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In nonprofit news, efforts to track diversity move forward

By Sue Cross and Emily Roseman

A national headline ran across the country last week: “Efforts to track diversity in journalism are lagging” (AP). But it’s only partly true.

Many legacy and commercial newspapers have balked at reporting their diversity stats for years. Last week, the News Leaders Association said that it extended the deadline to complete its study of diversity in journalism because only 5% out of the 5,900 newsrooms invited to take the survey had participated. This year isn’t a blip — tracking the industry’s diversity efforts have long been an issue.

It’s different in nonprofit newsrooms, which are tracking their progress. When the Institute for Nonprofit News invited 284 member nonprofit news organizations to take its diversity survey in January 2021, some 94% responded.

Have they reached their diversity goals yet? No. Do they own up to it publicly? Yes.

Public media has picked up its reporting. Current reported issues with uncovering detailed public media demographic data in 2020, eventually publishing figures from 2017 and 2018. This year, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting released diversity stats through 2020.

We know we have a diversity problem in news media. But refusing to report it won’t solve it, and it can only hurt the news organizations who hide it. Transparency is key to building public trust.

In the nonprofit news space, INN has the leverage of some grant programs and a strong membership network to incentivize diversity reporting. That is no doubt an advantage over a survey at the scale NLA is aiming for. But it also reflects a profoundly different culture in nonprofit news vs. commercial media companies.

Among the independent nonprofits in the INN network, most view tracking and reporting diversity as part of their mission to serve, reflect and be transparent to the public. INN collects and publishes core DEI staffing stats annually in its Index survey, in addition to periodic deep dives, including our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in Nonprofit News report published in 2020.

Here’s some of what we learned and reported in June 2021, based on 2020 data:

  • We see signs of progress in racial equity and inclusion within the nonprofit news field. In 2020, over a third of outlets (37%) had a staff where people of color made up 40% or more of total personnel, roughly representative of the U.S. population.
  • In the past few years there has been a rise in organizations led by people of color, with recent startups leading the field’s advances in diversity. Nearly half of all INN member news outlets led by people of color launched from 2017 through 2020. Among the 770 workers across startups, including leadership and staff, 38% are people of color, vs. 31% for the whole field.
  • There is a continued need for work at the executive level. A little less than a quarter of nonprofit news executives are people of color. Representation is highly variable and many outlets have low or no racial diversity at the top leadership level: One third of outlets have at least one person of color among their top executives, but nearly two-thirds have all white leadership.

In sum: Nonprofit news is far from perfect, but it’s trying. INN’s member outlets commit to transparency — perhaps the first step in creating a more equitable news field — through participating in annual reporting processes. Many nonprofit news outlets conduct and publish their own diversity reports in addition to participating in the Index.

Above all, nonprofit news knows this: if an outlet doesn’t represent the public it serves, it can’t be truly serving the public interest. And if a news organization isn’t serving the public, then what’s the point?

To learn more about the nonprofit news field, visit inn.org or sign up for our weekly INNovation newsletter.

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Institute for Nonprofit News

Institute for Nonprofit News

INN strengthens and supports more than 300 news organizations in a new kind of media network: nonprofit, nonpartisan and dedicated to public service. inn.org