Remote work helps level the playing field in an insular industry

“Building national news teams with roots in every corner of the country won’t just produce better journalism — it’ll help diversify and democratize the industry.”

Does your newsroom really need to be in midtown Manhattan?

Is Los Angeles really the only place you can produce that podcast?

Have you considered that perhaps all of your reporters don’t need to move to downtown D.C.?

And most importantly, do you realize who you’re shutting out of your publication if you’re still making relocation a non-negotiable?

After the year we just had, in 2021 we should be asking serious questions about any news outlet that bills itself as “national” but hasn’t fully and unreservedly embraced remote work.

This year broke open necessary, long-overdue conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion in journalism. In particular, we’ve begun to reckon with racial injustice, critically examining who gets pushed out of newsrooms versus who gets to rise to their highest levels, and which stories get championed, fundamentally misunderstood, or completely left out as a result. At the same time, the nature of work has shifted ,as the pandemic forced many previously resistant industries to go remote. If we’re smart, watching those developments side by side will spark a realization: Building national news teams with roots in every corner of the country won’t just produce better journalism — it’ll help diversify and democratize the industry.

Journalism has long been an industry that’s challenging — if not downright hostile — for women and journalists of color. It’s also notoriously insular, with the most prestigious and widely-read “national” publications clustered into expensive major cities on the coasts. The effect is that many talented journalists are shut out from influential, major platforms because of who and where they are. Maybe they’re working class and can’t afford to move to a high-cost-of-living city on an intern’s pittance. Maybe family responsibilities or a partner’s job mean they have less geographic mobility, as is true for many women. Or maybe, just maybe, they’ve deliberately set down roots in a part of the country that’s not New York City because they love it, or it’s where they’re from, or they value the local communities of which they’re a part.

None of those situations ought to be a barrier to a national news career in the era of Zoom, Slack, and high-speed internet. Not only does worshipping at the altar of centralized “in-person” newsrooms disproportionately shut out women, BIPOC, the working class, and disabled people, it has a pernicious effect on the kind of reporting that gets done. Parachute reporting becomes the norm rather than offering opportunities to reporters who are deeply rooted and well-sourced in their communities and who have a nuanced understanding of local issues.

Indeed, when we started building Prism in 2019, we intentionally created an all-remote newsroom. As a result, we’ve assembled a geographically diverse, all-BIPOC team that includes working mothers and folks from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

As we’ve worked together over the past year, it’s clearer than ever that a newsroom doesn’t have to be a single, physical place in order for reporters and editors to collaborate effectively. We write, we edit, we videochat, we make liberal use of gifs and emoji via Slack — and our journalism is genuinely national, because everyone’s exactly where they want to be.

Remote work won’t solve every problem in journalism, but it’s long past time we start pulling every possible lever to make this field more accessible, inclusive, and reflective of the communities we’re covering. Let 2021 be the year national news outlets see the value in letting journalists freely choose the homes that work for them, and in the more reflective, accurate, and accountable coverage that will result.

Ashton Lattimore is editor-in-chief of Prism.

Does your newsroom really need to be in midtown Manhattan?

Is Los Angeles really the only place you can produce that podcast?

Have you considered that perhaps all of your reporters don’t need to move to downtown D.C.?

And most importantly, do you realize who you’re shutting out of your publication if you’re still making relocation a non-negotiable?

After the year we just had, in 2021 we should be asking serious questions about any news outlet that bills itself as “national” but hasn’t fully and unreservedly embraced remote work.

This year broke open necessary, long-overdue conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion in journalism. In particular, we’ve begun to reckon with racial injustice, critically examining who gets pushed out of newsrooms versus who gets to rise to their highest levels, and which stories get championed, fundamentally misunderstood, or completely left out as a result. At the same time, the nature of work has shifted ,as the pandemic forced many previously resistant industries to go remote. If we’re smart, watching those developments side by side will spark a realization: Building national news teams with roots in every corner of the country won’t just produce better journalism — it’ll help diversify and democratize the industry.

Journalism has long been an industry that’s challenging — if not downright hostile — for women and journalists of color. It’s also notoriously insular, with the most prestigious and widely-read “national” publications clustered into expensive major cities on the coasts. The effect is that many talented journalists are shut out from influential, major platforms because of who and where they are. Maybe they’re working class and can’t afford to move to a high-cost-of-living city on an intern’s pittance. Maybe family responsibilities or a partner’s job mean they have less geographic mobility, as is true for many women. Or maybe, just maybe, they’ve deliberately set down roots in a part of the country that’s not New York City because they love it, or it’s where they’re from, or they value the local communities of which they’re a part.

None of those situations ought to be a barrier to a national news career in the era of Zoom, Slack, and high-speed internet. Not only does worshipping at the altar of centralized “in-person” newsrooms disproportionately shut out women, BIPOC, the working class, and disabled people, it has a pernicious effect on the kind of reporting that gets done. Parachute reporting becomes the norm rather than offering opportunities to reporters who are deeply rooted and well-sourced in their communities and who have a nuanced understanding of local issues.

Indeed, when we started building Prism in 2019, we intentionally created an all-remote newsroom. As a result, we’ve assembled a geographically diverse, all-BIPOC team that includes working mothers and folks from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

As we’ve worked together over the past year, it’s clearer than ever that a newsroom doesn’t have to be a single, physical place in order for reporters and editors to collaborate effectively. We write, we edit, we videochat, we make liberal use of gifs and emoji via Slack — and our journalism is genuinely national, because everyone’s exactly where they want to be.

Remote work won’t solve every problem in journalism, but it’s long past time we start pulling every possible lever to make this field more accessible, inclusive, and reflective of the communities we’re covering. Let 2021 be the year national news outlets see the value in letting journalists freely choose the homes that work for them, and in the more reflective, accurate, and accountable coverage that will result.

Ashton Lattimore is editor-in-chief of Prism.

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