ONA Weekly #373: Changing Newsroom Culture To Support Journalists Of Color

By on August 18, 2021

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Changing newsroom culture to support journalists of color

In 1968, the infamous Kerner Report warned about a lack of diversity in newsrooms. In 2021, more than half a century later, journalism publications are still grappling with this problem. Issues with newsroom culture lead to problems recruiting and retaining journalists of color, which in turn can prevent a publication from publishing its best work or reaching as many audiences as possible. 

Here are some concrete steps for changing newsroom culture: 

  • Don’t make journalists of color unofficial recruiters. Well-meaning editors who want to support diversity often ask journalists of color for hiring suggestions, which ends up being a lot of work. “I remember being asked ridiculously specific questions, like, ‘Hey, do you know a Black female writer over 60 years old who can write a long-form feature?’” says Bettina Chang. In reality, the hiring editors themselves should be cultivating these journalists—or using databases like the Journalism Diversity Project—and not simply relying on someone’s existing network.
  • Team up reporters to cover sensitive or difficult topics. It’s common to have a single “race and identity” reporter in a newsroom, but a better approach might be to assign stories in pairs or teams if possible. It lets people bounce ideas off each other, expand viewpoints and create a sense that everyone is invested in these projects. 
  • Create a structured mentorship program. A presentation from ONA18 (Notes from the Journalism Mentorship Collaboration) highlighted some useful insights for those wanting to implement their own mentorship program. Structured programs are important—that means everyone is clear on how long the formal mentorship lasts, how often everyone should meet and what a productive mentorship meeting should look like. It’s helpful to connect people with someone not on their direct team, so they can learn more about the organization, and mentors don’t have to be senior leaders. One participant noted that it was helpful that her mentor was only a few years older—it helped her see the clear route to the next step for her career instead of a hazy route to a career 20 years down the line.
  • Invest in employee resource groups or in building a diversity council. At ONA21, Alan Ramos, Namrata Suri, Lucy Feldman and Sue Suh (all from TIME) hosted a session on “Building a Culture of Inclusion.” TIME has seen success with both employee resource groups for particular identities and a high-level diversity council. The key is that there’s an executive sponsor for each group that can be a resource and advocate so employees feel heard. Their diversity council has four subcommittees—professional development, communications, accountability and recruitment/retention—and is an opportunity for folks across the newsroom to brainstorm and suggest ideas for improving the company in each of these areas. Read the transcript of the panel. 

We’re always on the lookout for helpful resources and tips. If you have other examples to share, please reply directly to this email.


Paid Online Mentorship Opportunity

International NGO IREX seeks applications from U.S. digital journalism professionals for a paid online mentorship role under its Media Partnership Programs in Ukraine and Georgia. Through this U.S. Department of State program, mentors provide periodic virtual advising to European outlets in priority need areas over several months. View application and further information here; for best consideration, apply by September 15.

If “objectivity” is dead, what’s next? 

ONA Executive Director Irving Washington and Maynard Institute Co-Executive Director Martin G. Reynolds facilitated a session at SRCCON last week on “Replacing Objectivity With Actual Values.” The discussion—which built off a “Belonging in the News” session from March with Wesley Lowery—provided a framework for thinking about which values need to be the new guiding principles of journalism. 

Some suggestions from attendees included fairness, accountability, accessibility, empathy, curiosity, shifting power, truth-telling, justice, public service and transparency. 

But naming the new values is only the start to putting them into practice. Some important considerations when trying to live out these new values:

  • Who gets to decide how these values are defined?
  • What are the power dynamics in play when choosing, defining and implementing new values? 
  • What does it actually mean to operationalize these values? Does it mean inviting the community into the newsroom? Is it protecting staffers when they’re attacked? 
  • What happens if you don’t meet this goal? 
We’d love to continue the conversation with you. Which values do you think should be at the forefront of journalism today? Reply directly to this email to share your thoughts. 

Last chance! Join our workshop to learn to think like a futurist

ONA and Amy Webb’s Future Today Institute will be hosting the last news forecasting workshop on Monday, Sept. 13

During the 90-minute workshop, you’ll learn techniques that will help you understand the future of news. Participants will leave with a toolkit to help spot emerging trends, as well as more confidence in their abilities to take active roles in risk evaluation and priority-setting in their organization. 

These workshops are a great fit for those working in strategy. The cost is $99 and slots are limited to 25 attendees for each session, so sign up today. 

Stat of the week

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 63% of writers worked freelance in 2019. This statistic raises important questions about the future of the industry, particularly whether freelance writers are the same as gig workers—and what that means for unions and labor law. 

Important dates

Career opportunities

ONA’s Career Center is an excellent resource for jobs, fellowships and internships in digital journalism. Recent postings include:

On our radar

The radar is now open for suggestions. Have you written or read a piece lately that would benefit others in journalism? We’re interested in sharing insights on trends, how-to guides, lessons from a project and other inspiration for innovation in digital journalism.

IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Marc Kleen on Unsplash
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