Q&A: Corinne Chin, Video Editor @ The Seattle Times

Corinne is also the founder of the Times’s Newsroom Diversity & Inclusion task force, which aims to increase inclusivity in coverage and diversity in hiring. The Idea caught up with her to learn more about how the task force creates change in the newsroom and how she balances her two roles.

Meena Lee
The Idea

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Can you give me an overview of your role and team?

On the video team, I film and edit video stories. I specifically focus on longer-form, larger-scope stories and interactive presentations. A good example of this is our “Under Our Skin” project from 2016, which is an interactive web documentary in a kind of choose-your-own-adventure format, where viewers can listen to videos on the words that we use to talk about race and how we interpret and misinterpret those words and sometimes talk past each other.

I’m also our Newsroom Diversity & Inclusion task force co-leader. I founded the task force in 2017. It came out of a systematic push that the whole newsroom was participating in to be more strategic about our business model and culture. Some of the things that we do on the task force: We serve as an advisory board to newsroom leadership on specific issues that come up. We’ve also developed a style guide for inclusive journalism, which includes specific guidelines around terminology, pronouns, and questions to ask yourself before you publish a story. (For example, is race relevant to the story, have I explained the relevance, am I using passive or active language, who’s the subject of that language?)

Another thing that we run is a Slack channel that’s kind of a hotline for advice. So if someone is doing a story on a sensitive topic that they are not as familiar with or maybe they’re working in digital and they see a headline or tweet that may be problematic, they can post in this channel and we have newsroom volunteers who get notifications on their phones whenever something is posted — even on weekends and holidays — to provide feedback.

We also host Community Voices, a series of events that we do every month or so where we bring members of the community into our newsroom and do a panel discussion or a presentation about a topic that is undercovered in media. We’ve had the Gendered Justice League come talk about transgender policy issues in Washington State, we’ve had speakers on neuro-diversity and autism — we try to have a good mix of people active in the community since we are a local paper, and we try to make those connections between our journalists and people who really care about these issues.

What was the impetus for starting the task force?

These were discussions we were having informally for many years; it was just kind of the right time to start something more formal. We were engaging in this larger program around the newsroom to shift our business model from being driven by advertising revenue to being more supported by digital subscribers, and this was part of the changing-the-culture-of-the-newsroom part of that, to being a more sustainable organization with a more sustainable, increasingly diverse audience in a growing city. There were many different initiatives that took place that year [2017], and this is luckily one of the more prominent ones that is still around two years later.

This also came after the publication of the “Under Our Skin” project. I really did see a change in how the newsroom talked about race and diversity after that published. I think before that, being in a daily newsroom, people got so caught up in the everyday and the changing hot topic of discussion, but after “Under Our Skin” published, we realized we could talk about these issues on a deeper level in a more evergreen format. We still get comments almost everyday to that project — people are still visiting the page, there are still community groups using it — so that really opened up a new set of possibilities for us as a newsroom to not only pursue that deeper type of storytelling, but also to talk about it with each other, as people. And it gave us the tools to have that discussion, since the project is so focused on language. I think [“Under Our Skin”] was not necessarily a direct catalyst for the task force, but definitely did help make the newsroom environment one that could sustain it.

Who’s on the task force? What do you ultimately hope to accomplish?

It’s all volunteer-based — we range from reporters to digital producers to engagement editors to photographers to video editors, all the way up to managing editors and the executive editor. Being a news organization, not everybody can come to every meeting, but I would say we probably have between 15–20 people who consistently come.

The task force has a two-fold mission: one, to help promote diversity in our content and coverage, which are things that the style guide, the Slack channel, and the Community Voices series tackle. And then our internal mission is to increase representation within our newsroom, so that means advising leadership on recruitment and retention strategy. Part of that is conducting sentiment surveys with our newsroom, attending affinity group conferences, and [having spaces like book clubs and Slack channels] for people in the newsroom to have discussions.

Every time we’re successful in completing one initiative, it gives us momentum and opens up the door for another group to start. And all of these things I just mentioned have been added on since we first started doing this in 2017. We’ve had a lot of positive reaction from people in the newsroom who have a lot of ideas and energy but didn’t always have an outlet for those ideas, and we’re able to provide a supportive environment and a group of people who are also trying to make positive change in our culture as a newsroom.

How do you develop ideas for initiatives?

A lot of the time it’s an idea from a task force member that’s been brewing for a while, and we’ll come together in a meeting and brainstorm. Sometimes it’s more systematic — we did that sentiment survey that I mentioned, we got a lot of qualitative and quantitative data from that, as well as a lot of great ideas on how to improve this as a place to work [including a suggestion box for leadership, management office hours, and management and writing trainings], that we were able to start acting on.

How do you institutionalize initiatives?

One of the first things we did as a task force was to have our mission statement where we lay out our commitment to diversity posted to the corporate website — that was one thing we wanted from the start, to make sure it was a top-down commitment.

The way our meetings [held every two weeks] are structured is that every other meeting, our managing editors and executive editor are present so that we have dedicated face-time with them where we can advocate for a change or present something and know they’ll be in the room listening. And then the other meetings include just that smaller core group, to have “safe-space time” to make sure we’re developing these ideas as far as they can be developed before they’re put in front of leadership to evaluate.

It sounds like the task force does a lot of different things! How do you find the time to balance this with all your other responsibilities as a video journalist?

I’ve been really lucky because our video strategy is not a daily video strategy, so I do focus on longer-term work, so I think it’s generally easier for me than for someone who has to write a story everyday to make time. I’ve had support from my supervisors; they’ve been really open to me spending and devoting quite a bit of my time. With other members, I think it depends on what stories they’re working on. We don’t have any time requirements for people to be on the task force — you just do what you have time to do — but we are tracking the amount of time people spend because we want to make sure this work isn’t invisible and help others understand that this work takes time and is worth doing.

Finally, here’s a question we like to ask all our Subscriber Spotlights: what’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen recently from a media outlet outside of the Times?

I thought The Washington Post’s new 360-degree film “12 Seconds of Gunfire” was really well done. It’s a great example of the power of character-driven journalism to immerse the viewer in an experience — in this case, quite literally.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity; it was originally published in the May 6th edition of The Idea. For more Q&As with media movers and shakers, subscribe to The Idea, Atlantic Media’s weekly newsletter covering the latest news and trends in media.

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