The topline: Audiences want to see themselves represented in the content they consume. Overall, newsrooms are not keeping pace with population shifts, though some exceptions stand out.
Building a diverse newsroom and delivering inclusive content is essential for ensuring the success of a media platform, according to the World Economic Forum. Diverse newsrooms better represent the variety of perspectives and experiences within society and are likely to create content that appeals to a wider audience base. Unfortunately, today’s newsrooms have a way to go to achieve diversity objectives.
A two-year study, The Damned Pipeline: U.S. News Industry’s Broken Parity Promise from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), explores the diversity of 22 major news organizations nationwide. The report findings show an underrepresentation of racial and ethnic cohorts among investigative teams and editors ―with an overwhelming prevalence of White news reporters (60%).
By contrast, Latino reporters comprise only 13% of investigative reporters but represent 19% of the U.S. population. Similarly, Black reporters comprise 9% of investigative teams, compared to their 13% share in the overall population. The survey also indicates that Indigenous reporters constitute fewer than 1% of investigative staff. On the other hand, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) reporters show a different trend, representing 11% of investigative staff compared to their 6% share in the population.
The report notes that traditional corporate newsroom managers need help establishing a culture that effectively mentors and recruits reporters of different ethnic and racial backgrounds. Regarding the actual employee count of nearly 180 investigative reporters, about two dozen are Latino reporters, 19 are AAPI reporters, 15 are Black reporters, and two are Indigenous reporters.
Further, the need for more diversity is even more pronounced among editors. There are only seven Latino investigative editors, three Black investigative editors, two AAPI editors, and no Indigenous editors among the survey respondents.
The study shows progress in gender diversity ― 44% of reporters and 46% of editors identify as female.
Newsrooms pursue staff diversity
Some newsrooms are taking initiatives to prioritize diversity and ensure a more inclusive representation of different races, genders, ethnicities, and perspectives in their news reporting and decision-making processes.
Associated Press: The Associated Press (AP) revamped its investigative team over the last few years. They focused on broadening the concept of investigative reporting by non-specialists to develop investigative skills among more diverse staff members. The AP introduced inclusive hiring practices, mentoring programs, and internal fellowships. AP also established an investigative correspondents program, a six-month internal fellowship, and other mentoring opportunities.
ProPublica: Newsroom leaders at ProPublica focus on metrics, holding themselves accountable to increase the diversity of the reporting staff. Their initiatives include extending searches for diverse talent, an Investigative Editor training program, and increasing fellow salaries to $75,000 to attract a more diverse candidate pool.
Los Angeles Times: The Los Angeles Times engaged with the NAHJ Task Force two years ago. At that time, racial and ethnic reporters comprised one-sixth of their investigative team covering a highly diverse metropolitan area. By September 2022, the LA Times announced the addition of three reporters to enhance its investigative team’s diversity in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity.
As the U.S. undergoes demographic shifts, it’s crucial for newsrooms, especially in specialized areas like investigations, to evolve accordingly. The task force views the survey and dialogues as initial measures in fostering industry accountability. NAHJ aspires to gather more newsroom partners in their ongoing commitment to mirror the evolving demographics changes in the U.S.