I’m writing about newsroom diversity. What does that even mean?

May 31, 2016
Category: Newsletters

Editor’s note: This is the first edition of Poynter’s column on diversity in journalism, written each week by André Natta and Meredith Clark.

I’ve spent the better part of the last month anxiously waiting my turn to write about diversity. The last two weeks have led me to temper that excitement just a little.

Writing about diversity is hard. It’s not because of a lack of material — there’s plenty of that. But it might stem from a desire to make diversity about a simple, buttoned-up, black-and-white definition when one doesn’t really exist.

Part of the mission I feel I’ve accepted is helping to broaden existing thoughts on how we answer a fundamental question: “What is diversity?” It’s also my part to help move the conversation forward in a meaningful way.

Our definition of diversity shouldn’t be relegated to race and gender. Political opinion and sexual orientation must be considered as well. Recent legal and political battles have made that decision for us and remind us of the importance of reaching out to all the audiences we serve.

Efforts to force diversity to become part of the editorial process may lead to them being abandoned. It may make some wonder if news organizations like The New York Times will get what they’re seeking if it is mandated. It also means we’ll have to get used to the idea of “business as usual” being anything but.

For example, what does it mean when Univision, a non-English speaking media organization with no significant investment from one of the big four U.S. television networks, wants to go public? What happens when the BBC Trust is abolished and its new management structure (and efforts like the Creative Diversity Network’s Diamond initiative) are in place instead?

Maybe we should expand our definition of diversity to mean listening to everyone our organizations serve, rather than just making sure our newsrooms are representative of our communities. What if we’re depriving our readers of much-needed information in our haste to make the ongoing digital transformation? Detroit, for example, is going through a renaissance, but the digital divide still prevents many from partaking in its fruits.

It’s been extremely difficult for women and people of color to crash through the glass ceiling in our news organizations. That’s partly why a recent tweet from Huffington Post Executive Editor Liz Heron attracted a wide array of responses. Were the accusations leveled against her warranted, or did we simply react a certain way because the crowd implicitly told us to? Is a response, formal or informal, necessary?

While discussing diversity, it’s easy to type past each other instead of listening. People feel the need to be heard even if their remarks aren’t relevant to the conversation at hand. As we move toward a future in journalism that leans heavily on audio and visuals, can we look past the headline and hear what a reporter truly means? Does wanting to hold a meaningful conversation matter when some will gloss over the substance and pay attention to a title crafted for search engines? Can someone push against what’s seen as the cultural majority without fear of being verbally attacked?

As conversations on social media become increasingly polarized, it becomes important to go beyond trivial “hot takes” and add breadth and depth to discussions about diversity.

Some possible topics: How do we listen to more than just our fellow professionals where these issues are concerned? What does it say about our industry that the leaders of the nation’s three preeminent journalism fellowships are all women (and for two of the three to be women of color)? Will elevating new voices to prominent positions help us lessen the influence of the media echo chamber? As an industry, we’ve decided to develop new platforms for exploring diversity and culture. Efforts like NPR’s Code Switch and ESPN’s The Undefeated exist in part to represent those who don’t feel as though they’re being spoken to or for. Is it enough? Is it too much? Can they survive?

There are a lot more questions than answers right now. I’m hopeful many of you will be willing to point Meredith and me in the right directions as we get this column started. As journalism continues to progress, diversity can no longer be merely an initiative. I believe it’s central to how we best serve our various communities and each other.

Any (other) questions?