You cannot cover a community properly if your newsroom is all one type. Historically, that type is white men, who have dominated newsrooms since their founding.
The demographic is getting better, and shifting to include more women and people of color. Since 2001, 44 percent of newsrooms have gained racial diversity and gender diversity, according to the American Community Survey.
But that progress is not enough. Disparities still exist.
On average, newsrooms are still predominantly male and still predominantly white, and these demographics do not reflect the communities these newsrooms serve.
One example, though extreme, is the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News. Both newsrooms are about 74 percent white, according to 2017 data. Majority white newsrooms, covering a city whose population is 80 percent Black, and only 9 percent white.
I am choosing to examine racial and gender binary disparities, because often these are the variables that are quantifiable. But this isn’t just about race or men versus women. It’s about class, it’s about backgrounds, it’s about perspectives.
If newsrooms do not reflect the communities they serve, how can they cover that community properly? And how can that community expect them to? A white newsroom staff cannot know the challenges that face people of color or how to report on them. A newsroom staff consisting of suburban, upper-middle class folks cannot cover the challenges facing a low-income community. And so on.
I haven’t even mentioned the internalized biases that keep women, people of color and LGBTQ folks out of newsrooms and/or leadership positions in the first place – biases that continue to prevail even if newsroom leaders are not aware they have them. This is significant because it further shows that the common argument of simply hiring the best applicant is inherently biased because discrimination is so internalized.
Diversity quotas mean nothing, even if they are enforced. We shouldn’t be checking off boxes, hiring someone just because they meet a criteria. But newsroom leaders need to make a conscious decision to hire diverse editors and reporters, because otherwise that newsroom cannot and will not properly serve their community.
If we’re not serving our communities, then what exactly are we doing?