October 12, 2017

Every year, the American Society of News Editors announces the results of its diversity survey.

And every year, I click anxiously on the link, hoping for some good news. And every year, I am disappointed.

Every year, I see the inevitable quotes from top editors — about how we’re moving the needle (okay, yeah, slowly, a bit, here and there) and how committed they are to making progress (really?) and how important it is that we reflect our communities (without a doubt).

Yet there is no great sense of urgency and little accountability, as far as I can tell.

And that’s more discouraging than the numbers themselves.

Minority journalists comprise 16.6 percent of the workforce in U.S. newsrooms, according to the latest survey. That’s “only a half-percentage-point decrease from last year's figure,” the ASNE release said.

There are newsrooms across the country — look at the results for yourself — that come nowhere close to mirroring their communities. The ASNE numbers this year included those comparisons, which are helpful.

Women make up 39.1 percent of newsroom employees. Let that sink in. It’s 2017, and women have been graduating from journalism schools at higher rates than men for years. And yet.

I’ve been a journalist for 32 years.

I have heard all the excuses.

And yes, downsizing takes its toll.

And yes, there aren’t as many jobs to fill, and therefore, opportunities to improve the numbers.

But let’s be honest: We’re still hiring, we’re still promoting people, and we’re still doing it the old-fashioned way. Which means that many times, it’s not only what you know but who you know.

And here’s another thing to acknowledge: Especially when it comes to minority journalists, we are, by and large, terrible at recruitment and retention.

People in charge of hiring, and this is human nature, are inevitably drawn to others they can relate to, to common experiences, and they get to decide what skill sets to value. That means that American newsrooms typically reflect the preferences of white men.

And every journalist, no matter what race or gender, wants to feel appreciated and challenged and nurtured, especially when there’s so little financial advantage to staying in the business. Women and minorities leave journalism at a greater clip because they grow disenchanted — by long hours, few rewards, little coaching and no champions.

I have been extremely fortunate in my career, thanks, in part, to white men, especially the editor who gave me my first full-time reporting job and saw something in me, though I was short on clips, and another who promoted me to be his managing editor, partly because we were so different, and he felt we would complement each other.

I have mentored many journalists over the years. Some of the women and minorities have been moved to tears by my attention, because it was the first time they had felt appreciated or even acknowledged. My heart breaks every time.

The fact that there are so few of us has other consequences.

Being a minority editor (and a woman in this business) means you have to police the coverage and the micro-aggressions. It means that you are a sounding board for complaints that echo through the years. It means you grow weary.

Improving diversity in this industry is a moral imperative. Everyone knows that.

It’s also a business imperative. How does everyone not know that?

Our industry relies too much on traditional readers, i.e., people who are older and white.

Thanks to those subscribers, we’re still in business. Bless them.

But America is growing younger and more diverse, and many of those folks feel disconnected from our coverage. They don’t see themselves reflected in stories. They aren’t going to pay us when we have little to offer.

Over the years, people have seen my name in print and reached out. “Eres Latina?” they ask, hopefully. And when I say yes, I can hear the relief in their voices. Someone who will listen, who can understand, who might care.

I am proud to be a journalist, proud to be part of a profession that holds the powerful accountable and gives voice to those without power. But we are an industry that doesn’t hold itself accountable. We don’t even really like to talk about this subject, but we’ll trot out the numbers once a year and lament that we’re still not there.

We should do better.

We can.

We must.

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