Diversity and inclusivity in journalism

The American Press Institute has a history and commitment to working on news diversity, but like most issues in journalism, the landscape of needs and possible solutions change constantly.

The challenge: An inclusive news ecosystem

The primary goal we seek — and which we encourage others to also pursue — is a public information ecosystem (consisting of journalism products and the public’s own conversations) that fairly represents, includes and aids varied groups and viewpoints in a community.

Considering all this, diversity of employment in a newsroom is one step to that larger goal. It can be an effective method to incorporating a wider range of views into coverage, but it is not sufficient on its own and not the only way to diversify coverage and voices. Additionally, while discussion in this space often focuses on newsroom hiring, attention should also go to what happens next — the empowerment, advancement and retention of diverse employees.

API believes that the news outlets that thrive now and in the future will be those that can understand and serve the whole of their communities.

Just asserting that diversifying is “the right thing to do” (though it is) has not effected sufficient change across the industry. In a time when news organizations are facing disruption and deep cutbacks, diversity is too easily set alongside other perceived “luxuries” like staff training and technology. “It would be nice to be more diverse, but right now we’re just trying to survive,” is what too many newsroom managers may say or think.

Instead, the diversity movement needs persuasive arguments that this issue has broader, deeper, urgent effects on our news organizations and on their sustainability for the future.

We see two key points:

  1. Diversity is a business imperative. Concentrated efforts to highlight diversity are necessary for reaching new audiences and staying relevant to younger changing audiences. Readers pay attention to the content that speaks to or serves their identity.
  2. Diversity is a journalism imperative. Without accounting for the range of lived experiences, we fail to serve parts of our communities. Journalism, in its truest form, should be produced for the benefit of all, not only those who wield a particular power, class or authority.

Working toward progress

To that end, API supports a wide range of efforts to increase voices and perspectives in news.

We are allies to many efforts to diversify news organization staff, regularly sponsoring the American Society of News Editors Emerging Leaders Institute, which trains minority journalists to become leaders in their organizations and in the industry, as well as the Journalism and Women Symposium, which supports the professional empowerment and personal growth of women in journalism.

We encourage others to support these and similar programs that develop diverse leaders in news, among them: ONA’s Women’s Leadership programs, Poynter’s Women’s Leadership programs, ProPublica’s Summer Data Institute, or student-focused efforts including NextGenRadio and the ONA Student Newsroom, or university-based efforts.

API creates research about practices for empathy and listening, skills which help news organizations serve diverse communities. And we have explored the potential for mainstream news organizations to collaborate more regularly with ethnic media organizations in a series of reports.

We also look for efforts at specific newsrooms that we can lift up, assist or help spread. One such initiative is The Tennessean’s series of in-person conversations with particular community groups in Nashville that traditionally were disconnected from the organization. That effort is featured in an API essay collection, and is a model to which we often point others.

Our separate website that collects resources and best practices on a variety of journalism innovation topics, betternews.org, also includes a section of diversity resources.

We do all this from a point of humility. We are but one organization, and more of a committed ally than a primary leader, compared with diversity-dedicated organizations like the Maynard Institute or UNITY, minority associations like the National Association of Black Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association or the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, or training efforts like NextGenRadio or ASNE’s Emerging Leaders program — to name only a few who devote their energies to these topics.

We hope API’s different position — as an organization concerned with diversity issues but also working on other issues of innovation and transformation in journalism — gives us a unique perspective, a chance to question assumptions, identify blind spots, clarify the goals, and rethink the methods.

For more information, suggestions or resources, contact Amy Kovac-Ashley, API vice president and senior director, at amy.kovac-ashley@pressinstitute.org.