Want to create a diverse newsroom? Think outside the 'pipeline'
If relationships are key to keeping people with different backgrounds in the newsroom, it’s community that’s essential to finding them in the first place.
Journalism, like technology, has bemoaned its "pipeline problem" for years. The common complaint is that there aren’t enough qualified people coming to the field through the primary recruitment routes: j-school and internship programs.
But attributing a lack of diversity to a talent pipeline is admitting that your newsroom is relying on antiquated methods of finding the best people for the job.
That’s the impression I came away with after talking to members of Mic's Identities team, whose connections to diverse communities are demonstrated by its ability to elevate conversations through the lens of identity and personal experience.
"One of the things that people always say is that they talk about the 'pipeline problem,'" she said. "I posted for a junior applicant and got 270 applications."
"I’m aggressive about networking. I have a larger community to draw from. I take a lot of recommendations," she said.
Her community — writers committed to exploring the world through the lenses of feminism, queer identity and people of color — include writers like Jamilah King and Darnell Moore, two senior staffers who produce nuanced reporting on the communities they come from.
As of February 2016, Mic's newsroom was 60 percent white, 9 percent latino, 9 percent Black or African-American and 17 percent Asian, according to the company.
It's community connection that lends authenticity to Mic’s coverage of historically disenfranchised groups in its presentation of news geared toward millennial audiences. Reporters at Mic need the capacity to write stories with an understanding of the political frameworks that underpins them all.
"A social justice lens assumes that we already know the end of the story," Mukhopadhyay said. "What we do know is that historically, there is a background based on who you are, and most legacy publications don’t report on that," she said.
But it's not based on race, ethnicity or cultural background. Instead, the Identities team strives to consider the journalist as an element of the journalism. Rather than working toward the unattainable notion of total "objectivity," they strive toward a framework of authenticity, considering how life experiences, place and connections impact one’s ability to get the story and tell it accurately.
"There are certain perspectives that you’ll bring if you come from certain identities," she said. "That gives them certain insights and understandings," she said.
In the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Mukhopadhyay said, Mic dispatched a young Latino, gay journalist who had been covering LGBTQ communities, and had the experience to present a nuanced picture of a breaking news event that targeted a marginalized community.
"He’s going to get a different sources than an anchor who covers disaster and mass shootings," she said.
"I’m very passionate about reaching folks who are not usually reached out to in the media," she said. "They are the ones overlooked as agencies of democracy. We also want to tell White folks that [they] have a vested interest."
Her bylines are on projects that detail the intricacies of the Movement for Black Lives, the policy platform born from the collaboration of activists and change agents in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement; in-depth trial reporting on the beating death of Islan Nettles, a Black trans woman in New York City, and most recently, a rich portrait of Mario Woods, killed by San Francisco Police, as told by his mother.
"My reporting is informed by my life experience," King said. "As a Black queer woman, I’m sensitive to stories that aren’t often told. I’m in community with folks who aren’t covered every day."
Her reporting gave voice to Beyoncé, Chance the Rapper, Chris Rock and other celebrities in “23 Ways You Could Be Killed By Police if You are Black in America,” a video storytelling effort so popular it crashed the servers of We Are The Movement, the website people were directed to to sign a government petition.
Moore was attracted to Mic because "they were doing things different," he said.
"Particularly the Identities team," he said. "Identity, racial diversity and injustice in this moment. [T]hey were attempting to talk to the people who were talked about but not talked to."
One of the team’s most compelling works, in my opinion, is a video short that explores how discriminatory drug sentencing practices result in an automatic disqualification for Black Americans who might otherwise profit from the legalization of marijuana. Following a Black woman who owns a marijuana dispensary in Colorado, whose brother’s prior drug conviction prohibits him from participating in the business, Moore illustrates the scarcity of wealth-building potential for non-violent offenders this new era of agriculture.
That story, and many others like it, is an example of the wealth of talent that exists outside "the pipeline." It’s the return on investment from building a diverse team by going beyond traditional avenues.
Moore said it simply:
"There’s a theme that connects to our work: writing about people who have been undercovered. It has to do with our network. We’re already in community with one another."
Correction: A previous version of this story said a viral video crashed Mic's servers. In fact, it crashed the servers of a related site.