We Can’t Afford to Wait for More Diverse Newsrooms

by Evelyn Hsu and Martin G. Reynolds, co-executive directors, The Maynard Institute

Molly de Aguiar
News Integrity Initiative
7 min readFeb 26, 2019


As part of the News Integrity Initiative, we’re featuring a series of profiles of NII grantees in order to highlight their groundbreaking work. NII is centered around a vision for journalism that builds trust, empathy and solutions in our communities. In order to have enduring trust between newsrooms and the public, however, new organizations must fully represent and be rooted in the communities they serve. Here, Evelyn and Martin explain why that is — now more than ever — and how the Maynard 200 program to train 200 journalists, community storytellers and entrepreneurs of color over the next five years, is leading the charge.

Thanks to Lindsay Muscato for facilitating this profile.

Maynard 200 fellows along with Maynard Institute faculty and board members meet for a reception Dec. 9 at the USC Hotel in Los Angeles.

These days we hear a lot about Americans’ lack of trust in the media. For us, it’s a disconnect that goes right back to our roots. The Maynard Institute began almost five decades ago, in the dramatic aftermath of the Kerner Commission, and the notion of holding the media accountable for ignoring racial fractures in American society.

At that time, the number of journalists of color in newsrooms was so small, just handfuls. The “reason” given was often, “we can’t find anyone qualified.” So the Maynard Institute’s founders — a group of reporters that was very diverse — said, “we’re going to train journalists ourselves.” Back then in many newsrooms, Maynard Institute graduates (about 20 people a year) were the first people of color to work there.

In fact, we — the co-directors right now — are Maynard Institute graduates. The experience we had while in Maynard programs were invaluable to us in our long careers as reporters and editors at major publications. We’ve both come back to our roots, and now we’re working on training journalists through Maynard 200, a grantee of the News Integrity Initiative. Our goal? To train 200 storytellers, managers, and entrepreneurs of color in the next five years. Although it’s a pilot for us, in many ways the stakes couldn’t be higher: diversity in media looks just as dire as when the Maynard Institute began.

Hidden reasons for a broken pipeline

It’s not that newsrooms never made any progress whatsoever — it’s that the pipeline for journalists of color was, for many years, at a standstill, and while some progress has been made, there is still much work to do. There’s been a lot of talk about how the rise of social media has affected journalism’s bottom line, so it’s easy to forget that the Great Recession has an enormous impact, too, and it was a real setback for diversity. A couple of years ago, after the worst of the recession had passed, an editor said: “I’m hiring now and I don’t recall how to hire. It’s been such a long time.” For so long, everybody was hunkered down, cutting staff, cutting training. Diversity was regarded as a “nice to have” as opposed to something that should be at the core of every organization, as part of your strategic plan for success and survival. A lot of the journalists of color that were in newsrooms left — through attrition, cutbacks. That includes many of the success stories, the people who could have contended for higher-level positions. Here’s a case study on the Philadelphia Inquirer, where even a robust effort to increase representation began to fall apart when the money stopped flowing.

Industry-wide, a generation or two was lost at the upper echelons, whether that’s on boards or executive teams. We’ve even had to convince organizations that diversity should be part of their strategic plan, in 2018.

To make real, lasting progress, this effort has to be about more than just numbers. Newsrooms need to be actually empowering and valuing people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. It’s about creating a culture of inclusion that embraces the totality of what diverse journalists bring with them through life experience. Otherwise, people become disillusioned and leave. That’s why retention is so challenging for many news outlets and why so many journalists of color leave the business altogether.

We’re here to rebuild.

Why diverse newsrooms matter so much right now

Among other things, a lack of diversity completely erodes trust and faith in the institution of the press. The Trust Project, for example, has outlined eight indicators of trustworthy content, that is derived from research of both domestic and international news consumers. One of those indicators is diverse voices in a news organization. If we want to be seen as trustworthy and credible to the communities we seek to serve, diversity has been determined empirically as an indicator of trustworthy content. So even if the business case or the moral case for diversity doesn’t resonate with you, most journalists do care about being trustworthy and credible.

That’s why it’s not as simple as just hiring more people of color. We need a cultural embracing of diversity at the organizational level. You can’t have six people of color in a room but not have them bring their full selves to the journalism they want to do, the sources they select, the angles they want to take. The notion of objectivity in journalism is false; every journalist brings how they see the world. Let’s acknowledge that the white perspective can’t be the default perspective. It’s critical that we add various lenses to the camera which we use to see the world, just like a photographer does.

Those lenses matter in our coverage — and in our everyday interactions with each other, behind the scenes. As we cover divides in American society, we have to realize that we’re no better. We’re at a critical juncture; there’s a collective divisiveness going on in our own industry. We need to be hyper-aware and connected, open and humble, about our biases and how they affect our perceptions of the world. Journalists, it’s long past time to get this right.

What the Maynard 200 looks like

We’re starting with 26 people of color who bring a wide variety of different backgrounds, under the leadership of project director Odette Keeley. Our cohort includes so many talented folks who are the future of this industry, everyone from a manager at Newsday to an entrepreneur covering the Bangladeshi diaspora. It’s a wide spectrum.

We’ve focused on:

  • Storytellers, because we need to look beyond the outdated boxes of reporter/editor and support everyone telling the stories of their communities.
  • Managers, because we need to support diverse leaders in all kinds of news organizations, especially in non-traditional and ethnic media.
  • Journalism entrepreneurs, because journalists of color need to chart their own course, and not be beholden to mainstream media.

Maynard 200 Fellow Michael Butler

Our vision is that this group will become part of a mini-movement, which then becomes a huge movement. It has to. There’s not a moment to waste. Our country needs these journalists — their perspectives, their leadership, and their innovation — more than ever.

The good news is, we’re well on our way. In December 2018, 26 Maynard 200 fellows met for their second weeklong training at USC’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism. The first week was back in July in Boulder, CO and run in partnership with Google News Lab.

This talented group worked through business challenges, learned how to navigate difficult conversations, had a day-long investigative bootcamp put on by IRE, and much more. It all culminated in more than 20 mentors from across the country flying in to meet with their assigned mentee.

Those in the management and storytelling tracks were assigned individual mentors who are top news executives, editors and journalists from a who’s who of media outlets and academic institutions. The entrepreneurs got a different kind of support: a virtual board of directors that will help them on an as-needed basis over the next year.

Sonya Ross of the AP gives a keynote address during Maynard 200. Ross also agreed to serve as a mentor for a Maynard 200 fellow.

Maynard 200 fellows pose with their mentors following graduation at USC’s Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism Dec. 13, 2018.

The days of diversity and inclusion being viewed as a “nice to have” are over, whether news executives want to believe it or not. We are living in a society that is rapidly changing, and if we want to be credible, trustworthy, and grow audience, then the time for viewing people of color as anomalies is over. We have to be at the table and in the meetings, where our perspectives won’t just be tolerated but embraced.

Maynard is here to help, to push and advocate for what we know will help our newsrooms — and in doing so, help the craft of journalism and the people it seeks to serve.

Evelyn Hsu and Martin G. Reynolds are the co-executive directors of The Maynard Institute, which promotes diversity in the news media through improved coverage, hiring, business practices and training programs that equip journalists with leadership, multimedia skills and subject expertise for news organizations across platforms.