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.
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.
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.
This month sees the return of one of my favorite TV shows: Succession. The HBO series focuses on the internal battles at a fictional media organization as the children of its aging patriarch jostle to take over. Though imaginary, its characters and storylines could be ripped directly from the headlines, and numerous media and business dynasties have been cited as inspiration. Showrunner Jesse Armstrong refuses to name names, though, telling Variety, “there’s loads of succession stories to draw on.”
That’s the truth. Changes in leadership, and the departure of long-standing founders, are definitely not just the stuff of Emmy-winning dramas. Everyone has experience with this. Unfortunately, this experience is often “shit-tastic,” says Amy L. Kovac-Ashley, author of the News Executive Leadership Transition Guide, which was published last week by the Reynolds Journalism Institute.
Because changes in leadership are inevitable, it’s an area all media companies need to face head-on. So, how can they improve their succession planning and processes for organizational change? With that in mind, we spoke to Kovac-Ashley – Head of National Programs at the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, – about her research and some of the transferable lessons from it.
5 principles for smooth leadership succession
Here are five principles and behaviors that media leaders and organizations should put into practice.
1. Take time to reflect
The best leaders are self-aware, says Kovac-Ashley. They know what they want and what their organization needs. Ideally the two are aligned. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Pace of change, and the speed of day-to-day operations, means that individual and organizational priorities evolve and shift.
Yet it can be hard to recognize this, given the constant “urgency and crisis” that many media leaders contend with. “We don’t take enough time to reflect and think and sit in the quiet to really make good decisions,” Kovac-Ashley says.
As a result, it’s important to make time to step-back and evaluate. “I think that a lot of individuals have a hard time doing that. [So] you get founders or others not providing what the organization needs, because they haven’t had the time to reflect on their own contributions.”
Once they carve out the time, there are several mechanisms to help leaders tackle these big personal and organizational questions. These instruments include reflecting on your own drive and motivations, harnessing performance evaluations and checking in with trusted friends and advisors. Executive coaches can also play a valuable role.
2. Acknowledge leadership needs can change
The continued transformation of the media landscape means that the best leader for a company at one point in time is not necessarily the right one for the future. You might need new skills. Or a leader might find they are no longer firing on all cylinders.
Again, this is an area where self-awareness is a strength good leaders possess. In this case, that means “knowing whether what they are offering, and doing, is what the organization needs at this point in time and [in] its development,” Kovac-Ashley says.
Operational health and organizational longevity require this type of reflection and analysis. On occasion, leaders must accept they may not be the best fit for their company anymore. After all, as Kovac-Ashley reminds us, in a lesson applicable to leaders everywhere, “no one wants to tell the founder, it’s past time for you to be here, right?”
In those circumstances, “people have to kind of get out of their own way and out of the way of the organization when they realize it’s time to go,” she says. Whatever happens, “the best outcome here is that you have a smooth transition,” Kovac-Ashley contends.
3. Start by planning for emergencies
It doesn’t matter what your business model is, leaders will always come and go. The universality of this reality means that Fortune 500 companies, family owned, non-profit, legacy and alt-media outlets alike all need to be thinking about this issue and taking steps to prepare for whenever change comes.
Knowing where to start may seem daunting, so Kovac-Ashley recommends planning for emergencies. “Because an emergency can happen at any time,” she says, “as we all experienced during Covid.”
This means preparing for the unpredictable: a sudden death or health crisis (either of a leader or a member of their family), and “because somebody is being removed because of poor behavior.”
“Emergencies can come in a lot of different packages,” Kovac-Ashley explains. To help organizations prepare for these types of unforeseen circumstances, her guide features a detailed list of worksheets. These cover areas such as designating a temporary success, and operational areas such as personnel, governance and finance. She’s also “eager to know what’s missing,” and encourages DCN readers to reach out with suggestions and recommendations for improvement.
The need to capture this type of information is particularly important at a time of increased remote working, she notes. It’s especially valuable in the early days of a company when systems and processes can be embryonic and often only understood by one or two people. Transparently breaking down – and sharing – workflows, ownership and processes can also break down organizational silos, Kovac-Ashley says, as well as enable systems to work better.
4. Don’t rush to find a replacement
Too often people want to rush to find a new CEO or other leader, and that may be a mistake. “Scrambling isn’t going to get you the best outcome,” Kovac-Ashley says, instead urging organizations to pause, rather than hiring too hastily.
The board – and the organization – require time to evaluate their needs and explore a range of options. That might mean hiring an interim head, or exploring opportunities to implement a co-leadership model – approaches that are typically underutilized across the media industry.
It might also mean ascertaining if a leader really needs to leave at all, or if some “time out” is what’s needed, rather than a departure. Sabbaticals aren’t common in the media industry, and they’re not a panacea, but they are an effective part of academic or religious professions. These are fields Kovac-Ashley believes that the media can learn a lot more from.
Avoiding dashing headlong into hiring also matters when organizations are trying to diversify their leadership too. Failure to do so may make it harder for these new, more diverse, leaders (such as women and people of color) to succeed. Pausing can avoid “essentially giving them an organization that’s broken and saying ‘you fix it’,” Kovac-Ashley says, “when that’s completely unfair.”
5. Involve your staff throughout
To help leaders see the full organizational picture, Kovac-Ashley recommends performance evaluations incorporate 360-degree feedback. These “can be really helpful for people who are willing to actually listen to their staff,” she says. “Hopefully, they have created an environment in which their staff feel they can be honest about what’s working and what’s not.”
And when leaders depart, she advises that personnel from across the organization are involved. “I have a very strong point of view about this, that maybe others won’t share, which is fine,” she says.
As part of this, Kovac-Ashley advocates listening sessions with staff and incorporating them in the interview process. That doesn’t mean giving them veto power over an appointment, but ensuring they have input.
“Once you start to get into finalist candidates, I think one or two people from the staff, depending on the size of the organization, of course, need to be part of that process,” she advocates. And “I also think staff need to be more involved in the onboarding of new executives, because a top-down approach in onboarding does not bode well, for good culture.”
Looking Ahead: why everyone must start preparing for change
The need for succession planning will only grow, Kovac-Ashley believes. Just as the Great Resignation has seen many people re-evaluating what they want from the world of work, it’s also triggered a spike in similar reflections at the C-Suite level.
Kovac-Ashley notes how leaders at organizations founded at the start of the Great Recession (such as Politico, The Texas Tribune, and award-winning local site VT Digger) have recently stepped aside. Many of these founders have moved on to new opportunities or decided to retire. The Covid crisis was often cited as the tipping point for making these life-changing decisions.
These moves have been accompanied by further personnel transformations across other parts of the industry. Mergers and acquisitions, for example, have meant leadership changes in multiple media organizations. Alongside this, founders frequently discover that their passion lies in the start-up phase rather than managing a more mature business. That can be especially true for younger leaders.
“A lot of younger founders don’t necessarily want to be there for 30-40 years,” Kovac-Ashley says. “They’re really excited about starting something… and getting it on to a good footing, but… they might want to go on and do something else.”
This issue is not going to go away, either. “Every single organization that’s launching today is going to have the same issue going forward,” Kovac-Ashley reminds us. “And because of the way the industry is changing, there’s going to be more and more smaller entrants trying to figure out how to sustain themselves beyond their founding stage.”
Leadership transitions can be tumultuous times for organizations. However, change is inevitable and succession planning is a critical process for all publishers. From emergency planning to encouraging leaders check in with “their personal board of directors,” there are clear tips and guidance to help media companies prepare and to ensure they don’t need to start from scratch.
This matters, because many of the factors that prompted Kovac-Ashley to explore this topic look set to continue. Covid has refocused many people’s work-life priorities, and leadership changes will only be further triggered by continued M&A activity, lay-offs, (overdue) conversations about burnout, and a greater focus on issues of mental health and well-being.
As a result, the need to plan for leadership changes and manage effective transitions, are areas that no media organization – large or small, new or established – can afford to overlook.
The Association of Online Publishers’ (AOP) new report, Digital Publishing: Outlook and Priorities 2023, offers insight into this year’s top priorities for media companies – which unsurprisingly featured revenue growth. Publishers are also focused on talent and building a diverse and inclusive workplace.
As digital media companies look to grow their businesses, they assess internal strategies and external macroeconomic and legislative influences. Both publishers and solutions providers report being well-positioned for the year ahead and rate their confidence level a 7.2 based on a 10-point rating scale.
The AOP surveyed 92 digital publishers and 16 solution providers; 26% of respondents are at the board level in their organization, and 51% are heads of departments.
Internal business priorities
Revenue remains a top priority for publishers. Subscriptions (17%), sponsorships (15%), and lead generation (13%) rank as top revenue sources for growth among consumer-based publishers. B2B publishers see stronger growth opportunities in lead generation (28%), events (22%), and sponsorship (20%). Digital publishers targeting business and consumer audiences rank developing new revenue streams through product innovation as their highest priority (3.9).
Developing new audiences is important for revenue growth. To that end, consumer publishers work across multiple platforms to drive content discovery while B2B publishers are more reliant on LinkedIn (44%).
For advertising, publishers targeting consumer audiences report they depend more on advertising deals in the open marketplace. In contrast, B2B publishers divide more evenly across open and private marketplaces and non-programmatic. Further, 44% of all publishers expect revenue growth from private marketplaces and 42% from non-programmatic revenues.
Publisher respondents appear to be highly focused on their employees. Asked to rate how important different organizational priorities are [where 0 is not a focus at all and 5 is a very strong focus], B2B publishers ranked recruiting and retaining new talent as the most important priority, with a score of 4.1. Consumer publishers ranked ensuring a diverse and inclusive workplace as the most important priority, at 3.9.
With new legislation a key focus, digital media companies are mildly confident of their knowledge of the UK’s Online Safety Bill. This legislation establishes a new regulatory framework to ensure tech companies protect users from illegal content and activity, specifically social platforms, and other user-generated content-based sites. Publishers rate their confidence in understanding the Online Safety Bill’s impact on their organization at 5.6 on a 10-point scale and solution providers at 5.3.
Some publishers report that their companies are preparing for this new law by consulting with their legal teams, providing a comprehensive editorial policy, and relying on browser options. However, many also reply that no actions are needed because quality content publishers do not target children.
Further, publishers’ confidence rating is 6.5 regarding their readiness for the end of third-party cookies, while solutions providers report lower confidence in readiness (4.8). Publishers prioritize their investment in first-party data and user experience in preparing for the end of cookies:
Enhancing the engagement funnel to build better first-party data (23%);
Implementing tech solutions to provide a 360-degree view of audiences (15%); and
Investing in solutions to deliver a more personalized user experience (15%).
With a strong focus on first-party data, 58% of publishers are working to ensure their audience informs their business decisions and their investment in a data-led organization. Another 21% highlight the importance of internally managing and communicating audience insights throughout their organizations.
The AOP provides a snapshot of important focus areas for the year. A strong confidence level among media companies reflects positive internal alignment on essential strategies to develop and grow their businesses further. They are focused on building a diverse and strong talent pool. In terms of strategy, they are taking an audience-focused strategy and look to diversify revenue growth beyond advertising sales and subscriptions and increase sponsorships, lead generation, and event revenues.
Hispanic workers are underrepresented in the media industry compared to their representation in the rest of the U.S. workforce. Unfortunately, little progress has been made over the past decade when it comes to this under-representation, according to a new report on workforce diversity by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The report includes an analysis of data collected between 2010 and 2019 by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as data from other government agencies. Media industry subsectors studied include radio and television; cable and other subscription programming; motion picture and video; newspaper and periodical publishing; internet publishing and broadcasting, and sound recording.
The overall percentage of Hispanic employment in all aspects of the media industry over the past decade was 12%, compared with 17% for all industries. Hispanic women were even more under-represented, making up only 30% of Hispanics employed in media occupations. The report finds only an estimated 1% increase in Hispanic representation in media fields from 2010 to 2019, compared to the 3% overall Hispanic employment increase during the same period.
A big part of the problem is lack of representation at top levels of leadership, where there is most opportunity to shape the future of the sector. Only 4% of senior executives and managers in media companies are Hispanic, the report found, based on analysis of 2014-2018 data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The lack of representation is even more stark when it comes to Hispanic women. According to Census Bureau data drawn from 2015-2019, 10% of all media occupations during that time were filled by Hispanic people, and only 3% were Hispanic women. The disparity varied by subfield. For example, while 12% of media photographers were Hispanic, only 2% of those were women.
Of the 11% of actors that were Hispanic, only 4% were Hispanic women. Just 14% of television, video, and film camera operators and editors were Hispanic, of which only 3% were women. However, Hispanic women were more equally represented compared to Hispanic men in writing, editing, and news journalism.
Challenges to representation include:
Financial hurdles to entry and retention in media fields
Barriers to media-related education, including cost and awareness
Access to professional networks and internships
Difficulty meeting union requirements such as work experience levels
Lack of diversity among talent agents and other decision-making roles, which can result in the perception of lower demand
While Hispanic people remain under-represented in media careers, they are actually over-represented among consumers of motion pictures. According to a 2021 study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, 25% of movie-goers during 2007-2019 were Hispanic, generating in 1.7 trillion in consumer spending. However, only 4.2% of directors of the 100 top grossing films during that time were Hispanic (61 out of 1,447) and only three were Hispanic women.
A recent Nielson report reinforces this unbalanced situation. It found that, while all audiences are leaning into streaming, the story is more pronounced for Hispanic audiences, as 43.6% of Latinos’ total TV viewing in July 2022 was attributed to streaming platforms. However, the report also found that many Hispanics feel that accurate representation is in decline.
The Annenberg study also found that roles available to Hispanic performers often stereotyped Hispanic people as criminals or foreigners. Not only do Hispanic audiences deserve to see themselves fairly and accurately represented in media, but all audiences benefit from experiencing more realistic and multifaceted perspectives.
The data gap problem
A big problem for federal oversight is the data gap. FCC and EEOC efforts to enforce anti-discrimination and EEO rules have been hampered by problems sharing data among agencies, the unreliability of self-reported data from media companies, and a lack of data on union compliance and union member demographics. The federal report recommends better data sharing between the EEOC and FCC regarding discrimination charges filed, and an improved approach for obtaining demographic data from unions.
What can be done?
Federal agencies are conducting compliance evaluations, random audits, and periodic reviews, sharing best practices, and operating a training institute. The FCC formed a federal advisory committee that advises on issues such as how to facilitate entry of small businesses owned by women and people from historically disadvantaged groups into the media industry. The Department of Labor (DOL) sponsors apprenticeship programs, and the FCC started an incubator program for radio broadcasters.
Meanwhile, major media companies have announced measures including:
Targeted recruitment efforts
Partnerships with multicultural advocacy organizations
Processes to identify and address pay inequity
Targeted development programs, including incubators and apprenticeships
Strategic succession planning among leadership
Incentives for leadership such as making achievement of diversity and inclusion objectives a factor in determining performance bonuses
Funding initiatives such as allocating funds to support content created by members of underrepresented groups
For the next decade to result in more progress than the last, media companies need to hold themselves accountable for reaching the representation goals they’ve set and publicized.
When it comes to the representation and visibility of women across all media platforms, the industry still comes up short. That’s what The Status of Women In the US Media 2021, a report by Women’s Media Center (WMC), — an organization founded by Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Robin Morgan — found. Among the U.S.’s top five Sunday news shows more than two-thirds of the guests were men, and most of those guests were white men. While research into gender representation in prime-time broadcast and cable news, print, digital, and wires found that women told only 41% of stories, and just 15% of sports stories.
“This report will help to hold news media accountable for the persistent inequalities in media,” said Steinem in the report .“ Women must be visible and powerful in all aspects of media if American society is ever to be a real democracy.” While the struggle continues, strides are being made — thanks, in part, to top down initiatives.
The gender gap is closing — slowly
According to the Global Media Monitoring Project, things are slowly improving globally. However, the numbers make the U.S. media look like a beacon of hope in terms of inclusion and equality. Between 1995 to 2020, across 120 nations, the number of female news sources and subjects increased from 16% to 24% in newspapers, 15% to 24% in radio news, 21% to 26% in TV news, and 25% to 27% online.
Coverage during Covid-19 was particularly startling, with WMC reporting women comprised just 5% of experts in science, technology, engineering and math, and a third of people quoted in 146,867 articles about the pandemic, in the likes of The New York Times and USA Today.
“One productive step forward would be for media companies to release employment numbers by gender, race, and position,” said Julie Burton, President and CEO, in WMC’s report. “This transparency would allow comprehensive tracking of progress or regress for diverse women in the workplace. We recommend that managers and editors establish standards that require producers, bookers, and journalists to make sure the experts interpreting news stories include representative numbers of women and people of color to ensure that stories are told with authenticity and accuracy.”
Driving diversity with data
The WMC has a database for this exact purpose. SheSource connects journalists, bookers and producers with more than 1,000 female, media-friendly experts in a number of fields, ranging from politics to technology. It is these experts that a growing number of media organizations are seeking out and putting center stage. The BBC launched its 50:50 Project in 2016 to push for gender parity in its content using a data-driven methodology to monitor its content. What started in one newsroom has become a global initiative, used by 150 external partners, spanning 30 countries. These include the Financial Times, Australia’s ABC News and Times Radio, as well as partners in academia, conference businesses, law, public relations and the corporate world.
“It is well established in the BBC and we have got 750 teams filling in spreadsheets every day of every month,” says Miranda Holt, 50:50 External Partners Lead. “It’s very empowering to content makers, because it’s about what you can control. For example, we don’t count politicians or people in the news, but we do count the number of women we interview about that news. It’s about collecting data to effect change.”
In the most recent Impact Report report in March 2022, 61% of all BBC teams reached 50% representation of women in their content. While external partners (of whom 70 out of 145 shared their data) showed a 73% improvement in female representation, after one year of sharing data.
Bloomberg’s New Voices is another successful initiative, which has already made significant strides in amplifying the voices of women. Since launching in early 2018, outside guest appearances of women on Bloomberg Television have increased from 10% to 26%. The program has also provided media training to over 180 women all around the globe, who have gone on to appear more than 530 times on Bloomberg Television, as well as other media outlets.
Equity at every level
Another way to ensure gender equity in content, is to ensure equity in content creators. If the newsroom doesn’t reflect society, the content it produces isn’t likely to either. Even though women outnumber men in journalism programs and colleges, they become the minority voice soon after entering the workforce. On average, women represent 41.7% of newsroom employees and produce 37% of reports. Furthermore, men account for 69% of all newswire bylines published by the Associated Press and Reuters, 63% of prime-time news anchors or correspondents, and write 60% of all online news.
Emma Tucker is the first female editor of the Sunday Times in 100 years and says she is all too aware of the impact her newsroom has on its readership. “We are very conscious of the need to diversify our newsrooms,” Tucker says. “It’s a work in progress, but we are aware of it. For example, we encourage applications from as broad a pool as possible to our graduate and apprenticeship schemes and we are making strides there. We know that if we want to grow our audience and build new cohorts of Sunday Times subscribers, we need to produce content that matters to a more diverse audience.”
Holt agrees it makes good commercial and economic sense to increase female representation in the newsroom and beyond. While 50:50 is about content and not about content creators, it naturally has a knock-on effect.
“The BBC has set new targets for the end of 2023 for our workforce to aim for 50% women representation, 20% Black, Asian and minority ethnic, 12% disabled and 25% from lower socio-economic backgrounds,” explains Holt. “These figures are based on the demographics of the UK, and as the national broadcaster it’s the people of the UK who pay for BBC content, so we have to represent them. And senior leaders are being held to this.”
Leadership is at the heart of a recent report by Reuters Institute, which analyzed the gender breakdown of top editors in 240 major online and offline news outlets in 12 different markets, across five continents. The results are shocking with women representing just 21% of the 179 top editors, despite the fact that, on average, 40% of journalists are women. The good news is that the U.S. and U.K. appear to be flying the flag for female leaders in the media, as half or more of new top editors appointed there in the last year were women.
Closing the pay gap
Not only are there fewer female reporters, they also earn less than their male colleagues, according to the WMC report. At the Associated Press there is a pay gap of $15,000 between white, male journalists and black, female reporters, while female reporters on the LA Times take home $14,334 less than their male counterparts. Similarly, at the New York Times, for reporters with annual salaries of $150k or more, only 36% are women. Working at the Washington Post? Women can expect to be paid 86 cents for every dollar white men are paid.
However, there are exceptions. Walt Disney Co. has just released data on employee earning by race and gender for the first time, revealing that women earn 99.4% of men. However, as Natasha Lamb, a managing partner at Arjuna Capita who put forward the proposal for the report, points out: “Disney is stepping into an elite group that are showing leadership on pay equity.” Transparency, it seems, is still a rarity rather than the norm.
While we should applaud these organizations working toward gender equity there is still much work to do. One reason could be that leaders in news media across the world believe their organizations already do a good job in terms of gender diversity, and therefore do not collect or make available data about their diversity. Or they don’t even have anyone formally in charge of this vital process.
But this has to change. Greater transparency is key, with media companies releasing employment numbers by gender and position. While creating new talent strategies to support and promote women in media, will ensure the “pipeline” excuse is buried deep underground, once and for all. According to Katica Roy, the founder and CEO of Pipeline Equity, these strategies should include hiring, pay, promotion, performance, and potential.
Representation leads to engagement
The word “engagement” is constantly used in media circles, but you can’t engage with your audience without representing the diversity of their communities. “Ultimately, any company that creates content should be thinking about how they appear to the external world, and how they represent society fairly,” says Holt. “This leads to diversity in the workforce at every level in a dynamic way, by identifying people, progressing people, and retaining those people. Only then can the media and its content truly reflect and represent women. Only then we will truly have gender equity.”
DCN’s editorial director Michelle Manafy interviews Nicole Carroll, the Editor-in-chief of USA Today and Aja Whitaker-Moore the Executive Editor of Axioson Newsroom innovation: What’s the future of storytelling at the Collision conference, which was held in Toronto, Canada June 22-24, 2022.
[Full transcript below.]
WATCH/LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW
I’m back! But I’m in good company. I’ve got some terrific speakers here joining me to talk about newsroom innovation. If we could, I feel like the topic is just huge. If maybe you’d like to kick us off with what the heck does it even mean?
You know, I think innovation now, in the olden days, it was always tech and what’s the next product? And what’s the next thing? And I think now honestly, it’s about engagement is like how do we truly authentically engage with our audiences. And that could be tech that could be in person storytelling, that could be, you know, lots of different ways. I also think innovation always is just about to keep moving forward, you know, every generation of journalists is going to do it a little bit differently. And I think we’ve got to find our way. So, I think about innovation, not just in a technology sense, but literally everything we do in hiring, and how do we fund our journalism? How do we connect with our audiences? We’ve got to keep moving forward.
Aja, anything you want to add to that?
No, I mean, I think you’ve covered a lot of it. And from the actors perspective, you know, we’re a startup. And so everything that we do is kind of innovative, in our opinion. And we were born of, you know, we thought a problem, which was, there’s too much information, and people don’t know how to keep up with it, they don’t know how to access it. And, you know, we think that our promise is innovative in the sense that we came up with a new format, came up with a new delivery mechanism, and are coming up with new ways to reach an audience on an everyday basis. So that’s our version of innovative, I think.
So let’s go back to Axios then for a second. How do product and editorial work together in your organization, and how do you drive innovation in that relationship?
Yeah, I mean, pretty closely, because, you know, like I said, you know, we are focused on smart brevity and packaging things in a way that people want to digest them. And that means that we’re mobile first. And that means that everything we do has to be looked at from a product perspective, how are we delivering lists in a mobile friendly format? How is our app working? How are we delivering products to people, you know, in the way that they want them. So we work really closely together with a product team that I think understands journalism and understands news in a way that is really important.
I mean: easy for you to say, “built from the ground up.” But let’s talk about USA Today. Like, is there a tight integration of product and editorial, editorial, huge,
we’re, you know, we’re one of the OG startups, but we were actually smart, brevity 40 years ago, and we’re pretty, you know, made fun of because of that. So I’m you know, I’m glad to see the world has, you know, come around to that you can get good information in smaller amounts of words or video. So I, I’m really proud of the work we’ve done. But yes, we are really tight with our product teams, the fact that we just want to call with them this morning. You know, we’re constantly looking at not here’s what we should do. But what is the outcome you’re looking for? And then working together? How do we get to that outcome? We try not to go into it with the solution you go into it with what’s the outcome you’re looking for, and what do we need to bring to that equation?
So one of the things you touched on in like your “what is innovation” was: staffing, diversity, leadership, those those issues… Can you tell me a little bit — let’s start with USA Today — about how you’re approaching leadership and recruiting with an eye to fostering innovation to fueling it.
It’s never been more important to recruiting and what we’re doing right now. And I don’t know if how many of you are in the industry. But there’s the great journalism shuffle going on right now. I mean, everybody is moving somewhere else. Right now, there’s a real fight for talent and leadership. And I think people want to be part of authentic companies, who are really trying to again, I always say our job is to spread truth, you know, to engage with our audiences. And so showing a path having mentorship programs showing an opportunity for leadership, showing industry leadership is really important to creating the culture that will keep people in our organization. We’ve made the pledge at Guenette, that we want our newsrooms to reflect our communities by 2025. And we measure ourselves every year against that benchmark around racial diversity. I measure it every quarter at USA Today and report that to the staff. I think it’s really important we hold a mirror up to ourselves and be really honest about how we’re doing.
How about Axios? What what what is the approach? How are you thinking about like, what is this newsroom? What is the staffing what does the leadership mean, to our ability to be innovative?
Yeah, I mean, I think we we agree at that at the start the diversity of our newsroom should reflect the diversity of our audience. And that will then you know, result in diversity of coverage and that’s really what we’re striving towards. You know, our founders are committed to that goal as well. You know, in the fall, we’re releasing a smart brevity book. And they dedicated the proceeds the advance from that book to fund a fellowship program that we’re really proud of where we’re focusing on hiring from diverse communities in underrepresented backgrounds, to mentor them into Axios. And focusing on developing a beat developing the next generation of leaders that we think is, you know, missing from journalism right now. And it’s something that is a part of, you know, our newsroom recruiting our newsroom leadership. Axios is led by two women of color. And myself, and our editor in chief, Sara Gu. And it’s something that we you know, walk, talk, live, breathe and think, is the future of innovation at our company and everywhere, so we’re really focused on it.
Alright, so let’s shift gears a little bit. We there’s been a kerfluffle, of late around the social presence of journalists online, rather spectacular, blow up, in fact, quite visibly on social media. For for Axios, let’s start there. How are you balancing the desire for reporters to have a social presence to leverage that social presence? With your standards?
Yeah, and when I think we’re, we’re not like, any, you know, we’re similar to every other media organization out there, that’s figuring out, you know, how to balance that, but we’ve been really proud of our track record so far, you know, in the past five years, you know, we we’ve really just said to our staff, we trust you. You arer adults. Represent yourselves represent Axios the way that you, you know, would expect to in public. And that’s actually what’s happened. So I think we are, you know, proud of how we’ve done it so far. And we’ll continue to act accordingly on social platforms, and still be able to share our journalism with the world engage with people in a responsible way. And I think we’re all doing that.
I know that at USA Today, the social presence is a big part of the work. So how are you setting your standards and communicating to your staff that this is important? But you still have to represent our brand.
Right? I mean, we know that, you know, our integrity and our fairness. And all of that is just the bedrock of what we are. And so we want to make sure that we represent our way ourselves that way. On social, we tell people, we want you to bring your authentic selves, we want you to bring your lived experiences. But obviously, we can’t slip into advocacy. And I say this all the time: The power you have as journalists, to choose stories to tell stories to spread stories, is so much more power than you’re going to have in that tweet. And so you know, again: Bring your true selves, bring your authentic selves, but but let’s not tip into advocacy that could harm the integrity of our brand.
So I think another issue digitally in particular is the 24 hour news cycle, right? We’re all facing this kind of pressure to constantly be online, constantly be informing our our consumers. But how are you balancing the 24 hour news cycle with your again, with your standards and your goal to provide actual, trustworthy news?
Well, we’re really lucky and that we’re spread across the country from, you know, Washington all the way to LA. And then we also have a London bureau. So, we really are on 24/7, which, which makes things a little bit easier. But you know, I tell people 100 times out of 100, I’d rather be second than wrong. 100 times out of 100. So if you’re ever in doubt, don’t do it. Double check it triple check it, I’m going to be fine. If we’re last as long as we’re right.
I see a lot of scoops and exclusives at Axios. So how about you? Is there a difference there? Is there pressure?
Yeah, Imean, I think that our philosophy is a little bit different. We’re not there to deliver you every piece of news. We’re there to deliver you what you need to know, and the things that are important. And so I think that our model is a little bit different in that we package our version of the 24 news cycle into a newsletter suite. So if you’re getting Mike Allen’s AM, and PM and Finish Line newsletters, that’s what we call our daily essentials. And he’s set a really diverse kind of breakfast table for you in the morning. Happy Hour, four in the evening. And he’s telling you the stories that you need to know and so we’re curating that and packaging that I think in a different way than you know, a news wire or or a news organization that’s giving you breaking news 24/7.
It’s interesting. We used to call those “newspapers” where we curated what you need to know i the course of a day. I do think it’s interesting. The last panel was very much touching on this deluge; this fire hose, and how we can discern. And of course you know, I advocate for trustworthy sources like y’all.
All right. So, innovation in delivery and formats. I know you specifically mentioned Axios being mobile first. And I think that’s for a little while there that was almost a cliche industry. But I think it’s, it’s a given, is it not? Are you thinking a lot about innovating in terms of say, Tik Tok? Let’s just throw out like, are you looking at new formats?
Tick Tok? Not so much. Not yet. I mean, we have experimented, I think on all the platforms, you know, we do Twitter spaces, we do curated videos on You know, on Instagram, I think Tik Tok is an amazing platform. And a lot of I think publishers have figured out a great way to do it. But I think it actually is we, you know, right now, you know, we really are interested in podcasts, we’ve found a way to tell long form stories in smart brevity, through audio, which, you know, is is challenging, but we’ve done it with our How it Happened podcast series. It’s got, you know, 3 million downloads, and it’s really resonating with the audience. And we also have, you know, a daily podcast that we think is, you know, really innovative and how we’re telling stories in, you know, 10 minutes a day, and our audience is telling us, you know, they can’t get enough of it. So, I think that’s definitely interesting to us. You know, we just hired our first SEO editor and we’re really focused on you know, packaging our stories for social and, you know, making sure we’re we’re meeting people where they are.
I know that social audio has been really good for you guys too. How about USA Today. What do you do?
Well, it’s funny: I was just checking or TikTok I think we’re just checking to see how many followers I think we’re over a million somebody check me so we’re over a million and when we you know, I love it. My son’s 16 He gets all his news on Tik Tok. So whenever we show up in his feed, he’s really proud. He’s like, there’s my mom. So I mean, we’re gonna be in the spaces where people are, we’re doing Twitter Spaces, we were on Clubhouse, we were doing all the things. Really, it’s because we just want people to know that we’re there with the information they need, again, whether it’s Instagram, or Tik Tok, or a newsletter, or a podcast. And it just helps the overall reach and hopefully, you know, to your point about trust and media, if they see us enough, if they see that we’re right enough, if they see that we’re responsible enough, I want to develop that trust. And so I think it’s not just about the audience. It’s about developing that relationship and trust and like, Oh, I’ve seen you three or four times now. You know, I I know your real I know, you’re a trustworthy news source. And that’s really important to me.
Yeah and that’s interesting, because you both mentioned, you know, being where they are.
But then your values like perpetuated values and your ethos there to build that trusted relationship.
Well, it’s funny when the last join some of the January 6, and we made some decisions about, you know, we didn’t errors, certain of Donald Trump’s speeches, because I did, they were misinformation, and we chose not to air them live. We would go back and we would package them so we could fact check them before we did it. I actually went on Tik Tok. And I told people why we were doing that. And I did a video like: Hey, here’s we may be hearing about this. And this is why we’re doing that we think it’s important to fact check before we put information out there. So it was kind of fun to be able to talk directly to that audience
Addressing that that demand for immediacy. Head on,
We want it now. But here’s why we’re not.
Why don’t you tell me each of you just very quickly, a project or product that you’ve done recently that you feel is particularly innovative?
Sure. I mean, I think Axios local is probably our biggest project of the year. And, you know, talking about rebuilding trust, we want to meet people in their communities, and talk to them about the economic situation where they live, the lifestyle opportunities, where they live, also, the political landscapes where they live. So we’ve stood up in 17 cities, and we’re going to be in, I think, another 25 by the end of this year. So, we’re really proud of that expansion and trying to recapture some of what’s been lost in the local news landscape. And, you know, it’s really resonating with audiences, we’ve had over a million subscribers in those local markets, generated, you know, 5 million in revenue last year from loca. And so we think that’s, you know, a really big part of the future of Axios. And hopefully the future of restoring trust and journalism in America.
No small feat.
Yeah, just a little, just a little project.
Just a Tuesday. How about at USA Today?
Sure. Well, I really hope you guys will check out some of the AR we’ve been doing. And again, this leans more into the tech, but it’s really cool tech. So you can we did a series this past year on 1961 and the importance of what happened in 1961, around voting rights to what’s happening today. And our AR team built this amazing experience where you could actually ride the bus as it was being attacked by rioters and you can hear the story and you can you can you can hear we brought in historical video and audio. And you really feel like you can see the flames around you and you are really immersed in that experience. So, you know, again, we’re trying to bring the truth to people and help them understand news that empathy that you get from immersive storytelling is really important. Not just reading it; you’re experiencing it. So really proud of some of the work we’ve done on AR.
That’s a great example. Just before we’re done here: How about something that you think that everyone is talking about in media right now, that maybe is hype or that maybe you’re a little skeptical about?
Just in general?
In the digital media industry. Hype cycle?
I don’t know,
Alright, we can do NFTs? [laughter]
Well, we do have a newsletter that covers crypto and I think we do talk about that, you know, quite a bit. And NFTs have their place in the crypto world.
Unknown Speaker 15:48
Oh ho ho. No, it doesn’t have to be NF T’s. Metaverse can do another one. You guys bullish?
I mean, I think the Metaverse is interesting. If you think about it from the standpoint of like, we’re just building it now. You know, we don’t actually know what it’s going to be.
Is it going to be the Facebook-averse. Is that? Or is it going to be an open platform?
I guess it depends on who you ask.
We’re not going to ask Mark. Apparently, he didn’t want to talk to us about this.
Which is weird. So weird. I mean, I think we just have to keep moving forward. Like I said at the beginning in all these spaces, and here’s the cool thing, we get to invent them, right? We get to say what they’re gonna be. So that’s awesome. We’re like, you know, I know, there’s a lot of stress in media right now. But I’m really excited about where we’re at right now in media, we’re, we get to invent the future. And that’s pretty cool.
All right. The very last thing: leadership, like if you are looking out into the industry, and you want to just impart one piece of wisdom about leading an innovative team, no pressure. Aja: pressure.
I mean, I think it’s really just about having a culture of activation and being able to experiment with an idea and nurture it from experiment, you know, to fruition. I think we do that, you know, every day at Axios. And really, every day in media. Every day, we’re writing a story. It’s like, you know, where’s this going to take us at? Where’s this gonna go? And just continuing, you know, to do that?
I love that.
Yeah. I think it’s all about the people. No matter what you do, you’ve got to create the culture. You’ve got to believe in people you’ve got to have, I think I call realistic optimism. We are in a tough world. But you realistically have to think “we can do these things.” And you have to impart that to people. You have to have a culture of “yes, let’s try it.” What can you do? What can you do in a month? What can you do in two months? We have to keep moving forward.
Love it. Well, thank you both. I sincerely appreciate this. It was a great conversation and went to fast.