Times-Union Guild tried to propose that annual disclosures of newsroom demographics be part of its contract, but the company refused, Bauerlein said. The Times-Union Guild and the Indianapolis NewsGuild also put forth proposals trying to guarantee diverse candidate pools for open positions, but they were rejected by Gannett.
Watson said the idea of an annual diversity report card is exciting to her because it’s a form of transparency and accountability. So it has been frustrating to see Gannett refuse to commit to diversity-related initiatives in the union’s contract.
“A broad promise made in 2020 — if it needs to fizzle out, OK, you can kind of weasel out of that,” Watson said. “Whereas, if you were held to it in a collective bargaining agreement, maybe you couldn’t.”