Get representative, or die trying

“Newsrooms around the world have spent years reproducing their own bubbles in monochrome.”

“I hate a liar more than I hate a thief. A thief is only after my salary, a liar is after my reality.”

Curtis James Jackson III is one of the great American strategists of the 21st century. He is an entrepreneur, author, executive producer, and business guru. His bold risk-taking saw him freefall into debt only to climb right back onto the Forbes list with one original venture after the other. Traversing many fields and moving years ahead of industry trends, he invested in Vitaminwater and cryptocurrencies, pioneering while others laughed at him. His first startup earned his bread as a teen and destroyed all its competitors. Jackson’s now refined “have no fear” approach is shared with many smart followers in his own lyrical style and captivating storylines. Yet the greater public only picks up on 50 Cent’s beats and gangster gestures. Because Curtis James Jackson III understands that you need both visibility and money to exist in this world.

The flow of information is at least as important as the flow of capital. Information forms public perception and the governance of power. Combined, these shape our economies and societies. 2020 was a year when even a pandemic couldn’t stop Black Lives Matter. Global democracies, under threat from populists, exposed deep-rooted systemic racism. All eyes focused on the media to reflect the diversity of reality.

And it failed to deliver.

True diversity, equity, and inclusion is about whose reality counts, where and when. 2020 showed that we need our media to show us a broader picture of reality and stop counting salaries alone. 2020 showed that the discussion around diversity in journalism is years behind. 2020 showed that if journalism fails to connect the current realities it will fail to be a part of it.

Newsrooms around the world have spent years reproducing their own bubbles in monochrome. In 2020, they were seen panicking in a techni-coloured Oz where the isolated state of the wizard was visible to all. Journalism kingpins around the world suffered. Once all-powerful editors-in-chief concealed themselves behind hidden processes and claims of external misinformation. Revenue fell away. The loyalty of once rock-solid audiences crumbled. Growing segments of the population who did not feel represented grew further disenchanted and distant.

In 2021, any discussion around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in newsrooms will either go one of two ways. Center stage, based on quality journalism arguments and enabling newsrooms to adapt and innovate. Or sidelined, as we’ve seen in so many newsrooms before. These places start with moral arguments and “nice to support” initiatives. But they never think it through, leading to counterproductive effects and the reproduction of discrimination. DEI is framed as some esoteric undefined ideal beyond the horizon, one that never gets prioritized and never gets any closer.

Only newsrooms that see DEI as a core priority of every journalism function will survive. DEI in journalism is not about “offering opportunities” to less privileged parties, but about maximizing their power to reflect reality and offer journalism a chance to fulfill its core task — to cover reality with truth — in a brave new world.

At my consultancy Vileine, we coined the term representative journalism to reframe every single discussion and strategy around DEI as something deeper and more goal-oriented. In doing so we consciously move away from window-dressing, tokenism, “helper whitey syndrome,” and the reproduction of discriminatory blind spots.

Representative journalism means we break down every core function of journalism into one of three categories: representative newsrooms, representative content, and representative management. Any challenge in journalism — from revenue models to remote working, misinformation to digital security — connects to one of these categories. And every core function of journalism stands or falls, in the end, with effective representation of a complex reality. Representative journalism is about the capability to function as a watchdog for democracy and inform citizens. In order to balance power, we need to address our internal power imbalances first. And, believe me, you need underrepresented power more than vice versa.

Get real or go home. The relevance of media will increasingly clearly match their reflection of reality. With representative newsroom composition, content and management. For those will be the newsrooms that are truly engaged with their audience needs, and have engaged audiences. These will be the places where creative multi-talents with diverse expertise and experience flourish and bond. And they will be the new groundbreakers to find creative solutions. Creating new territories, countering ever-expanding challenges in journalism, utilizing innovative tools and self-organizing in an ever-changing reality. It has long been necessary for many underrepresented journalists to be universalists, just to be. But with the current need for industry solutions, recognition of these qualities is vital to all. And refusing to look into the deep-rooted racism that has hindered this is a losing strategy.

This year, due to this unique moment we find ourselves in, we will finally see change. What that change looks like is up to you. Every newsroom in the world where “diversity” is mentioned will sink or swim based on its understanding of journalism’s fundamental need for representation in a falling economy and rising information war. And that’s not being bold. That’s just being realistic. Get representative, or die trying.

So we hustle.

Hadjar Benmiloud is the founder of Vileine.

“I hate a liar more than I hate a thief. A thief is only after my salary, a liar is after my reality.”

Curtis James Jackson III is one of the great American strategists of the 21st century. He is an entrepreneur, author, executive producer, and business guru. His bold risk-taking saw him freefall into debt only to climb right back onto the Forbes list with one original venture after the other. Traversing many fields and moving years ahead of industry trends, he invested in Vitaminwater and cryptocurrencies, pioneering while others laughed at him. His first startup earned his bread as a teen and destroyed all its competitors. Jackson’s now refined “have no fear” approach is shared with many smart followers in his own lyrical style and captivating storylines. Yet the greater public only picks up on 50 Cent’s beats and gangster gestures. Because Curtis James Jackson III understands that you need both visibility and money to exist in this world.

The flow of information is at least as important as the flow of capital. Information forms public perception and the governance of power. Combined, these shape our economies and societies. 2020 was a year when even a pandemic couldn’t stop Black Lives Matter. Global democracies, under threat from populists, exposed deep-rooted systemic racism. All eyes focused on the media to reflect the diversity of reality.

And it failed to deliver.

True diversity, equity, and inclusion is about whose reality counts, where and when. 2020 showed that we need our media to show us a broader picture of reality and stop counting salaries alone. 2020 showed that the discussion around diversity in journalism is years behind. 2020 showed that if journalism fails to connect the current realities it will fail to be a part of it.

Newsrooms around the world have spent years reproducing their own bubbles in monochrome. In 2020, they were seen panicking in a techni-coloured Oz where the isolated state of the wizard was visible to all. Journalism kingpins around the world suffered. Once all-powerful editors-in-chief concealed themselves behind hidden processes and claims of external misinformation. Revenue fell away. The loyalty of once rock-solid audiences crumbled. Growing segments of the population who did not feel represented grew further disenchanted and distant.

In 2021, any discussion around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in newsrooms will either go one of two ways. Center stage, based on quality journalism arguments and enabling newsrooms to adapt and innovate. Or sidelined, as we’ve seen in so many newsrooms before. These places start with moral arguments and “nice to support” initiatives. But they never think it through, leading to counterproductive effects and the reproduction of discrimination. DEI is framed as some esoteric undefined ideal beyond the horizon, one that never gets prioritized and never gets any closer.

Only newsrooms that see DEI as a core priority of every journalism function will survive. DEI in journalism is not about “offering opportunities” to less privileged parties, but about maximizing their power to reflect reality and offer journalism a chance to fulfill its core task — to cover reality with truth — in a brave new world.

At my consultancy Vileine, we coined the term representative journalism to reframe every single discussion and strategy around DEI as something deeper and more goal-oriented. In doing so we consciously move away from window-dressing, tokenism, “helper whitey syndrome,” and the reproduction of discriminatory blind spots.

Representative journalism means we break down every core function of journalism into one of three categories: representative newsrooms, representative content, and representative management. Any challenge in journalism — from revenue models to remote working, misinformation to digital security — connects to one of these categories. And every core function of journalism stands or falls, in the end, with effective representation of a complex reality. Representative journalism is about the capability to function as a watchdog for democracy and inform citizens. In order to balance power, we need to address our internal power imbalances first. And, believe me, you need underrepresented power more than vice versa.

Get real or go home. The relevance of media will increasingly clearly match their reflection of reality. With representative newsroom composition, content and management. For those will be the newsrooms that are truly engaged with their audience needs, and have engaged audiences. These will be the places where creative multi-talents with diverse expertise and experience flourish and bond. And they will be the new groundbreakers to find creative solutions. Creating new territories, countering ever-expanding challenges in journalism, utilizing innovative tools and self-organizing in an ever-changing reality. It has long been necessary for many underrepresented journalists to be universalists, just to be. But with the current need for industry solutions, recognition of these qualities is vital to all. And refusing to look into the deep-rooted racism that has hindered this is a losing strategy.

This year, due to this unique moment we find ourselves in, we will finally see change. What that change looks like is up to you. Every newsroom in the world where “diversity” is mentioned will sink or swim based on its understanding of journalism’s fundamental need for representation in a falling economy and rising information war. And that’s not being bold. That’s just being realistic. Get representative, or die trying.

So we hustle.

Hadjar Benmiloud is the founder of Vileine.

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