The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday May 31st

Farewell Column: Dear DTH, when will you make diversity a priority?

Tania Tobaccowala was Elevate Editor for 2022-2023 and will graduate in May 2023.
Buy Photos Tania Tobaccowala was Elevate Editor for 2022-2023 and will graduate in May 2023.

Last August was the first time I had set foot in The Daily Tar Heel office. 

I had no expectations, strong feelings or idea of what being a writer or editor at this newsroom meant. I had no friends who worked at the newspaper before last year and I heard nothing about the working environment or the pressures of being in this workplace. I walked into a blank slate, ready to learn and absorb as much as possible. 

For the first few weeks, I took my job as an observer very seriously. I needed to understand how a newsroom worked – and I felt more foreign than ever. 

I often went up to management and asked them silly questions. “So, um, what exactly is a CQ?” “What is that thing called below the headline?” “How do you look for quotes in Otter?” 

I was initially hesitant — should I have known about this before I signed up? However, comfort came quick. My questions were never laughed at and I was encouraged to ask more. 

Things work fast in a newsroom, faster than I had ever anticipated. 

In that constant sprint, I was in awe of the hard work everyone put in, how meticulous people were and how hours went into editing a single article with a writer. This was the first time I had seen anything like it. 

Quickly, I also learned that in the middle of this madness, people cared about me and I cared about them.

I was often checked up on, given spontaneous hugs, invited to dinner and then dropped off at home late at night. Deep conversations and connections have turned into lifelong friends I am so grateful for. 

But again, things moved quickly. And suddenly, I realized that in the middle of the race, I did not have time to reflect on my position or understand my role in the newsroom. Maybe I was blinded by my excitement to be a part of this monumental organization. 

When things slowed down, I began to reflect.

My position in this newsroom is the Elevate Editor. And, as the Elevate editor, when people ask me what I do in this role, I still don’t know how to explain it. When taking on this position, I was told that The Daily Tar Heel historically had “issues” when reporting on specific topics. These “issues” have hurt minority groups; therefore, the Elevate section and editor came into existence. A whole (separate) section to highlight underrepresented communities. 

I had no context when I decided to take on this position a year ago. This role sounded important and I was ready to be in that vital position. 

Today, I believe my role should not even exist.

During the last few months, when I battled with this thought, it was hard not to think about everything wrong with this newsroom. It was hard to put friendships and love aside and critique the place you decided to work and the position you willingly signed up for.

The Elevate section and Elevate editor position give people an excuse. An excuse for others not to catch problematic terms, an excuse to not have certain conversations within their team and an excuse not to implement diverse sources in every single story — not just those marked as Elevate. 

The Daily Tar Heel makes an active effort to report on various communities, and I believe we do so. However, is it fair to have editors and writers that do not currently represent our readership? Is it okay to have an overwhelmingly white newsroom with one editor and two DEI officers to look over everything “diversity” related? 

I recently read Leah Asmelash’s farewell column, in which she writes:

“The DTH needs its editors of color. Journalism needs editors of color. And if we are not actively ensuring that our staffers of color are uplifted and welcome in our newsroom, whether they be college or professional, we are failing.” 

That was in 2018. I never met her.  

Now, in 2023, this still holds true, and I don’t see an active effort to make it a priority. Voices are truly amplified in our community when the voices are truly uplifted within the newsroom. 

Thank you, Clay and Sonia, for our countless discussions about diversity, equity and inclusion within the DTH and the future of Elevate. Thank you to management, my friends Guillermo, Allie, Preston and Lilly, for hearing me out and caring for me through all the institutional frustrations. 

It’s time these conversations turn into action and hiring a more diverse newsroom becomes the absolute precedence. An editor should not be writing about this in their 2028 farewell column. 


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