Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

“Needless deaths of hardware store cashiers and bus drivers were framed in stories as the sacrifice of ‘heroes’ rather than an outrage and injustice. Or workers were written out of news stories entirely.”

The steady decimation of local news has also decimated the careers of working-class journalists without elite educations. We’ve lost many of the journalists who would have been best suited to cover labor issues exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis and related topics like housing insecurity and the cost of healthcare.

Next year, we should expect stronger demands to recruit staff from a broader range of education backgrounds. This will in turn lead to more editors and writers from a broader range of class backgrounds. We must do this to provide accurate and rigorous coverage of the issues impacting most Americans.

There has been increased scrutiny of the homogenous class and education backgrounds of journalists in recent years. In 2019, Asian American Journalists Association Voices released a report that showed how graduates from a small cluster of universities have come to dominate newsrooms. AAJA collected data on the 150 news interns from the summer of 2018 who went to work at The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, NPR, Politico, and the Chicago Tribune. They found that 65 percent of the interns had attended the most selective schools in the country. At the New York Times and Washington Post, one in five went to the top 1 percent of schools known as the “Ivy Plus” (the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, Duke, and the University of Chicago). The report connects the practice of recruiting from elite schools to the disproportionate whiteness of the largest newspapers and media organizations.

This year put the consequences of Ivy Plus-led publications in stark relief. Needless deaths of hardware store cashiers and bus drivers were framed in stories as the sacrifice of “heroes” rather than an outrage and injustice. Or workers were written out of news stories entirely. Early on, when there were shelter-in-place orders and people wiped down every item they bought from the grocery store, the media’s advice for surviving the pandemic tended to be tailored to the work-from-home upper-middle class — order books off the internet! get your groceries from Instacart! — ignoring the people who work at every point in the supply chain. These workers are trying to survive too! There’s been some excellent labor reporting this year, but there’s also been abysmal work — coverage of workers written gingerly with sanctimony and a pandering tone. This is what happens when media professionals live sheltered lives and have limited contact with those who haven’t attended elite schools.

The quality of journalism suffers from this homogeny. The problem also leads to classism and credentialism in the workplace, which self-perpetuates in hiring practices. “It’s incredibly discouraging and scary to hear that my community college, which I was attending because I simply could not afford to take thousands of dollars in debt, somehow brought me down as an applicant — so much that it overshadowed my clips, my work experience, and the skills I bring to the table,” Omar Rashad wrote in Poynter this year. Seeking an internship, he had been told by a media professional that his community college experience was not good enough.

A reckoning is inevitable. In 2021, I expect greater efforts to undo this cronyism. It might involve advocacy to remove all degree requirements (64 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree). There could be mandates for HR to reach applicants beyond the Ivy Plus and strengthen ties with HBCUs, state schools, and community colleges. Newsroom unions might put forth these demands. All of this, it should go without saying, would be supplemental to diversity policies.

The steady decimation of local news has also decimated the careers of working-class journalists without elite educations. We’ve lost many of the journalists who would have been best suited to cover labor issues exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis and related topics like housing insecurity and the cost of healthcare.

Next year, we should expect stronger demands to recruit staff from a broader range of education backgrounds. This will in turn lead to more editors and writers from a broader range of class backgrounds. We must do this to provide accurate and rigorous coverage of the issues impacting most Americans.

There has been increased scrutiny of the homogenous class and education backgrounds of journalists in recent years. In 2019, Asian American Journalists Association Voices released a report that showed how graduates from a small cluster of universities have come to dominate newsrooms. AAJA collected data on the 150 news interns from the summer of 2018 who went to work at The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, NPR, Politico, and the Chicago Tribune. They found that 65 percent of the interns had attended the most selective schools in the country. At the New York Times and Washington Post, one in five went to the top 1 percent of schools known as the “Ivy Plus” (the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, Duke, and the University of Chicago). The report connects the practice of recruiting from elite schools to the disproportionate whiteness of the largest newspapers and media organizations.

This year put the consequences of Ivy Plus-led publications in stark relief. Needless deaths of hardware store cashiers and bus drivers were framed in stories as the sacrifice of “heroes” rather than an outrage and injustice. Or workers were written out of news stories entirely. Early on, when there were shelter-in-place orders and people wiped down every item they bought from the grocery store, the media’s advice for surviving the pandemic tended to be tailored to the work-from-home upper-middle class — order books off the internet! get your groceries from Instacart! — ignoring the people who work at every point in the supply chain. These workers are trying to survive too! There’s been some excellent labor reporting this year, but there’s also been abysmal work — coverage of workers written gingerly with sanctimony and a pandering tone. This is what happens when media professionals live sheltered lives and have limited contact with those who haven’t attended elite schools.

The quality of journalism suffers from this homogeny. The problem also leads to classism and credentialism in the workplace, which self-perpetuates in hiring practices. “It’s incredibly discouraging and scary to hear that my community college, which I was attending because I simply could not afford to take thousands of dollars in debt, somehow brought me down as an applicant — so much that it overshadowed my clips, my work experience, and the skills I bring to the table,” Omar Rashad wrote in Poynter this year. Seeking an internship, he had been told by a media professional that his community college experience was not good enough.

A reckoning is inevitable. In 2021, I expect greater efforts to undo this cronyism. It might involve advocacy to remove all degree requirements (64 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree). There could be mandates for HR to reach applicants beyond the Ivy Plus and strengthen ties with HBCUs, state schools, and community colleges. Newsroom unions might put forth these demands. All of this, it should go without saying, would be supplemental to diversity policies.

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

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

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

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

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

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

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

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

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

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

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

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

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

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

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

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

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

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

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

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

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

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

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

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Joshua Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

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

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

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

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

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

Cory Haik   Be essential

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

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

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer

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

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

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

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

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

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

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

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

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

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

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

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

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

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

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

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

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

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

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

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

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

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

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

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

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

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

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

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

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

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

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

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

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