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April 22, 2022, 9:06 a.m.

Journalism groups: Make the Pulitzers open only to news orgs that are transparent about their diversity

An open letter calls on the industry’s highest honors to include a new participation clause. “By implementing this new criteria, the Pulitzers would honor not only great journalism, but journalism from newsrooms willing to be accountable to the public.”

What could nudge news organizations, reluctant or unmotivated to share diversity information, into being more transparent? A group of journalism organizations thinks putting the industry’s most prestigious awards on the line could be the answer.

A new open letter signed by dozens of professional journalism organizations, nonprofits, and labor unions asks the Pulitzer Prizes to add language requiring newsrooms to participate in the News Leaders Association’s annual diversity survey (or similar) by 2024 in order to be considered for their journalism awards.

The open letter cites reporting in Nieman Lab that though NLA sought responses from 2,500 news organizations for this year’s survey, just 303 newsrooms responded. The signees include professional organizations like Society of Professional Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Black Journalists, Native American Journalists Association, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, LION Publishers, and Institute for Nonprofit News — as well as a host of individual news organizations, including Vox and Spotlight PA.

The open letter, sent on Friday morning, was organized by Sisi Wei, co-executive director of OpenNews, and Jon Schleuss, president of The NewsGuild. (Marjorie Miller, who was named administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes last month, confirmed she’d received the emailed letter and said she supports diversity efforts in newsrooms, but has “not had time to study the letter or the survey or the NLA efforts in particular.”)

Wei and Schleuss sought counsel from NLA — which gave its support to the participation clause — and Meredith Clark, the professor at Northeastern University who has run the diversity survey since 2018, as they drafted the letter. After reaching out to professional organizations and groups, the two took additional suggestions to clear up the language and “make sure the criteria we were asking for was both firm and generous,” Wei said.

Here’s the open letter, as sent on Friday morning:

April 22, 2022

Marjorie Miller
Administrator
The Pulitzer Prizes

Dear Marjorie,

We are appealing to The Pulitzer Prizes to help us improve the diversity and transparency in the news industry. On Tuesday, April 12, Nieman Lab reported that there was “crushing resistance” by news organizations to participate in an annual diversity survey by the News Leaders Association. The group planned to have 2,500 organizations participate and in the end only 303 completed this important survey.

That is unacceptable.

Our country is reckoning with racial inequity and many in the journalism industry can’t or won’t provide essential newsroom transparency on staff diversity. If we can’t collect crucial data, how do we expect to improve newsroom diversity and represent our communities? NLA is the only organization that has collected this essential data for more than 40 years and it must continue, but it will only continue if news organizations are incentivized to participate in these demographic surveys.

We are asking your organization to promote this survey and reporting of demographic data by adding the following criteria to your selection process for Pulitzer Prizes in Journalism:

In order to qualify for an award, organizations must provide proof of participation in the most recent general survey/census by the News Leaders Association or another industry reporting system that shares data publicly, effective 2024 (i.e., they must participate in this year’s data collection to be eligible for awards/funding in 2024).

By implementing this new criteria, the Pulitzers would honor not only great journalism, but journalism from newsrooms willing to be accountable to the public. NLA supports this addition to the Pulitzer’s criteria for entry, and is committed to prioritizing this survey and working with newsrooms to increase participation.

Journalists have an ethical duty to be accountable and transparent. We must be accountable to our readers and our workers by making sure our newsrooms reflect the demographics of our readers. And we must be transparent with that data to improve the diversity of our newsrooms so they can operate at their full potential.

Sincerely,

100 Days in Appalachia
Africa Institute for International ReportIng (AIIR), Minnesota
AIR (Association of Independents in Radio)
Anchor media
Asian American Journalists Association
Bay City News Foundation
Black Video News
California Health Report
The Center for Investigative Reporting
Center for Public Integrity
Cityside Journalism Initiative
Colorado Media Project
Connecticut Health I-Team
Dallas Free Press
EDM Publications
FMB Radio
Georgia News Lab
Get Current Studio
The Ida B. Wells Society
Indigenous Media Freedom Alliance
Institute for Nonprofit News
International Women’s Media Foundation
Investigate Midwest
Investigative Newsource dba inewsource
LION Publishers
The Marshall Project
Media Bridge Partners
The Mendocino Voice
Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
MindSite News
Mojatu Foundation (Mojatu Magazine)
National Association of Black Journalists
National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ)
Native American Journalists Association (NAJA)
Native News Online
News Revenue Hub
The NewsGuild of New York
The Objective
OnlySky Media, Inc.
OpenSecrets
Our Body Politic
Outlier Media
Prism
Prison Journalism Project
Racine County Eye
Renaissance Journalism
Reporte Hispano
Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education
Sahan Journal
Society of Professional Journalists
Spotlight PA
Trans Journalists Association
Tucson Sentinel
URL Media
Vision25: Building Racial Equity in Newsrooms
Vox Media
West View Media
Whong Community Media
Writers Guild of America, East
WURD Radio

Schleuss and Wei, two former data journalists, were familiar with the participation problems the survey has faced and that have accelerated in recent years. (This year’s diversity survey was scheduled to be released last week but, as of Friday morning, remained unpublished. NLA executive director Myriam Marquez said some of the report’s graphics are being updated, and did not provide a new estimated publication date.)

Wei said that as they began reaching out to other journalism groups, she and Schleuss heard that many had already discussed the idea of adding a participation clause to the Pulitzer Prizes amongst themselves.

“The most incredible feedback we got was that other groups had thought of this idea as well, and they were excited that someone was finally taking action,” Wei said. “While we came upon the idea to start with the Pulitzers, so have many others.”

The organizers are still adding to the list of signees. They plan to release a second version, next week, with a list of individual journalists and news leaders who have given their support.

“There’s been overwhelming support for this, which has been so inspiring. Newsrooms were supposed to have a ‘reckoning’ after the murder of George Floyd, and yet, here we are in 2022 seeing that so few organizations want to even be transparent about their own newsroom diversity,” Wei said. “This small step would be a big push towards helping our newsrooms serve the communities they cover.”

Illustration of the Pulitzer Prize’s gold medal by Nicoletta Barolini.

POSTED     April 22, 2022, 9:06 a.m.
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