It has been more than 40 years since the American Society of News Editors adopted a goal of having newsrooms match the racial and ethnic make-up of the general population. Clearly, media outlets have had more than enough time to determine a strategy to hire journalists that reflect the diversity of their communities. But the much-discussed campaign to add journalists of color to newsrooms did not materialize in any meaningful way.
The news editors group (now called the News Leaders Association) reported that in 2018 people of color represented 22.6 percent of the workforce in U.S. newsrooms. But the response rate was so low from news executives, that the news industry group stopped compiling the survey the next year. That should tell us something about the news industry. There is so little interest, or maybe embarrassment, over the low diversity numbers, that newsrooms didn’t even think it was important to respond to the survey.
By any measurement, the news industry, which preaches diversity for other professions, must do better. When journalists of color make up only about 1 in 5, there is much more going on in hiring than newsroom leaders want to admit. (One newsroom census report indicates that about 17% of newsrooms are people of color.)
At the Fresno State Institute for Media and Public Trust, we believe that America’s newsrooms should reflect the diversity of the communities they cover. We can’t change the diversity of all newsrooms, but we can make a difference in the San Joaquin Valley by training and mentoring students of color and encourage them to become local journalists. We have commitments from Valley news leaders to hire qualified students who have completed our five-year paid journalism program. Each student will be paid a stipend of $300 a month to participate in the program, which also includes academic counseling and mentoring.
We are working with the journalism programs at Fresno City College and Fresno State, and we are partnering with The kNOw Youth Media, which since 2006 has been helping young journalists with media training so they can tell stories about the communities they live in. We have funding from the California Endowment, the James B. McClatchy Foundation and donors to our Institute for Media and Public Trust.
The funds will support our journalism diversity program, but we are looking for additional donors to sustain the project. The mission is to remake newsroom locally so that they reflect our community as much as possible.
“When a newsroom fails to reflect the diversity of the communities it serves, its ability to report with authenticity, sensitivity and perspective is severely hindered,” says Dr. Kathleen Schock, journalism instructor at Fresno City College and host of Valley Edition on Valley Public Radio. Dr. Schock is on our training program steering committee.
We believe that having newsrooms that are diverse not only improves the quality of journalism locally, but also increases the trust that the public has in local journalism because all points of view are included in the reporting process.
Dr. Dympna Ugwu-Oju, editor of the Fresnoland Lab at The Fresno Bee, believes the project has the potential to transform the culture in San Joaquin Valley newsrooms.
“The Central Valley Journalists of Color program is destined to have a profound effect on not only Fresno, but the entire central San Joaquin Valley, the community we aim to reflect and inform,” she said. “In the very near future, our young students will become journalists and begin to shift our discourse and perceptions in areas of inequality, race and crime from the present ‘white gaze’ to one that is diverse and truly reflective of the entire population.”
Nicole A. Childers, an award-winning journalist and executive producer of Marketplace Morning Report, says newsrooms must “accept a core responsibility to their audience and their employees — a moral case, if you will — to ensure they are covering the stories and experiences of the communities they serve.” In interviews with newsroom leaders and academics, Childers wrote that that diversity must be a core value if it is going to have a lasting change in the hiring and promoting journalists of color.
Judging by the diversity numbers of newsrooms across the country, the only conclusion that can be reached is that hiring journalists who look like the communities they cover is not a core value.