Vision25: Building Racial Equity in Newsrooms

A collaboration between the Online News Association, the Maynard Institute and OpenNews

By on October 1, 2020

Today, we’re announcing Vision25: Building Racial Equity in Newsrooms, a catalyst in a social change movement that seeks to build journalistic institutions where newsrooms are actively anti-racist and collaborative, and journalists of color feel like they truly belong. This movement will require people, action and resources at scale, and we’re looking to build an alliance of supporters.

Fifty years ago, the Kerner Commission excoriated the journalism industry for its lack of diversity. Decades later, with racial injustice still potent and deadly and people once again rising up in the streets in protest with democracy at stake, we have still failed to diversify our organizations and leadership to adequately represent the breadth of the communities we serve. At the same time, more evidence has emerged on how critical diversity is to the survival of the media industry. As journalists of color speak freely about their experiences of racism, and audiences of color express deep distrust in journalism institutions, we have no choice but to make dramatic changes. And not just any change—a social change.

That’s why we’re creating Vision25. It will go beyond conversations about diversity and inclusion to work vigorously to build anti-racist organizations that become institutions of belonging. As industry leaders, we must not only commit, but also follow through and measure our progress. We need to hold ourselves, and others, accountable to undertake transformational and transparent initiatives to fix institutionalized racism.

Our Collaborative Approach  

To create institutions of belonging in journalism requires working collaboratively on three fronts simultaneously:

  • Change from the C-suite and others in leadership: Convening, coaching and equipping leaders new to or already committed to racial equity to impact change in their organizations.
  • Change from the workforce: Organizing journalists and staff across editorial and business to spur change and make demands based on what they’re seeing from peers and leadership in their newsrooms and what they’re covering in their communities.
  • Change in collaborations and partnerships: Centralizing and sharing racial equity efforts across the field, and uplifting the work of journalists of color organizations and allies.

Our Principles 

We believe people and organizations joining this movement will embrace these key principles:

  • Committing to public pledges on accountability and transparency to racial equity, and following through. This work can’t be done behind closed doors. It’s critical to both journalists and to the public that we not only share our commitment to diversity, but how we’re measuring it. We’re inspired by the CEO Action Network for Diversity and Inclusion and Just Action. We’ll explore creating a central site for journalism that’s inclusive of and lifts up existing and new diversity efforts in the field.
  • Developing industry standards for principles, policies and practices that eliminate institutional racism. While some news organizations have hired staff or consultants to help them identify steps their company needs to take, the industry at large doesn’t have any shared insights into what steps are taken and which are rejected — or not followed through on. We’ll develop industry standards that span every department and are open and transparent.
  • Training and education that goes beyond the status quo: Providing training so journalists, especially senior leaders, identify and remove practices that may lead to systemic racism in their organizations and in their coverage. We’ll also embed this type of training support within newsrooms and recognize people and organizations who are successful.
  • Community building that fully supports that journalists, too, can demand better. Journalism training has long taken for granted the idea that journalists and advocacy do not mix. However, journalism, like every other industry, has policies, systems, and cultures that prop up inequity, racism, and discrimination. Journalists have every right to demand better, and a part of our effort will train, support, and help these efforts.

Our Hypothesis

Social change can happen without a majority. In fact, research shows that social change can happen when as few as 25 percent of a population “stand up for an issue … in order to create lasting change.” The “social tipping point” is what we’re after. Instead of aiming at a threshold of representation within newsroom staff—plenty of organizations are already working toward that worthy goal—our goal is to create an industry threshold that leads to lasting systemic change.

Vision25 can be the 25 percent tipping point for racial equity in journalism. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 88,000 newsroom employees in the U.S.. We believe that if we can get 22,000 U.S. journalists and 25 percent of newsrooms to join this social change movement and take action, we will see change. We’re not claiming to have all the answers, but we are committed to actively creating real-time initiatives that test our hypothesis.

Too many people are apathetic about the possibility of real change in our industry because of past failed efforts. We have no delusions that we, or anyone, could propose a project that would end racism in journalism tomorrow, in a month, or in a year. Real change is never going to be just one project or effort.

The process of figuring out what steps to take and when is critical. Taking steps with impact also requires capacity, strategy, planning, and learning, and then doing it over and over again. While we can’t name everything we need to do to achieve our goals today, we know what our next steps are. We’re taking the remainder of 2020 to build the alliance, explore additional strategies, and secure financial support to launch fully in 2021.

Our Commitment 

We are in a moment for journalism to meet the movement. The lack of trust we face in communities that represent the audiences of the future is documented and deep. News outlets have to solve the sins laid out in the Kerner Commission Report more than 50 years ago. The soul of American journalism is at stake. We have a profound opportunity to move from feeble attempts at performative diversity to the formation of journalistic institutions of belonging. Much work must be done, and this alliance will serve as a collective force of accountability, agitation and support in service of journalism and the society we seek to serve.

Our organizations came together because we found that we were each fighting the same fight, but on different fronts, to create social change. Each of us—Online News Association, Maynard Institute, and OpenNews—had been tackling this change separately, but once we started imagining what could be possible if we combined the leadership power and reach of ONA with Maynard’s training on dismantling systemic racism and OpenNews’s expertise in community organizing and support, we knew that we had to join forces.

Vision25 is a commitment by our three organizations to advance racial equity in journalism. But, to make this a reality, we need to do this together as an industry. We hope you will sign up for more information on how and when to join us and tell us how you’d like to help to meet the moment.

JOIN US

In service,

Irving Washington
Executive Director/CEO
Online News Association

Sisi Wei 
Director of Programs
OpenNews

Martin G. Reynolds and Evelyn Hsu
Co-Executive Directors
Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education

If you’re interested in exploring funding or supporting this work, please email Irving Washington at irving@journalists.org to set up a conversation about our plans and how you can help.

For general information, email vision25@journalists.org

Irving Washington

Irving Washington

Irving Washington is the Executive Director/CEO for the Online News Association (ONA), the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists. As a media diversity advocate, Irving has led programming and fundraising initiatives for journalists, media professionals, and students worldwide.