Another year of empty promises on diversity

“If newsroom leaders and editors were unable to see the magnitude of their failures over the past few years, then even with all of their commitments of 2020, 2021 won’t be any different.”

Have you joined your newsroom’s diversity committee? Are you active in your union? Are you proud of a particular story? Did you write something that you feel accurately reflects the reality of people who have been excluded or misrepresented in American journalism?

Personally, while I’m proud of small things like this, it’s the structural problems that keep me up at night.

It’s been more than 50 years since the Kerner Commission asked American newsrooms to stop seeing news only through “white men’s eyes and white perspective,” yet newsrooms are stagnant in efforts to diversify. Major legacy newsrooms still, in 2020, seem unable to reckon with the fact that they often write their coverage for and to the comfort of wealthy white American cisgender men. And many still seem unable to understand — let alone apologize — for their own history propagating racist and xenophobic myths.

Even the new crop of nonprofit and for-profit digital-first newsrooms, despite being founded in the last two decades, sometimes still look like newsrooms thirty years ago. In a similar vein, public media often looks nothing like the public.

It’s easy for newsrooms to make excuses and statements. As a Black journalist, it’s harder for me to understand how many newsroom leaders can sleep at night knowing that they exist in a state of perpetual failure. If newsrooms don’t look like the communities they serve, the newsroom is failing. If your newsroom doesn’t know who they’re writing for and why, it’s failing.

Journalism as a field has been shrinking for decades, and yet even in its decline, the largest and best-funded outlets in the industry have found little room to reinvent their understanding of mission beyond vague platitudes and mottos. There are many exceptions to this rule, but they’re often underfunded, understaffed, and under-resourced.

2020 has been unique in that unions and journalists of color have forced bosses and editors to publish statements and make commitments. But current newsroom leaders have given no reason to trust them moving forward.

It shouldn’t have taken the death of George Floyd for them to make commitments. It should not be Black newsroom employees who, to the detriment of their own jobs, force the hand of executives who in the past refused to listen. In an ideal world, we find the space and the capital to create our own newsrooms, free of the baggage of intentional exclusion and racism — but that will take time and resources many of us don’t have.

So what will come of the commitments to anti-racism and staff diversity?

Here’s my prediction: If newsroom leaders and editors were unable to see the magnitude of their failures over the past few years, then even with all of their commitments of 2020, 2021 won’t be any different. They are ill-equipped to understand their failures and support their staff in changing their newsroom.

Newsroom leaders at large publications need to be held accountable by journalists, readers, and the broader public. And if they don’t produce results, they need to resign.

Gabe Schneider is co-founder of The Objective and assistant managing editor of Votebeat.

Have you joined your newsroom’s diversity committee? Are you active in your union? Are you proud of a particular story? Did you write something that you feel accurately reflects the reality of people who have been excluded or misrepresented in American journalism?

Personally, while I’m proud of small things like this, it’s the structural problems that keep me up at night.

It’s been more than 50 years since the Kerner Commission asked American newsrooms to stop seeing news only through “white men’s eyes and white perspective,” yet newsrooms are stagnant in efforts to diversify. Major legacy newsrooms still, in 2020, seem unable to reckon with the fact that they often write their coverage for and to the comfort of wealthy white American cisgender men. And many still seem unable to understand — let alone apologize — for their own history propagating racist and xenophobic myths.

Even the new crop of nonprofit and for-profit digital-first newsrooms, despite being founded in the last two decades, sometimes still look like newsrooms thirty years ago. In a similar vein, public media often looks nothing like the public.

It’s easy for newsrooms to make excuses and statements. As a Black journalist, it’s harder for me to understand how many newsroom leaders can sleep at night knowing that they exist in a state of perpetual failure. If newsrooms don’t look like the communities they serve, the newsroom is failing. If your newsroom doesn’t know who they’re writing for and why, it’s failing.

Journalism as a field has been shrinking for decades, and yet even in its decline, the largest and best-funded outlets in the industry have found little room to reinvent their understanding of mission beyond vague platitudes and mottos. There are many exceptions to this rule, but they’re often underfunded, understaffed, and under-resourced.

2020 has been unique in that unions and journalists of color have forced bosses and editors to publish statements and make commitments. But current newsroom leaders have given no reason to trust them moving forward.

It shouldn’t have taken the death of George Floyd for them to make commitments. It should not be Black newsroom employees who, to the detriment of their own jobs, force the hand of executives who in the past refused to listen. In an ideal world, we find the space and the capital to create our own newsrooms, free of the baggage of intentional exclusion and racism — but that will take time and resources many of us don’t have.

So what will come of the commitments to anti-racism and staff diversity?

Here’s my prediction: If newsroom leaders and editors were unable to see the magnitude of their failures over the past few years, then even with all of their commitments of 2020, 2021 won’t be any different. They are ill-equipped to understand their failures and support their staff in changing their newsroom.

Newsroom leaders at large publications need to be held accountable by journalists, readers, and the broader public. And if they don’t produce results, they need to resign.

Gabe Schneider is co-founder of The Objective and assistant managing editor of Votebeat.

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