The focus turns to newsroom leaders for lasting change

“Reward journalism that provides real and unique value to your audience, instead of journalism that chases competitors or feeds your ego but does little for your community.”

Who among us isn’t eager for 2020 to be over? We’re all looking forward to (hopefully) leaving the worst parts of the pandemic behind. But there are some issues this year brought to the surface that the news industry shouldn’t just move on from. And by this point, it’s newsroom leaders who need to step up to enact lasting change.

The messages are loud and clear: BIPOC journalists have done the work, and newsroom diversity and coverage aren’t where they should be. Journalists are burnt out. Americans’ trust in quality news sources isn’t getting much better, wounding our ability to function as a democracy.

Journalists say we want to fix these problems, and it’s not like zero progress has been made. But real solutions require real and sustained work from all of us. The work is hard and takes place every day. So to motivate it, leaders need to make changes to the system. That means aligning incentives with stated goals.

I’m far from the first to speak on how they can get started, but here are a few reminders:

  • Actively message — both explicitly and implicitly — to your existing staff and those outside your organization that everyone is valued, welcome, and needed for your journalism to accurately cover any topic.
  • Work with managers to create a better hiring process and reward them for conducting thorough searches. And don’t forget to promote people from within, rewarding people for their hard work and sending a message to others about how your organization operates.
  • Discourage coverage and language that results in othering or assumes that the center is a white, male perspective. To reduce burnout, lead by example and take time off.
  • Reward journalism that provides real and unique value to your audience, instead of journalism that chases competitors or feeds your ego but does little for your community.
  • To regain trust, keep letting your reporters work from wherever they are. Once it’s safe, encourage them to interact with their local communities, where most people have probably never met a journalist, making it easier for them to dismiss “the media.”

All of this takes more than a newsroom-wide memo. It takes new performance reviews. It takes an office culture that promotes flexibility, values family, and considers work-life balance. It takes detailed follow-up. It takes rethinking your assumptions and habits and checking yourself and your newsroom. And yes, it takes more memos to highlight all the follow-up you’re doing to motivate more people to keep participating in the reformed system.

I’ll say it again: It’s real and hard work. But if 2020 didn’t motivate you to do better in 2021, our newsrooms and our democracy will be in worse shape by 2022.

Laura E. Davis is an assistant professor of professional practice at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

Who among us isn’t eager for 2020 to be over? We’re all looking forward to (hopefully) leaving the worst parts of the pandemic behind. But there are some issues this year brought to the surface that the news industry shouldn’t just move on from. And by this point, it’s newsroom leaders who need to step up to enact lasting change.

The messages are loud and clear: BIPOC journalists have done the work, and newsroom diversity and coverage aren’t where they should be. Journalists are burnt out. Americans’ trust in quality news sources isn’t getting much better, wounding our ability to function as a democracy.

Journalists say we want to fix these problems, and it’s not like zero progress has been made. But real solutions require real and sustained work from all of us. The work is hard and takes place every day. So to motivate it, leaders need to make changes to the system. That means aligning incentives with stated goals.

I’m far from the first to speak on how they can get started, but here are a few reminders:

  • Actively message — both explicitly and implicitly — to your existing staff and those outside your organization that everyone is valued, welcome, and needed for your journalism to accurately cover any topic.
  • Work with managers to create a better hiring process and reward them for conducting thorough searches. And don’t forget to promote people from within, rewarding people for their hard work and sending a message to others about how your organization operates.
  • Discourage coverage and language that results in othering or assumes that the center is a white, male perspective. To reduce burnout, lead by example and take time off.
  • Reward journalism that provides real and unique value to your audience, instead of journalism that chases competitors or feeds your ego but does little for your community.
  • To regain trust, keep letting your reporters work from wherever they are. Once it’s safe, encourage them to interact with their local communities, where most people have probably never met a journalist, making it easier for them to dismiss “the media.”

All of this takes more than a newsroom-wide memo. It takes new performance reviews. It takes an office culture that promotes flexibility, values family, and considers work-life balance. It takes detailed follow-up. It takes rethinking your assumptions and habits and checking yourself and your newsroom. And yes, it takes more memos to highlight all the follow-up you’re doing to motivate more people to keep participating in the reformed system.

I’ll say it again: It’s real and hard work. But if 2020 didn’t motivate you to do better in 2021, our newsrooms and our democracy will be in worse shape by 2022.

Laura E. Davis is an assistant professor of professional practice at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

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