Building a diverse newsroom

A game plan


There have been many discussions about the benefits of having a diverse newsroom. There have been articles that lament the lack thereof in newsrooms, old and new. And building a diverse newsroom is hard.

What follows is an incomplete list of suggestions to increase the number of and retain diverse talents in newsrooms. I found these suggestions by researching this subject and by talking to recruiters and managers, mostly in an effort to be better about hiring/commissioning in my capacity as an interactive editor and as a member of various organizations.

Please feel free to ping me with more information you find useful and I can add it to this article: info [at] lamivo [dot] com.

Hiring

When it comes to hiring diverse talent, there seem to be a number of recurring strategies:

  1. Targeted outreach
  2. Continuous recruiting
  3. Paid training opportunities
  4. Using various metrics to evaluate applicants fairly

Targeted outreach

Various people I spoke to concurred that outreach should happen both when an organization has openings and ‘all the time.’ It should also happen in networks outside of your general periphery.

Quartz’s ideas editor Mitra Kalita had a great point at a recent CUNY discussion: Get yourself out there. Go for drinks at a local National Association of Black Journalists event, ask about the mailing list Tech Lady Mafia, or go to the Native American Journalists Association conference.

You should also volunteer at relevant events, speak at panels about diversity or put on by groups that represent minorities and encourage others to do the same.

Here’s an incomplete list of groups you could contact:

Minorities:
Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association
Asian American Journalists Association
National Association of Black Journalists
National Association of Hispanic Journalists
Native American Journalists Association
South Asian Journalists Association
Unity Journalists
Journalists of Color
Diversify Journalism With Me (old spreadsheet)
Women:
Journalism and Women Symposium
Tech Lady Mafia
Women, Media, Action
Film Fatales
The Li.st
Hire More Women in Tech (includes a great list of women’s tech communities)
Speakerinnen
Articulate Network
LGBT:
National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association

(please email me if I’ve left out any major organization)

Be poly-amorous. Hang out with many people.

A conversation about diversifying newsrooms hosted by CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Continuous recruiting

Someone once told me that “recruiting happens all the time” and I firmly believe in that, having been a beneficiary of the process and having recruited myself in that way. So I do believe that it’s worthwhile speaking to as many people as possible, to respond to those emails you get from students and to stay in touch with people who have potential. You never know when and where the right opportunity might arise for an individual you meet.

When I speak at conferences and universities, I usually tell people that I come with a life-time guarantee, a phrase I’ve borrowed from the great instructor and computer-assisted reporter Tom Torok. Few people take me up on it, but those who do often reap the benefits later. I have watched journalism students go from beginners to pros through the work they send me and I’ve recommended people I met for jobs at other companies. It’s also worked in my favor: people remembered me months after meeting me and have reached out to me about jobs.

Paid training opportunities

Another recurring piece of advice I’ve gotten from various parties is offering payment for traineeships, internships and fellowships. This widens the pool of applicants who usually could not afford to do unpaid internships.

Using all kinds of metrics to evaluate candidates

A lot of people have complained to me that many of the best jobs at companies are never actually advertised or are only advertised after hiring managers have made up their mind. Often that can result in friends of friends or former colleagues from other companies getting these jobs.

To be really fair to all candidates, many of whom might not be plugged into existing networks, I’ve seen some companies take on a hiring approach that requires them to look at multiple metrics in evaluating a candidate. Someone who interviews well and has one or two big names on their résumé might not perform well on a test.

I’ve heard from hiring managers who said that the test saved them from someone who might be great at networking but not so great at producing good work. Using an index of metrics is often better than relying on candidates we know from contacts. It’s more work, but makes it a more even playing field.

The measures I’ve seen used collectively as a way to evaluate candidates were: a cover letter, résumé, an interview, work references, past work, a standardized test, life experiences and points of view that are needed in the newsroom, and projects on a freelance basis as a way to understand how people work.

Retaining diverse talent

In many ways, one of the reason we care about having a diverse newsroom is to make sure that different perspectives are heard. A team needs to feel like they are all working towards the same goal and thereby make everyone feel like they want to stay at a place, not just be hired there in the first place.

Especially in editorial meetings, it’s important to make sure everyone feels like they have a stake in the overall product. This means making sure that people with different personalities, of different backgrounds and with different opinions can be heard in the newsroom and in the decision making process of what gets coverage, special visual treatment, resources and time. Everyone has different priorities and interests so to ensure that we all keep our individual biases in check I find it particularly helpful to give a voice to everyone when we conceptualize and discuss stories.

One thing I love about the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, a group I’m part of, is their moderation of group discussions. They put in place simple methods that might seem silly at first but can help make people who are less inclined to speak feel more comfortable in voicing their opinion.

1. Raising your hand/taking stack: everyone in the filmmakers’ group raises their hand after the viewing of a piece of work that will be workshopped during a meeting. A moderator puts down every name and everyone gets to speak however long they want at their turn.

2. Twinkles: no one gets interrupted, which is usually what happens when you can have more opinionated, extroverted people in the room. Instead of disagreeing or agreeing to something vocally, people show their disagreement or agreement through ‘twinkles’ or ‘jazz hands’ (up for agreement, downward-facing for disagreement). This ensures that people get their say and that they can finish their thought without being interrupted.

3. Popcorning: When an issue that is touched upon raises enough concern (i.e. many twinkles) the collective does something called ‘popcorning,’ i.e. let people throw in random comments that all relate to that issue. Once people have said their peace, the discussion continues according to stack.

4. The moderator: This is actually quite important. A good group discussion moderator can literally moderate the group to keep to the rules implemented and to make sure that they call upon people when it’s their turn to speak. This can make brainstorming more productive.

These processes can feel quite weird at first. It’s not for everyone and might not work for all stories or deadlines, but it’s a nice way to keep discussions civilized and balanced. I’ve used these methods in some editorial settings and it has helped encourage people to speak.

Understanding what diversity means to a group, then act on it

Another formalized way of understanding how to value diversity in your workplace is by involving facilitators. This method requires a budget and some time.

There are a number of groups that do this kind of work. They conduct workshops with employees to better understand:

a.) What the organization ‘means’ to people and how diversity fits into that context (Is it just a job for people? Is it a place where they do some things they like but mostly find satisfaction in other outside projects? What does everyone perceive as the mission of a place? How integrated is each voice in this mission?)

b.) How people currently feel about the organization

c.) How people would like to improve diversity-related issues at the organization

From these exercises, the facilitator drafts a set of actionable items and goals that can be implemented over time. I’ve gone through the process with the filmmakers collective and it was hugely beneficial in drafting recruitment methods and in creating more inclusive discussions.

Here are a number of facilitators that work on just this kind of training, which all cost a certain fee. If a newsroom is serious about diversity, these groups are great at helping. After all, they do this for a living:

Colorlines: http://colorlines.com
Aorta: http://www.aortacollective.org/
Training for Change: http://www.trainingforchange.org/

Further reading

A general guide from The Wall Street Journal on hiring diverse talent
An NABJ write-up on diversifying hiring
Poynter’s Diversity Bibliography (published in 2002, but some interesting links to dig through)
Scratch Magazine’s Interactive Graphic on Diversity in Journalism