Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Diversity in Many Forms is a Newsroom Necessity

Maygan Beeler

Photo provided by mediashift.org
When attempting to define “diversity,” one might consider the perspective of Keith Woods of the Poynter Institute, who says “excellent, ethical journalism honors the core principles of truth, accuracy, fairness and balance.” To be balanced and fair, journalists must include the widest possible range of voices and make a conscious choice to avoid stereotypes and potential bias in their stories. Newsrooms must make meaningful change to ensure there are journalists from various backgrounds to tell these stories.

Diversity is more than a number

Some media organizations, feeling the pressure to increase their diversity statistics, may be tempted to fill positions with any person of color, regardless of that person’s experience or authority on the beat. Wesley Lowery, Ohio University alumnus and Washington Post reporter, argues that publications must take an interest early in the careers of minority journalists. He suggests a focus on programs to train these individuals so that when jobs become available, they are well-equipped to do the work.

“What we also know is that creating diversity in a newsroom isn’t looking up one day and saying, ‘We have an open desk; let’s go find a person of color to sit in it,’” he said. “If you haven’t been building those relationships for years, you’re not going to be able to find the right people to fit in your newsrooms.”

Diversity is an issue in newsrooms across the country, but too often the response of media organizations is superficial. Adding diverse names to a list with the intention of filling a quota solves nothing. Changing the culture of American newsrooms to reflect the diverse backgrounds of the communities in which they exist and foster an atmosphere of acceptance should be a priority.

In an article for mediashift.org, Josh Stearns reiterates this point.

“Diversity isn’t just a numbers game,” he said.

This practice of sprinkling people of color into empty positions for the sake of improving diversity statistics alone isn’t the only issue imperative for newsrooms fix.

Diversity is more than race

Diversity comes in many forms. It can refer to variation in ethnicity, religion, economic status, race, gender, age, sexual orientation and dozens of other demographics. Hiring journalists of diverse races is essential to accurately tell certain stories, but there are also stories that are best told by a Muslim person, or a Catholic person, or a person who has experienced poverty.

“You have to think about the makeup and the mix,” Kevin Merida, a Washington Post managing editor, said in Lowery’s niemanreports.org article. “Do you have enough people who come from different religions? People who grew up poor? People who grew up rich? People who are of every ethnicity and every race and are young and veterans?”

The same article mentions BuzzFeed Life and their efforts to diversify the stories about beauty they produce. Specifically, a plus-sized woman was hired to cover plus-size style and beauty, and Essence Grant, a woman of color, has focused her writing on black beauty.

Diversity is more than skin color; we need to work on improving diversity in as many areas as possible. At a time when newspapers are struggling to survive, the transition to connecting with as many audience members as possible is key. Readers want to see themselves in the stories being told in the media.

A 2010 article by Andrew Alexander, Scripps Howard Visiting Professional and former Washington Post ombudsman, illustrates the reality of this point in the recounting of a real email memo sent to The Post’s top editors.

The memo stated that The Post was losing black readers, and not gaining readers in other minority segments like Asian and Spanish-dominant readers. Minorities were 43 percent of The Post’s circulation area at that time, according to Alexander, and a large part of that region was moving toward “majority minority” status.

“For The Post, being ‘good on diversity’ isn’t enough,” he said.

This sentiment is something all newsrooms must come to understand. Meaningful action to improve the range of voices in American newsrooms cannot be put on the back burner, especially at a time when maintaining and building readership is difficult.

No comments:

Post a Comment