Diversity and inclusion are not just social justice issues for newspapers, panelists at America's Newspapers PIVOT 2020 agreed. These issues go to the heart of newspapers' mission: to be purveyors of information in their local communities.
Panelists at PIVOT 2020 were: Mizell Stewart III, a news executive with Gannett and the USA TODAY Network and an adjunct faculty member with The Poynter Institute for Media Studies; Leona Allen, deputy publisher of The Dallas Morning News; and Corinne Chin, senior video journalist with The Seattle Times.
"I don't exclusively see diversity through the lens of morality," Stewart said. "I see diversity through the lens of truth." He added, "Unless we have the variety of viewpoints represented and the perspectives of our audience represented in our newsrooms and in our coverage and, quite frankly, even in our dealings with members of the business community, we're not accurately reflecting all of the community."
Allen echoed Stewart's sentiments saying: "It is about accuracy and truth and being authentic in our coverage." It's also a business decision, she said. "You want to grow your audience. You want to grow your business. If you are only concentrating on one segment of your business, your opportunities to grow are much more limited. ... So, it's a social justice coverage issue, but it's also an opportunity to grow your business."
In laying the groundwork for the discussion, Stewart opened the Thursday morning session at PIVOT 2020 with some background on newsroom diversity efforts and the civil unrest that followed the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, which sparked a re-examination of systemic racism in society, including within the news industry.
He noted that nearly 70% of the nation's largest cities are more racially and ethnically diverse than they were in 2010. More Blacks are moving to the suburbs and the white population is growing older. The United States, he said, is expected to become a "majority minority" nation by 2045.
"These demographic changes coincide with the shift in our core business," he said. "With an increased emphasis on digital subscriptions, over a declining base of retail and classified advertising, and as consumer revenue becomes king, the business case for serving diverse communities becomes much more clear. We truly have an opportunity to serve targeted audiences with relevant local content."
That reckoning, he said, is prompting news organizations across the country to re-examine their practices, make public commitments (like Gannett's commitment to achieving parity with the U.S. population by 2025), to establish new positions responsible for diversity and inclusion, to announce changes in leadership and for news companies to publicly acknowledge where they have fallen short.
Chin, who also is the founder and leader of the newsroom’s Diversity & Inclusion Task Force at The Seattle Times, talked about some of the steps being taken in Seattle to increase accountability and transparency. These include publishing a diversity statement, establishing guidelines to increase diversity in coverage (including increased diversity among sources, making sure the terms used in reporting are accurate and the standards used are fair), and taking deeper looks into the retention of people of color on the staff. Increased recruitment and hiring won't ultimately improve your numbers, she noted, if your culture isn't welcoming and you can't retain people of color.
"As a journalist of color," Chin said, "for our leadership to say increasing diversity in our coverage and in our staff is a business goal ... what that tells me is: you are valued. Your community is valued."
In Allen's new role as deputy publisher of The Dallas Morning News, she has responsibility for diversity and inclusion across the company. "Part of my job is to make these concepts front and center for everybody who works here." Saying "we don't silo these efforts," Allen added: "We won't really change things until everybody feels like it is their responsibility."
Allen also talked about the efforts the paper is taking in the community. "We can't just show up when there's a crisis," she said. "A lot of the issues that are bubbling up in these communities are related to stuff that's been going on forever: health care, poverty, schools, lack of jobs." To help build relationships in Black communities, The Dallas Morning News has recently entered into a partnership with a locally-owned Black community newspaper. The News is allowing the community paper to run some of its stories at no charge, is paying the paper a consulting fee for ideas, is partnering with the paper's staff on story ideas/tips and is inviting the paper's reporters to attend some of their in-house training.
Additional key issues addressed by the panel included transparency with readers, the value of surveying your staff to take the pulse of your employees in terms of the work climate, using employee resource groups to help staff feel supported and offering leadership training so journalists of color are ready to step into more senior positions when openings at their papers occur.