The Promise — and Challenge — of Diversity at 730DC

Anti-racism protesters gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue, winter 2015. Credit: Hayden Higgins.

At 730DC, we’d like to think that y’all rely on us for insights into how to live an informed, engaged, and interesting life in the District. From the feedback we’ve gathered through surveys, events, and anecdotally, many of you think we’re making progress towards that goal. While we certainly toot our own horn from time to time, we also strive to never become complacent and consistently get better at curating the best possible daily content for our readers.

This brings us to an important priority for the 730DC team: diversifying the staff working on our newsletter and producing content that’s truly relevant to all young people living in DC — including the huge populations of people of color, specifically Black people, living in the District and surrounding counties.

When 730DC began, the narrowness of our audience was part of the point. We wanted to reach the young people who had moved to Washington to get involved with national politics, and convince them that local issues were worth following, too. As we’ve grown — we just passed 6,500 readers — we think we can continue to achieve that purpose while doing a better job of reaching and representing diverse audiences. We won’t ever reach or write for everyone. But just as diversity drives DC’s dynamism, it also helps us tell every side of the story. Our product will be better for all our readers if it does not collaborate in the erasure of Black voices and culture.

SHFWire (http://www.shfwire.com/for-some-residents-redeveloping-d-c-seen-as-last-stand/) crafted this infographic in April to reflect the shifting demographics in the District from 1990 to 2010 US Census Data. Whereas Northwest’s Ward 1 shows a pronounced increase in White residents, only Southeast’s Ward 8 has experineced an increase in Black population. Source: neighborhoodinfodc.org. SHFWire graphic by Karina Meier

We’ll be honest with you: the 730DC staff is not representative of the city we write about. Of the 13 folks who help make 730DC, only 3 identify as people of color. (46% of Washingtonians are black.) None of our staff are native Washingtonians. While we have worked hard to reach gender parity and uplift the perspectives of LGBTQ people, we have no staff with roots in the District’s vibrant yet shrinking Black community.

What’s more — our readership reflects this imbalance. Most, though certainly not all, of you identify as white, live in Northwest DC, possess at least an undergraduate education, and have achieved some level of economic security.

There’s a keen difference between reporting on an issue and actually experiencing it. In reading and writing about the stories that define DC today, we have to be self-aware about the perspectives we bring to the table. As readers and writers in an age where digital media drive political echo chambers, it’s up to us to break the bubble.

Media, writ large, suffers from a race problem, one that ranges from representation in Hollywood all the way down to local journalism. Some of the sources we link to suffer from the same issue. Media projects in America continue to be largely white, straight, and monied (even if journalism is a shit career for getting paid). According to a 2015 study by Pew Research Center, journalism gets less diverse as it gets more local; while people of color make up approximately 35 percent of the US population, they represent only 22 percent of the local television newsforce and 13 percent of the staff at local daily newspapers.

Smaller news outlets across the country earn failing marks for the diversity of their staffs.

As a local grassroots news organization, we take seriously the need to bring on writers and editors of color who can leverage their experience with us to make progress towards their personal and professional goals. And diversification of our staff will not only improve our content, it will lend deeper meaning to our community and civic engagement work.

This post is neither the beginning nor the end of our efforts to think more critically and intentionally about the relationship of our enterprise to power and justice. Every newsletter is an opportunity to challenge ourselves and the status quo.

Over the past several months, we’ve formed our own internal working group to plan out how we might make tangible progress on the topics raised above. Following their initial brainstorming, we’ve arrived at the following shared commitments:

  • Diversity of voice: We commit to identifying writers in our communities who can diversify the contributions made to 730DC.
  • Partnership: Recognizing that news isn’t created in a vacuum, we commit to developing relationships with community-based organizations that can help us tell stories beyond the headlines.
  • Consciousness: We commit to challenging ourselves through the development of a more comprehensive staff on-boarding process, including a diversity of readings focused on the histories of DC and the process by which Chocolate City became the DC of today.
  • Reach: We commit to writing outside of our comfort zones.

We hope you’ll lean into this commitment with us. Hold us accountable when we could have done better or when we’ve missed a story of particular relevance to you and your community. We’re in this to grow.We hope you are, too.

Email us your thoughts, as always, at hello@730dc.com.

Yours,

The 730DC Team

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