Do commercial/independent newsrooms have structural biases that prevent rich engagement with people of color? Do we too often not recognize the differences in diversity?

Elaine Cha, co-presenter
Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, co-presenter
Lee van der Voo , Investigate West
Desiree Gutierrez
Franziska Monahan

Jo Ellen opened by describing her experience with white progressive outlets that desperately want to cover issues central to different communities of color, but that have not been able or willing to diversify their newsrooms or their audiences.

Elaine presented a story of her frustration that newsrooms assume that someone who looks a particular way or has a particular name can represent all people of color–for example that a person of Korean heritage can represent Chinese speakers!

Then discussion ensued.

Lee: Journalism is broken in terms of race and diversity. My jschool experiences were white, my newsrooms have been white and male. As journalism declines the newsrooms get more white and more male, which reflects the power structures out there. Colleagues get funneled to beats based on their race and gender, even if they are not interested in those beats. We would engage a community because of “this” particular story, but without any active listening. That perpetuates a white readership.

Some of this should be active recruitment, some should be active listening. We need leadership.We also need more training.

Desiree Guttierez
Maybe it’s important to participate in those communities in roles other than as a reporter.

Lee
Newspapers frown on personal engagement. That’s a problem. If I advocate for a community I can’t report on it. A lot of my colleagues are so divested from their community that they don’t even know where they live.

Jo Ellen
I think our members are keen on advocacy but they have the same problem as progressive activists–they like to march but maybe aren’t involved in the day to day in their communities.

I see black family papers celebrating micro events, like high school graduations–facebook stuff–but I think that is critical for the kind of respect that leads to engagemen.

Elaine
I moved to St. Louis right before the Ferguson shooting, but I couldn’t participate in the protests and be a “journalist” which led me to be disillusioned about journalism. I’m of Korean background born in Canada. Kids joke about what their parents read in the Korean paper–it wouldn’t be considered news here. What kind of relationships do people from these communities have with journalism? What do they think journalism is?

If you are coming from a progressive outlet, that might not resonate with immigrants who are conservative mainly because of their home countries.

If you have a pale male newsroom and you want a woman’s perspective and you go to one of the three women in the newsroom it’s not fair to expect them to know about all women. I’m Korean, but you can’t go to me and expect me to know about all Asians.

Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. As a Korean I could reach out to Vietnamese because there were no other Asians there. Asking someone if they are comfortable doing something is important.

We need to see breakdown of audience.

Jo Ellen
Example of KPCC

Elaine
In St Louis when I was there the public radio station only had 1 black fellow–a fellow not a full timer. The black paper, the St. Louis American, is there–does that make other papers feel like they had a free pass?

But: you can bring in someone who is not white, but if their point of view is the same as all reporters, how much diversity have you brought in?

Desiree
I talked to a woman in charge of diversity for Honda. They had hired a diverse-looking staff, but they hadn’t created the culture that allowed people to represent their culture within their work. They hadn’t changed their idea about how you do business. For example, the ability to be creative, in terms of how you share and interact with staff. Women in media is a good example–if you have a boardroom with 10 men and 2 women, when a woman speaks the men identify that contribution as being from a woman. But when3-4 people are women, then that contribution is not gender-assigned.

  1. tipping point

cullture tippping point

JO Ellen
I’ve heard people say that to change the culture you have to also change back office as well as reporting staff.

Desiree
Matt Damon says that when we talk about diversity we should only talk about actors and not production. He got big backlash for that.

Elaine
Those who work on social media for journalism orgs–a lot of them are people of color, but they are not given the status of journalists. They are relegated to a lower class of work. They are hired for their connection to the bigger world but not recognized for what they bring. Structure of pay reflects that.

Lee
IF newsrooms want to diversify there has to be an emphasis on growing people up. If we want to represent diversity we have to cultivate it in the newsroom.

Jo Ellen
Is hiring enough?

Lee
We need some active listening. We need to be engaged with the full readership

Franziska
If you just hire people in, it won’t work. Mainstream outlets have a culture to them that gives off a white male feel no matter who is there.

Lee
The Oregonian went through a period when it was all about the ethnic byline. But it was all byline driven. It didn’t go further.

Franziska
You might even alienate communities if you have hired people but expect them to conform.

Lee
Those people were also the first to leave. They were fired first. They weren’t valued.

Elaine
Seniority is an inherent bias.

Desiree
What are the demographics of people coming out of journalism programs. I wouldn’t encourage people to go for a traditional journalism degree. Is there a pool that is not being called upon?

Lee
Maybe we need some places to design programs to develop journalists of color.

Elaine
Someone of color might not even try for j-school because they think the chances of being hired are so slim. But in j-school you make connections. Education access is a big part of this. People say “the talent isn’t there” is that because of problems with education access? that you are not willing to cultivate it? they won’t take the risk?

Jo Ellen
Internships were the route to access, but the barrier there was wealth, because internships don’t pay or pay under a living wage.

Lee
Our awards system is geared towards wealth and privilege–based on the ideal of meritocracy and the ideal of equity of access.