Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Indian journalists are on the frontline in the fight against election deepfakes
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March 7, 2018, 1:25 p.m.
Reporting & Production

For those invested in making news organizations more diverse, inclusive places, particularly for women, the past few years haven’t offered much in the way of good news. ASNE’s latest newsroom diversity survey, published last fall, found that women made up 39.1 percent of all newsroom employees in 2017 — up only slightly from 37.35 percent in 2001.

In a similarly dismal report, the Women’s Media Center, an organization created to increase the ranks and visibility of women in media, found last year that men produced 62.3 percent of news reports at 20 of top U.S. news outlets last year.

This week, the group published a follow up to its 2017 report that drills deeper into why women of color are underrepresented in media companies, and what those companies can do to improve it. Some of these insights come via prominent women in the industry, including Soledad O’Brien, Joy Reid, and April Ryan.

Here are a few of the report’s findings and suggestions:

More diverse newsrooms mean fewer missed stories (and more readers). The choice between diversity and finances is a false one, argues center president Julie Burton. “Fiscal responsibility and journalistic excellence can and should exist together; the authenticity that diversity brings can increase audience interest and loyalty.”

Digital news has a white founder problem. According to P. Kim Bui, editor-at-large at NowThis, digital media start-ups are run by young white men because young white men “tend to be the ones who have the capital to start a company.” The problem here emerges when those founders start to hire employees, who are highly likely to come from similar social and financial circles. “People hire people who like them, who have a similar pedigree, and who tend to be in their networks,” said Nikole Hannah-Jones, racial injustice reporter at The New York Times Magazine. “Often newsrooms say they want journalists of color, people whose skin tone is different, but not necessarily people who think differently and have had different experiences than [white people].”

Lack of diversity is a problem across the digital media industry. The Online News Association doesn’t track diversity numbers, and for the rare organizations that do publish these figures, things aren’t promising. At BuzzFeed, one of the rare publishers to issue a diversity report annually, 15 percent of its U.S. employees are black or Hispanic, along with only 8 percent of its managers and 6 percent of its top leadership.

More media organizations should release these sorts of diversity reports that break down employment numbers by race and gender. For the WMC, the first step towards improving newsroom diversity is keeping track of how things look today. “This transparency would allow comprehensive tracking of progress or regress for diverse women in the workplace,” the report argues.

Change starts at the top. The WMC report closes with a section detailing the concrete steps executives can take to improve the numbers of women in newsroom ranks. First and foremost, CEOs should make it clear that diversity is a priority for their organizations. It’s also important to encourage “candid conversations about gender and racial parity,” and how to make that parity happen. The WMC report also recommends that that executives foster better work-life balance via flexible schedules and more generous paternity and maternity leave policies.

Tame those comment sections. “Responses to news coverage that are posted on your site can shape perception/misperception of your news organization’s own philosophies and bent,” the report reads. “Make sure reader/viewer feedback is neither needlessly inflammatory, provocative, malicious, racist, or sexist, nor a vehicle for spreading disinformation.”

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