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.

Rishad Patel   From direct-to-consumer to direct-to-believers

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Raney Aronson-Rath   To get past information divides, we need to understand them first

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Mike Caulfield   2021’s misinformation will look a lot like 2020’s (and 2019’s, and…)

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

María Sánchez Díez   Traffic will plummet — and it’ll be ok

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

Ashton Lattimore   Remote work helps level the playing field in an insular industry

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

james Wahutu   Journalists still wrongly think the U.S. is different

Shaydanay Urbani and Nancy Watzman   Local collaboration is key to slowing misinformation

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Nikki Usher   Don’t expect an antitrust dividend for the media

Sam Ford   We’ll find better ways to archive our work

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Sue Cross   A global consensus around the kind of news we need to save

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

Ariane Bernard   Going solo is still only a path for the few

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

Alfred Hermida and Oscar Westlund   The virus ups data journalism’s game

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

Marcus Mabry   News orgs adapt to a post-Trump world (with Trump still in it)

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Tanya Cordrey   Declining trust forces publishers to claim (or disclaim) values

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Cory Haik   Be essential

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists will be kinder to each other — and to themselves

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   The download, podcasting’s metric king, gets dethroned

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Benjamin Toff   Beltway reporting gets normal again, for better and for worse

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

An Xiao Mina   2020 isn’t a black swan — it’s a yellow canary

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

Francesca Tripodi   Don’t expect breaking up Google and Facebook to solve our information woes

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Ben Collins   We need to learn how to talk to (and about) accidental conspiracists

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Astead W. Herndon   The Trump-sized window of the media caring about race closes again

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Annie Rudd   Newsrooms grow less comfortable with the “view from above”

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

C.W. Anderson   Journalism changed under Trump — will it keep changing under Biden?

Laura E. Davis   The focus turns to newsroom leaders for lasting change

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Julia B. Chan and Kim Bui   Millennials are ready to run things

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Cassie Haynes   A shift from conversation to action

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Candis Callison   Calling it a crisis isn’t enough (if it ever was)

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

Stefanie Murray and Anthony Advincula   Expect to see more translations and non-English content

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Sumi Aggarwal   News literacy programs aren’t child’s play

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

Patrick Butler   Covid-19 reporting has prepared us for cross-border collaboration

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

Kate Myers   My son will join every Zoom call in our industry

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting dodged a bullet in 2020, but 2021 will be harder

Bill Adair   The future of fact-checking is all about structured data

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

Aaron Foley   Diversity gains haven’t shown up in local news

Joshua Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

Richard J. Tofel   Less on politics, more on how government works (or doesn’t)

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

L. Gordon Crovitz   Common law will finally apply to the Internet

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Jennifer Brandel   A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation