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Representation becomes more than a talking point

“A breadth of ideas ensures that we are going after untapped angles and asking the right questions, which may not always be the most obvious.”

I’m going to say something that’s worth repeating: Representation matters. (Read all about it here and here.) We owe it to our audiences.

Journalists are empathetic by trade. We rely on our curiosities to steer us towards the unknown. We put ourselves in others’ shoes with the facts close at hand. But without a diversity in personal experience and background, we will never be able to truly encapsulate the human condition.

The need for parity and representation by gender and race was a major conversation in newsrooms (mine included) and in almost every industry this past year. In 2019, we will have to once and for all figure out what comes next. What happens after a person gets a foot in the door? The concept of representation is meaningless unless we commit to empowering and listening to new voices (more on that here and here).

A breadth of ideas ensures that we are going after untapped angles and asking the right questions, which may not always be the most obvious. It ensures that those at the table deciding what type of coverage to prioritize have checks and balances on their blind spots.

In an age where we often learn the news alongside our readers and viewers and listeners and crank out never-ending updates, this varied thought is key to making sure we aren’t ignoring anyone. It’s how we retain our audiences, and how we connect with those beyond.

A newsroom that reflects its community is crucial to providing context and perspective. But we’ve got work to do. “Newsroom employees are more likely to be white and male than U.S. workers overall,” a November Pew report found.

Effective representation isn’t about checking a quota box for the number of women or people of color, as it’s been said time and time again. It’s about providing people with the right tools for growth in a space where they are empowered, mentored, and encouraged to use their voices. Competition is often at the heart of what we do. But if we default to collaboration in our pursuits of bettering journalism and strengthening our newsrooms, we will be stronger for it. We owe it to each other.

Colleen Shalby is an engagement editor for the Los Angeles Times.

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