It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

“One of the biggest mistakes the media punditry made about the 2016 election was underestimating the power of racist rhetoric in the campaign. There was a disconnect between what journalists of color were seeing and what white reporters were seeing.”

2018 will be the year where frank talk about race and racism in newsrooms will replace ephemeral promises to diversify.

And it must.

From the front pages of the country’s most prestigious newspapers to the anchor desks of the most influential radio and television stations, journalists of color not only remain less visible than their white counterparts, but they are less likely to be in senior roles and often paid less. Digital media has narrowed the representation gap some by allowing for many more voices to enter the scrum and fill Twitter with smart, engaging reporting and commentary from a variety of marginalized communities.

But bemoaning the paltry percentages of journalists of color in newsrooms around the country isn’t enough. We also need to talk about what is driving it: attrition, harassment, stalled careers, and the daily psychosocial toll of bias.

American newsrooms are 84 percent white, and overwhelmingly male.

In a few decades, our country won’t be.

Fifty years after the Kerner Commission report warned of two Americas, “one black, one white —
separate and unequal,” newsrooms must again confront their roles in creating many of the racial narratives we understand today. They must also confront their own institutional racism.

These issues aren’t new. This fall, as a visiting professor at Princeton teaching a class on race and the media, I assigned News For All The People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media by Juan Gonzalez and Joseph Torres, which detailed the historical fight for racial and ethnic representation and parity in newsrooms around the country from colonial depictions of black and Native Americans as “barbarous” and “rebellious” to the suppression of stories by and about communities of color. We read Volunteer Slavery, Jill Nelson’s scathing memoir of her experience as the first black woman to write for The Washington Post Magazine. We analyzed the racial dynamics at play in the plagiarism scandals of Jayson Blair, a black New York Times reporter, and Stephen Glass, a white writer for The New Republic. We read Suki Kim’s piece on the sexual harassment and bullying of women, particularly women of color, at WNYC. We followed the Jemele Hill story and read the controversial New York Times profile of a Nazi sympathizer. All of our guest speakers were black or Latino. We went to places — literally and figuratively — where we hadn’t gone before. We consumed media that wasn’t made for us or by us.

I assigned these exercises, in part, because one of the biggest mistakes the media punditry made about the 2016 election was underestimating the power of racist rhetoric in the campaign. There was a disconnect between what journalists of color were seeing and what white reporters were seeing, what white audiences were consuming versus what black and brown audiences were reading.

In the name of diversity efforts, which often move slowly or fail to inspire at all, journalists of color are often asked to take on the extra (and often unpaid) work of sitting on panels, serving on diversity committees, finding and recruiting “diverse” talent, and editing and fact checking the work of other journalists who write about race. Frustration begins to set in when you ask employees for all of that and give them nothing in return.

But change is happening. And it will continue to happen at a rapid pace.

Exactly one year ago today, I published a guide for how newsrooms could stop being so white. This year, I’ll add a simple request.

Pass the mic.

It’s time.

Tanzina Vega is a journalist and a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Jake Levine   The return to now

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Richard Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Burt Herman   Things get real

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Paul Ford   Go global

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Errin Haines   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Juleyka Lantigua   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Aron Pilhofer   We can’t leave the business to the business side any more

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people