How diverse are our local newsrooms?

When we talk about diversity in media, there’s a specific question that often gets lost: Do our newsrooms actually reflect the diversity of the communities we cover?

Today, AAJA Seattle — an organization that supports Asian American journalists — is asking that question of newsrooms that primarily cover the Seattle metropolitan area. We know anecdotally that the answer is no, but if we are serious about finding solutions, we need our conversations to be as informed as possible. And for that, we need hard data.

Increasing diversity in media means bringing in more voices, backgrounds, and perspectives of all types. However, given that many recent discussions of newsroom diversity — both on social media and in our community — have focused on race and gender, we chose to specifically focus on these facets of diversity in this report.

Here is the racial breakdown of King County, WA, according to the latest Census Bureau data* from 2014:

*The Census Bureau treats Hispanics as an ethnic group, but with help from our friend Gene Balk at The Seattle Times, we parsed the data to reflect Hispanics as a racial group.

We are interested in comparing these numbers to the racial and gender breakdown of the newsrooms that cover this area. In order to do so, we reached out to 18 local newsrooms to complete our survey.

Nine newsrooms shared their data with us. Three others — KING 5, Seattle Weekly and The Stranger — said they were unable to release any information due to company policies. The Stranger’s general manager, Laurie Saito, added that the paper is planning its own internal diversity survey and will publish those results by July.

Update (Oct. 25): The Stranger got back to us this week with the results of their internal diversity survey. We’ve updated our report to include those numbers.

KPLU did fill out our original survey, and when we followed up with clarifying questions about the data they submitted, news director Erin Hennessey said they were unable to provide more information because they were busy with a few other things. She did say their newsroom is majority white and female — and they would be happy to participate in the survey next year.

We did not hear back from the following organizations: KBCS, KIRO 7, KOMO, Q13 FOX, Seattle Magazine and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

We invite all news organizations in Washington State to complete our survey and will update the numbers below to include new responses.

(1) One person at GeekWire identifies as both Hispanic and White. (2) One person at Puget Sound Business Journal identifies as both Asian and Pacific Islander. (3) One person at Seattle Met identifies as both Hispanic and Black, another person identifies as both Hispanic and White. (4) The Seattle Times provided percentages that it reported to the 2015 American Society of News Editors report, which reflects the racial diversity of the newsroom in 2014. We converted those percentages into estimated numbers based on the current number of newsroom staff.

There were several challenges in collecting and reporting this data.

First, many news organizations do not formally collect data on the racial breakdown of their employees. This favored smaller newsrooms for our report, where it is easier to conduct informal surveys of all employees. Additionally, many of the newsrooms that participated in our survey gathered their data by making observations — and, inevitably, assumptions — about the race and gender of their employees, rather than by asking employees to self-identify. Over time, we hope that this will change, since the accuracy of demographic data relies on everyone having the opportunity to self-identify.

Secondly, not all organizations who got back to us reported their numbers in the same way. Some newsrooms included contractors and freelancers in their report. Others did not. We left that up to the discretion of each organization. But this inconsistency does add further complexity to our question. Who contributes to newsroom diversity? Does a newsroom that pulls from a diverse group of freelancers carry the same weight as an organization with a diverse staff of permanent employees? In the end, we told news organizations they should count staff who have a direct say on whether specific issues or communities are covered and how.

Finally, any study of racial demographics runs into the question of how to handle the fact that many people identify as more than one race. To further complicate matters, not every organization reported these numbers in the same way. Mirroring the Census Bureau, we chose to treat “two or more races” as a separate category, and to not count people who fall into this category in any other category. But by grouping all people of more than one race together, we inevitably lose an understanding of the specific racial diversity they bring to their newsrooms.

Quantifying diversity — whether it be based on race, gender or life experiences — in newsrooms is difficult. Oftentimes the data doesn’t exist, and even when it does, there is no standard way of reporting it. But we believe there’s value in reporting these numbers because it forces us to take a step back and consider whether our newsrooms are living up to their promise of representing the communities they serve.

Do you have suggestions for how we can better report these numbers on a regular basis? Shoot us an e-mail using our contact information below.

This report was written by Anika Anand and Audrey Carlsen in collaboration with the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA Seattle).

Anika Anand: anikaanand00@gmail.com; Audrey Carlsen: audreycarlsen@gmail.com