Constituting about 43.1% of the U.S. population in 2022, people of color will become the majority within a couple of decades. However, despite some minor gains in 2021-22, people of color and women remained underrepresented in most television employment arenas. For both women and people of color, the “bright spot” exceptions were among cable scripted leads and credited cable writers.
According to the tenth annual Hollywood Diversity Report 2023, the television industry is progressing in diversity and representation, but much more work needs to be done. Part 2 of the Hollywood Diversity Report 2023 examines 521 live action, scripted television shows airing or streaming during the 2021-22 season. Part 2, which focused on 2022 Hollywood theatrical and streaming films, was released in March 2023.
Part 2 of the report shows that individuals from underrepresented communities are experiencing employment growth compared to their White colleagues. However, individuals from diverse backgrounds remain underrepresented across all aspects of industry employment during the 2021-22 television season.
Representation in core employment categories:
Broadcast scripted leads: less than 2 to 1 representation (33%).
Digital scripted leads: nearly proportionate representation (36%).
Broadcast scripted show creators: 2 to 1 representation (23%).
Cable scripted show creators: less than 2 to 1 representation (30%).
Digital scripted show creators: less than 2 to 1 representation (26%).
Broadcast episodes directed: less than 2 to 1 representation (31%).
Credited digital writers: nearly proportionate representation (38%).
Significantly, people of color more than quintupled their share of broadcast scripted show creators between the 2011-12 and 2021-22 television seasons — from 4% to 23%. However, they must double their 2021-22 share to reach proportionate representation in this employment arena (43%).
In addition, Black individuals constitute the only group to exceed proportionate representation among leads in the 2021-22 season across all platforms.
The report also measures gender representation. While female employment increased across seven of the 12 key Hollywood categories, women remain underrepresented in most areas.
Broadcast scripted show creators: nearly proportionate representation (42%)
Cable scripted show creators: less than 2 to 1 representation (34%)
Digital scripted show creators: less than 2 to 1 representation (37%)
Broadcast episodes directed: less than 2 to 1 representation (37%)
Cable episodes directed: less than 2 to 1 representation (38%)
Digital episodes directed: less than 2 to 1 representation (37%)
Credited digital writers: Nearly proportionate representation (47%)
Representation of those with disabilities
Further, new to this year’s report is monitoring the number of individuals with disabilities employed in the television industry. In the 2021-22 television season, there were very few actors with visible disabilities on scripted shows. Among actors with known disabilities, the majority reported mental health issues, learning, or neurological disabilities (77%).
In broadcast scripted shows, only two actors had a physical disability that was visible or a hearing disability (0.3%). In cable scripted shows, only four actors had a physical or medical disability that was visible or a hearing disability (0.6%). In digital scripted shows, eleven actors had a physical or medical disability that was visible or a hearing or visual impairment disability (0.5%). Overall, individuals with disabilities are substantially underrepresented across all platforms ― broadcast, cable, and digital.
There are also significant disparities in the budgets allocated to shows created by women and people of color compared to shows created by White men. In both cable and digital, White female creators and creators of color are more likely to have smaller budgets, under $3 million per episode, than White male creators.
Part 2 of the Hollywood Diversity Report 2023 highlights the ongoing struggle for inclusivity in television. Despite some progress, individuals from underrepresented communities continue to face a lack of representation in employment and budget allocations. The report finds that, amid a changing industry marked by increasingly niche programming across platforms, evidence from the 2021-22 television season continues to show that increasingly diverse audiences gravitate to content featuring diversity in some form. Therefore, the report underscores the need for increased industry efforts to create a more inclusive and equitable television employee marketplace, and to better appeal to audiences now and moving forward.
For diverse-owned media outlets, the increased interest and investment have been a boon, with overall spend on diverse-owned media growing at an 80% annual rate from 2020 to 2022. Such sudden and intense focus can feel like a bit of a gold rush. However, it is important to remember that the whole point of this elevation of diverse-owned media is to lay the foundation for sustainable change. Both advertisers and diverse-owned media outlets need to act accordingly.
For diverse-owned media outlets, the elevated awareness of the importance of varied voices in media is an opportunity. But it also brings challenges, hidden among the details. Here are a few key considerations for these organizations to keep in mind.
Honor (and protect) your voice
The value of diverse-owned media is about so much more than just helping brands bolster their investment in social causes. Diverse-owned media gives voice to different lenses and cultures. They elevate the visibility of underserved communities. They inform. They entertain. And, importantly: they influence.
As diverse-owned media outlets grow, they must remain strong and unapologetic in their voices. Their role is not to assimilate, but rather to break new ground and create a more-diverse set of entrepreneurs and voices in the media.
At the same time, diverse-owned media outlets must dedicate themselves to growing in a sustainable way. From an advertiser perspective, brands are being reminded that the goal isn’t to throw money at these outlets and declare the problem fixed. It’s to help these companies flourish over the long haul. In the same vein, the goal of the outlets themselves shouldn’t be to succeed because they represent diverse voices. The goal is to succeed because they are strong media organizations, not just in terms of voice but also in terms of infrastructure and business model.
Prioritize transparency in partnerships
As diverse-owned media scale, they will inevitably need to build the technology stacks and monetization systems required to deliver the targeting and advertising opportunities desired by their brand-side clients. These are not decisions to be taken lightly. Transparency in the advertising supply chain is paramount for all media organizations, and this remains true for diverse-owned media.
It’s not enough to know which way advertising revenue is trending. Diverse-owned media should be working with partners and technologies that are dedicated to educating them on the share of revenue that they’re receiving within the broader ad tech supply path, as well as the bigger picture of how the media outlet is partnering with brands and agencies.
Diverse-owned media outlets need to have clarity into the brands they’re working with and, wherever possible, direct lines of communication. Advertiser support of these outlets, after all, shouldn’t just be about “checking boxes.” Both advertisers and diverse-owned media should be building relationships that, over time, enable the funding of larger and more meaningful projects. Only in having transparency into exactly how an outlet is being compensated and by whom can a media organization build and execute on a long-term vision for the future.
Don’t let measurement be an afterthought
A lot has changed in a short amount of time within the media landscape, and that rate of change isn’t slowing down. For diverse-owned media outlets, that means they need to be able to pivot with future shifts, and doing so requires the ability to measure and understand what’s working.
The ability to measure advertising and sponsorship outcomes will be especially important for diverse-owned media when it comes to fostering partnerships with brands and ensuring reinvestment continues. It’s imperative to be able to show brands and agencies not only an outlet’s ability to produce a powerful piece of content, but also that the powerful piece of content helps to drive business results. The capability to monitor performance in this way can’t be on an outlet’s “nice to have” list. It’s table stakes for growing a media organization in a responsible way.
Preserve entrepreneurship in diverse-owned media
It might be tempting to think of diverse-owned media as “having a moment” right now. However, advertisers and publishers alike must look beyond current spikes in investment to ensure they’re planning for a future in which this kind of investment is the new normal. In this regard, the responsibility doesn’t sit solely with the advertisers who control the purse strings.
As our industry deepens investment in diverse-owned media, we must simultaneously be creating a more hospitable environment for these outlets. Important work is being done by organizations like BOMESI, the Black Owned Media Equity and Sustainability Institute, through its BOMESI Accelerator, a first-of-its-kind initiative to support diverse-owned digital publishers that are driving lasting social change. This organization, and the spirit that inspires it, deserve industry-wide support.
Part of the work being done right now should focus on making it easier for startups to become certified as diverse-owned outlets as they seek funding. Entrepreneurs in this space should be able to take funding from the partners best poised to help them grow, but they must also maintain the level of control needed to still qualify as diverse-owned.
Just as marketers formalize plans for long-term investment in diverse-owned media, so too do these media outlets need to be ensuring they’re worthy of those long-term investments. Particularly for entrepreneurs, that means not simply handing their businesses over to investors without considering their longer-term opportunities and responsibilities. What the world needs now is more diverse media entrepreneurs and voices–not more money being spent with large companies seeking to take advantage of a gold rush.
In New England, we have a saying: “An ounce of experience is worth a pound of theory.” At The Boston Globe, New England’s largest news organization, the team is taking that saying to heart as they carefully launch and implement a video and larger marketing strategy designed to engage current subscribers and reach new, younger, more diverse audiences. Underpinned by an audience-centric mentality, the team focuses on understanding exactly what its users want and finding innovative ways to give it to them.
Engaging existing subscribers with video
The centerpiece of the 150-year-old publication’s video strategy is Boston Globe Today. Just celebrating its six-month anniversary, the 30-minute show is broadcast five days a week at 5 p.m. on Globe.com, NESN 360, and NESN’s linear channel. (NESN is the New England Sports Network.) The show focuses on mostly news topics Monday through Thursday, and on Friday, they switch to sports. Rather than just reporting the news, Boston Globe Today focuses on taking a closer look at the news, often from a journalist’s perspective. Host Segun Oduolowu talks to Globe journalists about their stories, sometimes even telling the story behind them.
“We know our readers watch television… but they weren’t doing it with us because we are traditionally a words-driven platform,” says Peggy Byrd, Chief Marketing Officer at The Boston Globe. The priority for this team is to engage current subscribers by meeting them where they are, no matter the channel.
“Conceptually, it was coming from who we are rather than what’s out there,” says Michelle Micone, Vice President, Innovation & Strategic Initiatives at The Boston Globe. Over a year in the making, The Globe hired a television producer and other industry pros to help bring this vision to life and ensure its quality is up to readers’ expectations. The TV team is constantly conversing with the newsroom, keeping an eye on interesting stories coming up and deciding which ones will translate well to the television format.
Boston Globe Today is available online for subscribers. However, a segment from each episode is available to all site visitors — potentially giving them a reason to subscribe. “We built this in segments as well as a full show,” says Micone. This allows viewers to engage with the content they are most interested in. Not only does this let audiences use their time wisely, but it also gives The Globe team an idea of what people are most interested in, which allows them to create an even better product moving forward.
While new subscribers are always nice, engagement of existing, loyal readers comes first. Byrd says the goal is to “expand a habit” and that the team wants to “expand the expectation and the experience and give people a new way of consuming.”
So far, Byrd says they are seeing traction when it comes to engaging existing subscribers, and they have just started to measure conversion for new subscribers.
Reaching audiences wherever they consume video
Giving your audience what it wants is always critical to building loyalty and retention, but no publication can grow without new audience members. As Byrd says, younger audiences and people of color “over-index” when it comes to video consumption, so The Globe knows that video is an essential part of finding those subscribers.
From topics to geographies to channels, The Globe tries to serve its broad audience in several ways. As Micone puts it, “We do feel like we have to do it all, and these are the ways we’re trying to service everyone in a modern way.” On TikTok, that means creating content specifically for the audience in ways that feel authentic to the platform.
“We’re definitely committed to video for the long term,” says Micone. “Part of the reason for even starting this conversation with the TV show is to become an organization that’s very skilled at video.”
Strategic approach to audience growth
YouTube has played a slightly different role at The Boston Globe and its many brands. It’s primarily been a marketing tool, which Byrd says provides valuable feedback, allowing the team to take the data they collect into its content rollout on YouTube. “This is a long road we’re on,” Micone adds. “The TV show, YouTube, TikTok, all these pieces are part of it.”
However, engaging younger audiences isn’t all about TikTok and video. The B-Side is an “email and social forward product,” according to Micone, the idea for which came from a Globe employee during the company’s biannual innovation weeks. After some massaging of the idea, the B-Side emerged, which the website describes as “a hyperlocal email- and social-only daily newsletter that provides authentic and relatable news to keep readers up-to-date and in the groove on local happenings in and around Boston.”
Up next, The Globe team is turning to SMS to expand the publication’s reach. As many mobile marketers know, getting users to opt-in is the biggest hurdle to messaging users on their phones. It’s “another way to meet people where they are,” says Byrd, and as is typical of The Globe’s methodical approach, “we’re taking our time with it.” It will be more of a marketing tool in its first iteration, eventually moving to the content distribution part of this puzzle. “The point of SMS is to learn what people want to get,” says Byrd, “and then once we discover what they want we can start to give it to them through their phones.”
Staying true to their New England roots, The Boston Globe team will continue to prioritize experience over theories as it experiments and innovates with ways to reach and serve audiences old and new.
The quote from the FT focus group was so powerful that eight years on it still propels many initiatives across departments to reach and engage a more diverse audience. From establishing an Audience Diversity team to running more inclusive marketing campaigns, FT has been working hard to resonate with the increasingly growing number of women in leadership positions across finance, business, politics and many other industries. Along the way, we’ve learned a great deal.
During the DCN Subscription Innovation Day held last week in New York, Daisy Donald, a principal consultant at FT’s media consultancy arm, FT Strategies, talked about some of the findings from these efforts and we share some of those here.
But we also decided to go beyond suggestions and guidelines at FT Strategies and developed a tool called FT Diversify that can help any media organization in its efforts to diversify its reporting, sourcing, and its audience. FT Diversify is a machine learning tool incorporated into the regular editorial workflow that counts gender imbalances in content and gives actionable recommendations for making the journalism more representative. And the implementation of this tool has also taught us lessons worth sharing.
Why is being representative so important for audience diversity?
Luba Kassova and Richard Addy’s research suggests that the lack of representation also translates into a news gender consumption gap: 60.1% of visits to the top 48 news websites were made by men. That marks a missed opportunity – not only in being socially equitable but also commercially prudent. News outlets are missing out on lots of visitors and subscribers that come from underrepresented segments. And this goes beyond gender into race, socioeconomic background, age, and more.
What can we do to analyze & increase representation?
During the session at DCN’s members-only event, FT Strategies’ Donald shared a few tips to address this: “the crux of it is a deep understanding of what segments of underrepresented audiences want, rallying behind that as an organization and having the motivation and diverse talent to translate that knowledge into journalism, products and experiences that these people are looking for.”
The way to achieve that is through feedback mechanisms that open up conversations with your readers. For example, ask yourselves: Can we create a survey on the home page? Can we bring them into the newsroom for a visit? Can our reporters talk to women readers to hear what pieces they really enjoyed? Can we do more to encourage women to participate in wider discussions such as in the comment sections?
It goes without saying that simply collecting that information isn’t going to change much. With our ‘Diversify’ product, we connect data on reporting with consumption data to produce a dashboard with statistics as well as actionable recommendations and next steps generated by its algorithms.
Would knowing what pieces resonate well with women and publishing more of those increase their engagement with your journalism and brand? Would having more women be featured as authors, sources and in images lead to an increase in women readers? From our experience at the FT and working with other publishers we believe the answer is a resounding yes.
We have also found that it is important to think beyond just the topics that women are viewing in order to avoid stereotyping. It’s more impactful to supplement that with information on what platforms and channels and in what formats women consume these articles. Writers and editors must also always be sure to consider the why.
During our collaboration with a Finnish publisher we created a dashboard that showed similar information to the FT Diversify tool: number of women in photos, bylines and quotes and viewership and time on page per topic, platform and format. We found out that there is a shortage of women writers in certain verticals and that women readers were viewing a lot more content on climate change than men. Our feedback mechanisms revealed that women were often short on time, juggling a few activities at once, and preferred a more informal, relaxed tone of reporting.
In order to solve those “problems” we experimented with a newsletter on climate change written by a group of women journalists on rotation, sharing their favorite climate stories from the week in a concise and informal way. The result was 6% more women subscribers to that newsletter compared to others in the short space of two weeks.
This shows that giving instant access to feedback and easy-to-digest data to journalists can be really powerful. It may not completely transform commissioning decisions or how reporting is done. However, it does nudge content creators to think more inclusively and focus on different formats, topics, and conversations. We have seen firsthand how this leads to better engagement and increases the impact of their journalism.
About the author
Rumyana is a manager at FT Strategies, and has worked with large media & publishing companies across Europe. She designed the Google News Initiative Audience diversity programme, and also has experience in content strategy, newsroom evolution and engagement tactics. She was recently part of the Financial Times’ Audience Engagement team supporting their audience diversity ambition to increase the amount of engaged women subscribers.
If you want to understand the importance of DEI as it relates to the media business in 2023, there’s just one word you need to know: imperative. When you start leafing through the research, you’ll find “imperative” pops up a lot. Why? Because research universally reveals that a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is of vital importance — crucial, even — to success in today’s media and entertainment environment.
Deloitte’s “Media Reimagined” study found that Black, Latinx, and LGBTQIA+ audiences represent a third of the $717 billion U.S. media and entertainment market. “Combined, these three audiences spend more than $250 billion annually and contribute an even higher percentage (52%) among U.S. adult Gen Z entertainment spend,” according to Deloitte.
And lest you think you can entice this audience with any old content, think again. Deloitte found:
71% of current media and entertainment spend among Black, Latinx, and LGBTQIA+ audiences is driven by feelings of inclusivity
54% of current media and entertainment spend tied to inclusivity can be traced to women-identifying audiences
13% increase of incremental and/or stabilized revenue potential across all audiences when they feel more included
Dollars and cents aside, inclusivity also leads to better content that all audiences can appreciate. “Our new research reveals that improving equity in the media and entertainment industry increases brand loyalty, drives growth, and results in fresh content that more closely aligns with consumer needs and expectations,” Deloitte summarizes.
But it’s not just movies, television, and podcasts we need to think about moving forward. Inclusivity in ads matters, too. According to the 2023 Higher Impact report from Amazon Ads, 79% of consumers are more likely to purchase products or services from brands whose values align with their own — and increasingly, DEI is among those values.
Nearly half (45%) of consumers are willing to pay more for a product that reflects and promotes DEI, according to the Amazon report. And 46% of consumers say they go out of their way to choose brands that have corporate commitments to DEI. In other words, consumers are watching — and they reward corporate efforts (and authenticity) when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The full picture
It’s one thing to put out a DEI statement, it’s another thing for media companies to hold themselves accountable and achieve diversity at all levels. Deloitte found that three in five respondents “do not feel empowered to prioritize equity in decision-making” while one in three “feel their leaders don’t understand what diversity and inclusion means.” Another quarter of people “say the lack of diversity at senior levels is an issue.”
And in the film industry, that lack of diversity leads to a dearth of diverse stories. Annenberg Foundation research finds that female directors tell stories with more female characters, more characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, more women over age 40, and they hire more women working in other notable behind‐the‐scenes positions.
Unfortunately, The Annenberg Foundation’s latest report, The Inclusion List, produced in cooperation with The Adobe Foundation, finds that inclusion in Hollywood is lacking in diversity and shows few signs of improvement in recent years. With regards to the representation of women on screen, the report’s lead author Stacy L. Smith said, “What’s even more powerful about this list – and consistent with our previous work – is that films from women and women of color directors on the list earned the highest average Metacritic score. These women are excluded from the industry when we know that they are some of the top performers, telling some of the strongest and most compelling stories. This list celebrates women of color in an industry that doesn’t.”
Source: USC Annenberg’s “The Inclusion List” a new data-driven ranking that provides the titles of the 100 most inclusive theatrically-released films from 2019 to 2022. The list goes beyond movies to rank distributors and producers as well, holding the entertainment industry accountable.
Those who continue to ignore the role DEI plays in media’s success, will be missing the boat — and significant revenue opportunities as well. The undisputed king of e-commerce knows this, and that’s why one of the ways that Amazon segments its advertising audience is “Allies of Diversity”, which it outlined in a sponsored post on Ad Week. The Allies of Diversity audience “aims to provide a solution to reach an array of consumers at scale that have demonstrated signals of allyship. Amazon infers allyship based on aggregated first-party shopping and streaming signals. The company says, “Inclusive advertising helps brands connect with a wide range of people, promotes innovation and ensures that ads can be enjoyed by a variety of audiences.”
Clearly, Amazon has recognized the revenue potential DEI offers its advertisers but we’ll have to wait to see if Hollywood has the same epiphany. Though, as movies like “Barbie” — which sport diverse casts and women at the helm behind the scenes — rock the box office, the fiscal case for inclusion will be easier to make. However, one may have said the same thing when “Waiting to Exhale” opened at number one back in 1995 or when, in 2018, “Black Panther” became the highest-grossing superhero movie. Will the underlying facts and numbers that all support an authentic commitment to DEI be enough to move the needle?
Founded in 1977, the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education fosters diversity in newsrooms through improved coverage, hiring, and business practices. The organization offers newsroom training and professional development programs that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in journalism. In 2018, the organization launched the Maynard 200 Fellowship as a call to action for the industry. The program provides training and mentorship to mid-career journalists of diverse backgrounds in order to advance their career growth and ability to take on expanded leadership roles.
To date, 146 fellows have completed the program. These diverse media leaders, storytellers, and entrepreneurs are not just equipped to lead within media organizations, or their own endeavors. They also form a community of support that grows every year, which is especially critical amid turbulence in the industry. Maynard 200 Fellows are part of what its director Odette Alcazaren-Keeley describes as “a mini-movement aligned with our mission of dismantling structural racism in America’s newsrooms and media spaces.”
Alcazaren-Keeley recently received the SPJ NorCal Excellence in Journalism “Unsung Hero” award, primarily for her work directing the program, which they cited as “as one of the most powerful incubators for journalists of color in the country.” Here, she discusses the state of newsroom equity, what’s changed – and what has not – and offers insight and advice for media leaders who want to support diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) in tangible ways.
Describe the current state of diversity in newsrooms as you see it:
There has been progress but there is still so much work to be done to grow diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging [DEIB] in newsrooms. Three years after the Summer of George Floyd, many newsrooms still continue to struggle with racial equity.
Given economic uncertainties, many newsrooms find themselves at crossroads. News organizations can choose to continue to build on the momentum of the racial awakening of 2020. But the work is not easy. And as some newsrooms struggle with financial sustainability, they may be tempted to abandon efforts before reaping the benefits of this work. We’ve seen this reported in other industries. For example in tech, where DEIB roles saw high attrition rates – and even layoffs – earlier this year.
Of course there is reason to hope and we can point to metrics of progress. For example, the American Journalist Study of 2022 found that the number of full-time journalists of color increased from 10.8% in 2012 to 18% in 2022.
But again, this progress has been mixed as found by the Pew Research Center survey of almost 12,000 journalists last year. For example, journalists surveyed gave their news organizations highest marks for gender and age diversity – but the lowest for racial and ethnic diversity.
Our organization has been doing this work to help diversify the profession so that demographics of newsrooms better reflect the demographics of the U.S. for decades and the marathon continues. This is why we are so passionate about the successes of the Maynard 200 Fellowship program. We designed the program to train journalists of color and their allies. The program’s curriculum is both skills-based and centered on DEIB principles. The investigative reporters, editors, managers, executives, and media entrepreneurs who participate in the Maynard 200 Fellowship go on to become change agents in their organizations. And we can see that this is something the media industry clearly needs more of.
Are you and your fellows seeing change on the inclusion front?
Marla Jones-Newman, VP of People and Culture at Mother Jones, and a 2022 alum of the executive leaders track of the Maynard 200 Fellowship, recently wrote an insightful piece about the industry’s fluctuating commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
Media advocates and journalism funders relay reports of DEIB leaders across newsrooms who share that they do not receive an authentic infrastructure of support and are not able to sustain their work. This has led them to fail their mission in shifting cultures of toxicity and racial inequity inside media organizations – the very reason for their roles.
It can often feel like two steps forward and one step back – or one step forward, two steps back depending on the backlash. When newsrooms are inconsistent with their commitment to DEIB, it can feel performative and actually hurt their reputations among audiences and employees.
[Disclosure: Mother Jones is one of the news organizations participating in the 2023 Maynard 200 Fellowship business case study challenge, where fellows are tasked with designing solutions to challenges faced by today’s media organizations.]
Many media organizations have pledged to improve their racial equity. Have they?
This work can be difficult to track – especially when previous efforts to survey the industry have faded out due to “crushing resistance” like the American Society of News Editors annual diversity survey which had been conducted since 1978. So few news organizations contribute data about their racial equity, that some industry leaders want to make diversity reporting a requirement to receive prestigious journalism awards, like the Open Letter to the Pulitzer Prizes published last year.
Again, we can point to some progress. But if news organizations want to thrive they must quicken their pace. The younger generation coming out of journalism schools today has higher expectations. To refer back to the Pew Research Center report again, the numbers that jump out the most come from younger respondents. For example, 68% of journalists ages 18 to 29 say there is not enough racial and ethnic diversity at their organization, compared with 37% of journalists 65 and older.
In some ways, the culture of society is changing faster than media organizational culture is changing. Younger generations in the U.S. are more diverse than previous generations, if media organizations want to recruit the next generation of journalists, they need to catch up.
What are the barriers that need to be addressed to improve equity in media organizations?
There are many, but the primary barrier to address is systemic racism. More than 50 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a committee to investigate the rise in U.S. racial conflicts in the late 1960s. The outcome of that investigation, known as the Kerner Commission report, warned that: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.” The report also stated the news media was “shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring and promoting” people of color.
In response, the news media claimed it was a “pipeline problem” in that they could not find qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds. In 1978 at a pivotal meeting of top brass in print, Bob Maynard declared it was time to remove this excuse from the equation. “We will not let you off the hook,” he said. “We must desegregate this business.”
This climate propelled our Institute’s namesake Robert C. Maynard to gather a diverse group of journalists and found the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education with the mission of promoting diversity and antiracism in the news media through improved coverage, hiring and business practices.
At an organizational level, media organizations must strive to create a culture of belonging for journalists and audiences of all backgrounds, rather than othering these groups in their workplaces and their coverage. To push DEIB principles forward – in addition to professional development training programs like the Maynard 200 Fellowship – the Maynard Institute also provides consultation and training to media organizations that address the structural inequities that persist in newsrooms. Using the Fault Lines® training methodology designed by Bob Maynard, the Maynard Institute helps newsrooms come to terms with bias along race, gender, sexual orientation, generation, geography and class lines as they apply to journalists, newsroom collaboration and coverage.
As you mentioned, we often hear about a “pipeline problem” and we’ve seen media organizations work with universities and other organizations to better recruit diverse candidates. Is this working? Is it enough?
Similar to other professions and industries – such as those in the Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) fields – the myth of the “pipeline problem” has been busted. There is no shortage of qualified candidates of diverse backgrounds. But until media organizations can adopt diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging principles as foundational to newsroom culture, progress will continue to be slower than we would like to see.
Looking at our metrics, we are proud that while there are many newsworthy journalism fellowships, the Maynard 200 Fellowship has consistently served the most diverse group of journalists in the industry. Year after year, the majority of fellows are Black, followed by AAPI, Latine, and mixed race. In addition, since the program began, the vast majority of fellows have identified as women.
Back in 2018, the Maynard Institute created its fellowship with the goal to provide training and professional support to advance the careers of 200 journalists. The Institute will soon exceed that goal in 2024. But the positive impact of the program is already visible, particularly for Black women who have advanced to executive positions in the industry since participating in Maynard 200. One of the things we think sets our program apart is this success at supporting Black leaders in the media. And as news organizations continue to diversify their leadership and c-suite, further success will be measured in the retention and advancement of diverse employees, who feel supported.
What do you see that is working or that has been effective in your program?
Some of the key components of the Maynard 200 Fellowship we find especially effective are the peer learning community model and the year-long, one-on-one mentorship. Because getting journalists of color hired isn’t the end of the journey. The industry must also establish communities of support and pathways to career advancement in order to ensure journalists of color don’t burnout or leave the industry altogether. For example, after Maynard 200 Fellows complete the training curriculum, they are paired with an industry professional who works in their subject area for a full year of mentorship.
What advice would you give to media leaders committed to change?
Remember that this work requires more than just issuing a press release or vision statement about the value of diversity. Organizations need to avoid performative lip-service that doesn’t have a real, tangible impact. DEIB principles must be embedded into organizational culture and business practices.
In order to achieve this, leaders have to acknowledge and leave behind old hallmarks of the profession that reinforced systemic inequity. For example, the myth that journalists must strive for strictly objective reporting is not only outdated, it is harmful. Since 2020, we’ve seen a call from industry thought leaders, educators and award-winning journalists like Wesley Lowery to abandon the myth of objectivity.
What would you like to say to today’s media leaders who are committed to dismantling structural racism?
Media leaders today must embrace the concept of belonging. In the 1980s, the most commonly used term for this work was “diversity.” Over the years additional concepts such as equity and inclusion have been integrated into professional settings. Most recently, the concept of belonging has emerged as vitally important. Belonging describes more than a feeling of inclusion or welcome.
Belonging means having a meaningful voice and the opportunity to participate in the design of political, social, and cultural structures that shape one’s life — the right to both contribute and make demands upon society and political institutions.
At its core, structural belonging holds a radically inclusive vision because it requires mutual power, access, and opportunity among all groups and individuals within an organization.
Leaders must accept that culture change is hard and an ongoing process. Leaders must prepare and build in space for the emotional work associated with these issues to be truly successful. The news organizations with leadership who prioritize diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging make substantial progress. You can look at the success stories of newsrooms for payoffs.
For example Southern California Public Radio used the performance-driven change management tools to assess and track organizational progress on DEIB issues. An independently formed task force made 44 recommendations to leadership that were all accepted and implemented.
Also look to GBH – the largest producer of content for PBS and one of the public media organizations participating in the Maynard Institute’s Newsroom Transformation Program. They’ve invested heavily in weaving belonging into their organizational culture and business practices. For example, GBH has diversified their network of suppliers and transitioned unpaid internships to paid internships in order to create more equitable opportunities. Business practice changes like this can have a big impact. The first year they implemented paid internships, GBH saw a 12% increase in the diversity of their interns.
Our co-executive director of the Maynard Institute, Martin G. Reynolds often says, “News organizations need to learn to operationalize the concept of belonging.” This is very challenging work because it requires an individual and collective unwinding of internalized biases, perceptions, and business practices that have made some news organizations toxic places for so many, particularly people of color. This work must be aligned with a news organization’s business strategy.
What’s the payoff for media organizations that effectively improve the diversity of their teams?
We know that diversity in newsrooms has multiple positive outcomes. In addition to the ethical imperative, there is a strong business case. Having journalists from diverse backgrounds helps improve the quality, breadth and depth of coverage which then in turn, attracts and expands the audience. The term “payoff” says it all. The payoff of this work is long term growth and financial sustainability. A media organization cannot grow its audience and bottom line without doing this work.
Our Maynard 200 fellows embody a superpower that makes our mission of creating more institutions of belonging possible – courage. In their collective voice and impact, I see the collective power of journalism. And I know other media leaders out there can see it, feel it, and want to be part of it too.
DCN is proud to support our members and the health of the digital media industry overall. Thus, we are pleased to share some of the incredible work our members and other media companies are doing to recognize Juneteenth and its cultural significance in the American experience.
Is our organization serving the right audiences to expand the reach and impact of our journalism? Are we fulfilling our social mission to inform the public and represent the variety of viewpoints of our society? Are we relying too heavily on one type of reader to sustain us financially in the future?
Those are some of the questions that dominated the discussions over the course of FT Strategies and Google News Initiative’s Audience Diversity Academy. In this inaugural six-month programme, six publishers across Europe came together to better understand and address the needs and behaviors of younger and women audiences. This article summarizes our approach and subsequent report, Seizing the diversity opportunity: enabling growth in the news business. Here, I will focus on strategic guidance, and you can read the full report for case studies, practical experiments and more.
For the skeptics out there, addressing such organizational and coverage disparities can lead to commercial upsides, among other things. Growing diverse audiences and ensuring a more diverse organization can help your company respond to changing consumer behaviors and economic headwinds. It can also help organizations proactively gain a foothold in the increasingly aggressive battle for talent.
So how can I seize the opportunity of audience diversity?
Our framework below was crucial to building an audience diversity strategy for the participants:
Start with a clear case and diversity goal, backed up by leadership
There are many aspects to consider when baking audience diversity into your strategy. However, a few influential leaders working with a group of highly engaged employees, who strongly identify with the mission, is a great place to start. This means ensuring enough traction at the top to prioritize audience diversity and communicate across the business, while the grassroots can generate practical ideas and excite colleagues. The publishers who moved ahead quicker are those who created a clear goal with hypotheses to test, measuring their progress with defined metrics.
Create regular, authentic mechanisms to listen to your audience and act on their feedback
Journalism is no longer a monologue; the more you invite the underrepresented segments to be part of a conversation, the more heard they feel and the better you understand their needs. Go beyond ad-hoc feedback such as with regular initiatives to collect qualitative and quantitative information such as interviews, surveys, newsroom tours, video calls, website analytics. Make sure you can include audience suggestions on the content and product in your strategic activities in order to create a more diverse proposition. At the FT we have an Audience Engagement team that advocates for high quality, diverse readers.
Sustain the effort to connect to an audience with content for them, experienced in ways that suit their needs
While it is important to avoid negative media stereotyping, underrepresented segments should have access to authentic, equitable and representative content. Having the data in the newsroom to track coverage across communities, how they engage with the stories and the amount of voices, images and sources included can shine light on the limitations of existing content and encourage more diverse commissioning decisions.
This partly lies with the newsroom. But marketing, product and data should work in cross-departmental teams to ensure there is a variety of tactics to acquire and retain audiences. For example, we found that women are often confined by time, so offering them alternative methods of consumption, such as audio or newsletters, strengthens their engagement with the product.
Reflect the society you serve in your organizational make-up–but look beyond hiring
It is challenging to create a diverse product without a diverse employee base to weave their ideas in stories, design, production and delivery. However, we found that publishers look at their employee data split by (e.g.) gender and tend to conclude they are 50:50. Certainly, you should recognize this achievement. However, it is also critical to examine how employees from minority groups feel at the workplace, how many progress upwards, and what their tenure is, in order to measure your ability to both acquire and empower talent. We experimented with a group of women writing on rotation a newsletter on topics that matter for women. The results showed better individual recognition and a higher uptake of the newsletter by women readers.
I want to note that we cannot reduce diversity to simply age and gender, and diversity is the first step in a long journey towards a more inclusive and equitable audience and organization. However, for the purpose of the programme, we focused on age and gender to make our efforts most impactful. We believe that the approach and the learnings are applicable to other diversity aspects.
Diversity is not simply about representation in the newsroom, or in the content we produce. It serves our readers by better reflecting society. And it serves our business by attracting a broad talent pool, and better meeting the expectations of our audiences.
About the author
Rumyana is a manager at FT Strategies, and has worked with large media & publishing companies across Europe. She led FT the Google News Initiative Audience diversity programme, and also has experience in content strategy and engagement tactics. She was recently part of the Financial Times’ Audience Engagement team supporting their audience diversity initiatives. Prior to joining the FT, Rumyana was a consultant at KPMG.
Consumer trust in news is a complex and dynamic relationship that varies across countries, platforms, and audiences. Different audiences have different reasons to trust or distrust news organizations. However, misrepresentation and underrepresentation are two common drivers of distrust in news reporting.
Black and mixed-race audiences (people who identified as either preto or pardo) in Brazil
Marginalized castes or tribes and Muslim audiences in India
Working-class audiences in the U.K.
Black and rural audiences in the U.S.
The findings show that many respondents have doubts about the motives of news organizations. Many attribute their distrust to what they see as chronic bias in reporting: coverage that reinforces stereotypes and sensationalized news items.
Respondents feel that the news media does not reflect their realities or interests but serves the agendas of those in power. The research finds that most participants see the news media as biased and depressing. They feel the news media often treats them unfairly, perpetuates stereotypes, fails to cover them, or promotes divisiveness among groups.
Respondents have different expectations and requirements from news media depending on their backgrounds and experiences. They cite examples of the news media’s misrepresentation in story selection and story framing.
– Emphasizing negative news
– Unfairly treating groups
– Perpetuating stereotypes
– Failing to cover them altogether
– Promoting divisiveness between groups
As one respondent states, “Black and brown people are not just the focus of tragedies; there are successful people among us.”
Many Black participants in the U.S. and Brazil note that most news coverage about Black people only emphasizes negative dimensions such as poverty, crimes, and violence. Further, respondents state that news coverage about high-profile cases of police brutality adds to the complexities and experiences of racism and discrimination in their day-to-day lives. One respondent comments:
“We always knew this was happening throughout history to the lynchings and the Civil Rights era. These things were always known, but seeing it broadcast every day, week after week, month after month, year after year, it’s mentally and emotionally exhausting, and I just couldn’t keep up with it.”
Research participants want news coverage inclusive of more positive and constructive news stories. They request that news stories be diverse and offer representation, transparency, and accountability. They would also like coverage to offer personal and social relevance.
The report suggests that the news media must address these concerns to rebuild trust and engagement with disadvantaged communities. Recommendations for news media professionals:
Invest in more diverse and inclusive newsrooms and sources
Provide more contextual and explanatory journalism
Avoid sensationalism and negativity bias
Seek feedback and dialogue with audiences
Collaborate with community media and civil society organizations
Reuters Institute acknowledges the challenges and trade-offs the news media faces in serving different public segments. It argues that there is no single trust problem or solution but rather a need for more nuanced and tailored approaches that recognize the diversity and complexity of audiences.
Who’s covering that story? Depending on the topic, it might be easy to guess. Some beats are still disproportionately covered by journalists of a particular gender, ethnicity, or race, according to new 2023 analysis of Pew Research Center data gathered from a 2022 survey. The analysis also broke down beats by age of reporters, and coverage by freelance journalists versus those employed part or full time by news organizations.
Sports beats are mainly covered by white journalists (82%) and men (83%).
Health topics are more often covered by white journalists (78%) and women (64%).
Travel and Entertainment beats are more often covered by freelancers (57%).
Education and family beats were disproportionately covered by young reporters aged 18-29 (22%, though the generation was 14% of the survey) and women (63%).
Science and technology beats are disproportionately covered by men (58%) and white journalists (77%). Freelancers contribute 46% of science and tech stories even though they make up 34% of the journalists surveyed.
Environment and energy beats are overwhelmingly covered by white reporters (84%).
Asian reporters were over represented on topics of science and technology, covering 7% of these stories even though they made up only 3% of the survey, and underrepresented in sports (1%) and local issues (2%).
Black and Hispanic journalists cover local and state issues disproportionately (20%) compared to their overall representation among survey respondents (6% and 8% respectively).
Gender imbalances linger
Consumers of U.S. news are still getting most of their sports coverage from men (83%) and most of their health coverage from women (64%). Other topics more likely to be covered by men: government and politics; science and technology; economy and business. In addition to health themes, women were more likely to cover education and family, as well as social issues and policy.
The gender balance is more even when it comes to covering crime and the law, local and state issues, environment and energy topics, as well as travel and entertainment. The original online survey data was drawn from 11, 889 U.S.-based journalists, 51% of whom were men and 46% women.
Beats vary by race and ethnicity
The percentage of newsroom employees who are white is higher than the overall portion of U.S. workers who are white. 76% of the journalists responding to the online survey were white, 6% Black, 8% Hispanic, and 3% Asian.
Black reporters were more likely to cover social issues and policy (15%, although they comprised only 8% of the journalists surveyed). Black and Hispanic reporters were over represented when it came to covering local and state issues (20%) in proportion to their overall representation in the survey. Asian reporters were more likely to cover science, health, as well as social issues and policy. The original survey was available in English and Spanish only, which may have excluded some journalists working in the U.S. who spoke other languages.
While nonwhite reporters are significantly underrepresented in general, Black reporters are particularly so when it comes to issues related to the environment and energy, and science and technology (2% and 3% respectively). Hispanic reporters were particularly underrepresented in coverage of sports and environment and energy (6% of each of these areas).
Interestingly, age seemed less likely to influence the beats of reporters. If there were any surprises, it might be that the youngest journalists, those ages 18 to 29, who were 14% of the survey participants, were somewhat underrepresented in the areas of science and technology (10%) and entertainment and travel (10%).
However they were over represented in education and family (22%) as well as crime and law (19%). The oldest generation of journalists, 65 and older, made up 14% of the survey and were underrepresented in topics of crime and law (8%). More than two thirds (68%) of the journalists who responded to the survey were between the ages of 30 and 64.
Freelancers versus staff
Pew also evaluated the percentage of journalists who are freelancers compared to those employed part or full time by a news organization. While 34% of reporting journalists identified as freelance or self-employed overall, the percentages were much higher for the entertainment and travel beat (57%), as well as science and technology (46%). The percentage was also slightly higher in the category of social issues and policy (38%).
In contrast, journalists reporting on crime and the law were much more likely to be full or part time employees of a news organization (87%), as were those who report on government and politics (77%), and those covering local and state issues (75%), as well as education and family issues (71%). Overall, 65% of all the reporting journalists surveyed were full or part-time employees of a news organization.
This is significant given that freelance news journalists are less likely to receive formal training on equity issues. Data showed freelance reporters were 37% less likely to have had formal training or meetings on issues related to diversity and inclusion in the workplace and 27% less likely to have had training on how to cover diversity and inclusion when reporting the news within the 12 months.
A new study on the gender equity views of Gen Y and Z offers important insights that will help media professionals understand and relate to these audiences. The February 2023 survey of 2,067 individuals by Vice Media Group was comprised of 77% women and 19% men and 71% of the participants were Gen Y, while 29% were Gen Z. The online survey captured responses from around the world: 27% from the United States (US), 24% from the United Kingdom (UK), 24% from India, and 24% from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Responses reveal young audiences are strongly in favor of gender equality, even if they don’t necessarily identify with the term feminism. Over half (54%) consider themselves feminists – and a full 92% support gender equality. Of those who identify as feminists, 33% are open about it, while 21% consider themselves feminists but are not vocal about it. More than a third (38%) reject the term feminist but still say they support gender equality. Only 8% of those surveyed say they do not support gender equality.
Why do some who support gender equality not identify as feminists? Some survey participants explained they felt the term feminism has been negatively co-opted and politicized by anti-feminists, polluting the term.
So, what does “feminism” mean exactly? Or what should it mean? More than half of respondents (53%) agree with the statement that the main goal of feminism is “ensuring equal rights and liberties for women as men have.” And 51% agree that the main goal of feminism should be “ensuring equal rights and liberties for all gender identities” (including men, women, trans-gender, and non-binary people). The majority who agree with the latter statement is greater among nonbinary people (87%) and US women (62%).
Most survey participants said that they consider themselves active in the movement against gender inequality. Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed say they act socially against gender inequality, and 77% say they take political action against gender inequality.
Young people want the media to lead on gender equity
Young audiences want the media to take the lead on gender equity issues. When asked “from who would you like to see more participation when it comes to gender equality and or the feminist movement,” 40% of Gen Y and Z people surveyed answered “the media.” This preference was highest among UK women (47%). Nearly a third of those surveyed (32% ) chose “companies/brands” in answer to this question. This view was highest among Indian women (39%) and US women (38%).
So how can media and brands better lead when it comes to gender equity issues?
Keep People Informed: Of the 77% of young people who report taking political action against gender inequality, keeping up with news and information about the topic was the most cited method of doing so (43% overall- 52% of US women). Thirty seven percent say they engage on social media with accounts /posts that support gender equality. Nearly a quarter (23%) of all respondents said they would not shop from brands that do not support gender equality.
Respect Gender Choice: Young audiences are more likely to define women as people who identify that way by choice. More than half (58%) of Gen Z women, 69% of US women, and 88% of nonbinary people surveyed agreed with statements indicating that womanhood is a choice. MENA women were less likely to agree with this statement, however (36%).
Support Body-Positivity: Body image issues continue to plague women to an alarming degree. Body size was second only to mental health in 18 disadvantages cited by women in response to this question: “When thinking about the chances or opportunities you’ve been given so far in your life, which aspects of your identity have been disadvantageous?” (In contrast, men cited socioeconomic class, followed by mental health and level of education.) A full 90% of women agreed with the statement “I think about how I dress and the reactions I might get from others” as a situation they experience as a result of their gender identity. And more than half (56%) of UK women cited issues related to appearance as the most pressing of gender equality issues.
Embrace Intersectionality: Over half of young people surveyed expressed concerned that the feminist movement is not inclusive enough. This opinion was especially strong in India (55% of Indian women) and MENA (54% of MENA women). Young people want to see equity when it comes to gender as well as the historically marginalized. This includes people of lower socioeconomic status, BIPOC people, and those who identify as nonbinary.
Examine Internal Company Culture: The report authors suggest that valuing the rights and liberties of employees is a critical part of the movement for brands aiming to partner with Gen Y and Z in the gender equality movement.
A hopeful note
Encouragingly, 81% of the young people surveyed agree with the statement “I am hopeful when it comes to the future of gender equality.” This hoped-for future includes an emphasis on individual values independent from gender stereotypes: 53% of those surveyed (90% of nonbinary participants) agree with the statement “the future is genderless.”
Overall, Gen Z and Y eschew gender-based restrictions in favor of celebrating personality and choice. They are open to seeing media companies as partners in this vision. Partnership can range from the media covering gender-equity news to influential brands achieving more diverse representation- internally and externally. Professionals will do well to position themselves as active partners in the gender-equity movement –whether or not that includes “the f-word.”
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) are three words (or letters) that are increasingly seen and heard in the media industry. According to recent research from Reuters Institute a third of respondents feel that ethnic diversity and gender equity are the most important priority in terms of improving their newsroom’s diversity.
As a result, media businesses large and small – from legacy media to start-ups – are working on strategies to create an inclusive workforce, which reflects and represents the diversity of the population. They are also focused on creating more inclusive content that reflects and represents the diverse needs of their readers.
However, it is this very diversity that the media is trying to embrace, which can create silos within the industry. With such a broad range of content, consumed in a variety of ways, the industry is increasingly divided. As a result, rather than sharing best practice, there is a lack of communication and collaboration between different businesses.
This is one of the challenges facing Sajeeda Merali who took over as chief executive of the PPA (Professional Publishing Association) in September 2021. She came into the role following senior sales director and commercial roles at Incisive Media, Euromoney and The New Statesman Media Group.
“There are so many different types of businesses in the ecosystem it has created a fragmented landscape,” says Merali. “So when I first joined the PPA we spent a lot of time trying to pin down what links them together. And it all comes down to content.
“Whether they are large multinational consumer titles, B2B publishers, or special interest independent titles, is about creating trusted content, in different formats, on different platforms for different communities. That’s what brings this diverse membership together.”
In a bid to ensure the UK publishing industry is serving all of these communities, and championing diversity and inclusion, the organization set up the PPA ED&I Working Group. Its aim is to share best practice with current members and also encourage a more diverse membership.
“There are some really interesting publishing brands coming up through ranks, who are serving niche communities,” says Merali. “We are actively doing more to attract these micro publishers in order to engage with them in the ED&I sphere.”
Its inaugural initiative was to invite all media publishers to participate in what it claims was the first survey industry-wide survey of workplace diversity and inclusion. A total of 5,786 people took part, from 44 different companies.
“The report provided us with essential data to better understand the barriers and challenges faced by different groups,” states Merali. “By bringing our industry together with this landmark survey, we can provide a snapshot of our workforce and create meaningful actions to support and improve current ED&I initiatives across the industry.”
Other research, such as the aforementioned study by Reuters and the BBC’s 50:50 Project, are also collating and using data as the foundation of actionable change.
One imminent action by the PPA is to launch a “Next Gen Board” that will help shape the future of the industry. The board will consist of 15 members aged under 30, from diverse backgrounds, and with a minimum three years’ industry experience.
“We want to literally create a seat at the table for the diversity we have across the landscape,” explains Merali. “Plus it’s a great opportunity for young and aspiring talent to gain board experience and work alongside some of the best in our business. The PPA Next Gen Board is creating a pipeline of future leaders.”
This collaborative effort of sharing best practice will benefit publishers of all ages and backgrounds. Older members will gain from the new board’s experience and knowledge of diversity, while the PPA Board will gain first-hand experience of operating at board level, with the support of industry mentors.
“Traditionally, there has been a lack of access to information across the industry,” explains Merali. “This is why we need a variety of voices and role models. Otherwise it just becomes a protest. We need to bring everyone with us on the journey, by making people comfortable with discussions around these topics.”
“Through all the different platforms we are using we can reach over 85% of the UK population. We can use the power of our collective network to shape the narrative in the industry.”
It is by using the industry’s collective power, gathering data and sharing best practice, that the publishing industry can cultivate an environment of inclusivity and fundamentally shift representation within the media.