Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Voice for the Voiceless

Jordan Horrobin

It’s sad to say in 2015 we still deal with racial issues in journalism such as a lack of diversity in the newsroom and unequal access for journalists based on race. But these problems do still exist.

As Wes Lowery says in a column for, “If all of the journalists on a particular story have the same backgrounds, the same upbringings, or the same amount of pigment in their skin… they’re not going to be best equipped to ask the depth and the detail of questions that are needed.”

Through an investigation by The Atlantic magazine, reported that in 2014 just 13.34 percent of journalists at daily newspapers and 13 percent of radio journalists came from minority groups — compared to minority groups representing 37.4 percent of the U.S. population.

That is a gross underrepresentation for minority groups in the media, which leads to some serious problems for reporting. There are many factors to consider when weighing the impact of a diverse newsroom versus a non-diverse one, but I’ll outline the two most significant points: variation of viewpoints in the newsroom and variation of access to source information.

Variation of viewpoints in the newsroom

Though people of various ethnic backgrounds try in many ways to be equal, everyone has their own point of view. For some news stories, journalists might have different opinions on how to properly carry out coverage.

For example, if a story is going to come out that contains material the Hispanic community might take offense to, a Hispanic journalist in the newsroom could assist in getting the story out in a respectful way. Without the help of a journalist who can see how a minority group might perceive information, a newspaper could publish an offensive story that ends up losing it credibility and trust.

As a white reporter, I might not realize how a minority group would take offense to something I’ve written. Diversity in the newsroom can let reporters of different ethnicities educate each other on racial sensitivity.

Variation of access to source information

One aspect of journalism you simply cannot control is how your race may positively or negatively impact your level of reporting on a given story.

Some sources might feel more comfortable confiding with journalists who have the same ethnicity, perhaps because to them it establishes a level of trust.

For her PulitzerPrize finalist long form piece on crack cocaine addictions in a Miami housing project, the late Washington Post journalist Lynne Duke said a white reporter wouldn’t have received the same information for the story as she had. Duke said, “When I looked at the black crack addicts I saw something of myself in them, because in the eyes of white society, the color of our skin makes us identical.”

Different racial groups might have access to different information based on the way they are personally treated too, as was the case for Buzzfeed senior national reporter Joel Anderson.

During coverage of the Ferguson, Missouri riots, Anderson strung together several tweets to recount one evening where the police mistook him for a rioter:

Tweets captured via

In an article that summarizes this experience, Anderson told he felt a sense of familiarity with protesters who might have been overlooked by other journalists and that helped his reporting.

What Anderson said to sums up the main importance of having a diverse newsroom: be a voice for the voiceless. It’s not that we want to say one reporter is better suited to cover a particular story because of his or her race, but it’s often beneficial to have reporters from a variety of racial backgrounds cover the same topic.

Sometimes different people have different views of the same story. Diversity allows different views to be seen, different voices to be heard and ultimately better reporting.

No comments:

Post a Comment