For nearly 40 years, the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) has made examining diversity within newsrooms a priority. In more recent years, they have expanded the research and made the data more widely available by partnering with the Google News Lab. We at the News Media Alliance strongly support these efforts, as well as commitments individual organizations have made to tracking how their staff represents the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of the US. NPR, for example, recently publicized their newsroom breakdown, along with a candid conversation about why the numbers look the way they do. In the wake of these and other projects, we wanted to detail why we support efforts to diversify news organizations – in and out of the newsroom.
Diverse populations within news organizations help ensure that the final news products will tell the widest possible range of stories that best meet the audience’s needs. A 2015 Nieman report explained, “Journalists often find it difficult to have open, honest conversations about race and ethnicity—even compared to other contentious newsroom issues, like gender imbalances—for fear of damaging relationships with editors or colleagues.” But the same report highlighted some successes at BuzzFeed, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the Asbury Park Press, which could inform efforts nationwide.
Another important, often overlooked, form of diversity within news organizations is diversity of viewpoints. In an age of deep political polarization, which can directly impact media, publishing stories reflecting a range of beliefs and experiences may help expand reader trust. As Will Oremus explained in Slate, “The problem is that a homogeneity of viewpoints tends to produce uncritical consensus, leading groups of otherwise intelligent people to collectively overlook or downplay evidence that might counter their preconceptions. That’s true in realms far beyond electoral politics.”
A public statement of commitment to diversity can also bring financial benefit to a news organization. Outside Magazine has made a focused effort to be “a more diverse, inclusive, and at times political publication. That means weekly meetings to ensure that editors of each vertical on the website are running an equal number of stories written by men and by women. It means women and different body types featured in photography and art.” This effort has paid off – digital revenue is projected to grow 20 percent in 2018, and an affiliate revenue program has brought in “six figures” of revenue since its launch.
News organizations have large audiences to serve, including their readers and their own staff. Committing to creating more diverse workplaces can benefit both groups. While making these changes may be difficult, we at the Alliance support all organizations who want to expand their point of view to create better news for readers and more tolerant workplaces for employees.
Rebecca is the Director of Research & Insights at the News Media Alliance.