Diversity in the newsroom: Time to address the elephant in the room
There has been a significant push for diversity and inclusion in workplaces around the world. Widespread reporting of discrimination in organizations across industries on the basis of race, gender, religion and sexual orientation has made a strong case for true inclusion.
Research has shown over and over again that building a diverse workforce isn’t only the right thing to do, but it also gives businesses a competitive advantage. Diversity encourages innovation and creativity, enables discussions and decision-making drawing on a broad range of perspectives and helps to develop and retain versatile talent. Newsrooms globally still have a long way to go in creating and maintaining diversity, and that is a cause for concern.
In a fundamental way, diversity both in our staff — who reports, writes and edits the stories —and in the sources we choose to interview and bring on air is imperative for staying competitive today, for making sure we are choosing the right, most important stories to tell, and for ensuring what we report and write is always fair and balanced. Given media’s powerful role in helping shape the public discourse and influencing the decisions investors and corporate executives make, this obligation can’t be overstated.
Diversity takes on different meanings in different markets. While I can’t claim to understand all the challenges facing the media industry in India, I can use the example of our own struggle in the U.S. to underscore our collective responsibilities for bringing more equality to our newsroom workforces and to the sourcing we depend on to report the news.
The reality of US newsrooms The situation remains an enormous challenge in newsrooms across the US. Take a look at the numbers - according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors survey of more than 1,000 news organizations in the US in 2017, on a macro basis, in US newsrooms as a whole, 83% of the workforce was white as well as 83% of the leadership. Black journalists accounted for only 5.6% of the workforce and a smaller percentage of newsroom leaders. Women made up 39% of the total workforce, little has changed from the previous year. At 25% of the media organizations surveyed, not a single woman was in one of the top three leadership positions.
That’s the reality of US newsrooms. When you break down by job titles, it is not unusual to find teams with gender balance on the reporting staff, but a lot more men editing the big stories, assigning the big stories, framing the big stories. When it comes to sourcing, the media, by and large, have been quoting mostly men most of the time. On television, we have been interviewing mostly white men most of the time. You are probably thinking, ‘Why does this matter?’ There’s evidence that this affects what stories we choose to cover.
A roadmap for change Clearly, we are at a moment of reckoning in the industry. We have lost too much time, and now need to be bolder, more intentional and more urgent in making progress towards parity in the workforce, and at all levels of management, and in our coverage. While the nature of imbalance in newsrooms varies from country to country, I believe that the very first step to making a change applies to all - acknowledge the importance of the problem and then take deliberate steps that can be tracked and measured. Each media company will have its unique way of including diversity in its workforce. However, here are a few suggestions that can be adopted by newsrooms, irrespective of geographical location:
Establish a tracking method: Track every job opening to make sure there is a short list of qualified diverse candidates that you are choosing from. Then ensure that a diverse panel of managers reviews the group to limit biases in choosing the final candidate. This means more work for the recruiters but it is essential and necessary work.
Prioritize gender balance: Maintain and share data with senior editors and every top manager on their gender make-up by level in the newsroom so that they can focus on bringing more balance to areas where there is none - such as editing roles or management roles.
Increase diversity in sourcing: Encourage editors to build a database of experts from underrepresented groups, who can be used to source stories, television interviews and panels. This database needs to be constantly tracked and updated to make sure you are making progress. At Bloomberg, we started the organization's New Voices initiative, which aims to build the definitive global database of women newsmakers in business and finance. We are tracking our numbers on this process to make sure we are making progress. And we are helping facilitate media training for women experts at leading financial institutions and other diverse executives who are under-represented on broadcast media.
Build cross multi-cultural understanding: Pooling local and foreign talent from around the world and moving people around quite a lot can build more cross-cultural understanding among staff. This will bring diversity in reporting, which can help limit bias in coverage and uncover stories you might not otherwise have found.
Measure your success: It is important that you set targets every year for increasing diversity in your newsroom/s. Review progress on a monthly basis and celebrate success Diversity is a mindset that needs to be instilled in each and every employee such that the company, as a whole, considers this imperative to its competitiveness and success. It is easy to get discouraged because progress may feel slow. It will take a lot of attention and effort, but there is no time like the present to intentionally and aggressively move the needle in the right direction.
Laura Zelenko is Senior Executive Editor for Talent, Diversity, Standards & Training for Bloomberg News
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house