Columbia Journalism Review urges diversity: Still, something seems to be missing here

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Here is a parable from a newsroom in this era. The names and location have been omitted to protect the innocent.

It was diversity day in the newsroom. Management brought in speakers to stress the need for various kinds of diversity and, in particular, to celebrate this urban newspaper’s progress in hiring more African Americans and Latinos.

During a discussion period, one journalism gadfly asked about intellectual and cultural diversity. An editor said, “Like what?” The gadfly asked how many black staffers were members of evangelical and Pentecostal congregations (the dominate black churches in that Southern region). There were no hands raised. He asked how many Latino staffers were Catholic. Many hands went up. He asked how many were in Mass the previous Sunday. Almost all of the hands came down.

In other words, the newsroom was becoming more diverse — sort of.

Faithful GetReligion readers will remember this quotation from the amazing 2005 New York Times self study entitled “Preserving Our Readers’ Trust,” in which management was given this challenge:

Expand the scope of our goals in advancing newsroom diversity. Our paper's commitment to a diversity of gender, race and ethnicity is nonnegotiable. We should pursue the same diversity in other dimensions of life, and for the same reason — to ensure that a broad range of viewpoints is at the table when we decide what to write about and how to present it.

The executive editor should assign this goal to everyone who has a hand in recruiting. We should take pains to create a climate in which staff members feel free to propose or criticize coverage from vantage points that lie outside the perceived newsroom consensus (liberal/conservative, religious/secular, urban/suburban/rural, elitist/white collar/blue collar).

What kinds of subjects are affected by this lack of intellectual and cultural diversity? Well, the sentences just BEFORE that hiring challenge had this to say:

Our news coverage needs to embrace unorthodox views and contrarian opinions and to portray lives both more radical and more conservative than those most of us experience. We need to listen carefully to colleagues who are at home in realms that are not familiar to most of us.

We should increase our coverage of religion in America and focus on new ways to give it greater attention. …

This brings me to this weekend’s think piece, a Columbia Journalism Review essay with this headline: “Missing the Story.”

This totally valid article, focusing on lingering issues in racial diversity, was written by Jelani Cobb, who is director of the Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights at Columbia University, as well as a staff writer at The New Yorker. Here is a crucial passage:

Conversations around diversity in media have tended to focus on cozy niceties. “Diversity” is often partnered with the word “inclusion” in our racial vocabulary. Since the conflicts of the 1960s, it has been increasingly apparent that our political, educational, and media institutions should not appear to be monochromatically white. But appearance is not the real problem. A democratic media is.

A half-century ago, members of the Kerner Commission — an advisory board formed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in response to a series of race riots — spelled out the role of a mostly white media in failing to cover the cause of unrest. It called on news outlets across the country to diversify. In the decades since, including “diverse” perspectives in media and elsewhere has become broadly acceptable — eight out of 10 Americans view ethnic diversity as “at least somewhat important” in the workplace.

Yet 50 years after Kerner, we still see chronic underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in print and broadcast media. In 2017, only 16.6 percent of journalists at daily newspapers were people of color; in the US population, more than 37 percent of people are nonwhite. According to a 2015 poll, more than three-quarters of the guests on Sunday morning shows were white. … This underrepresentation of minorities is a more polite way of saying that there is an overrepresentation of white people in media — 79 percent of people working in the publishing industry are white. Two years ago, the dearth of people of color at the Oscars generated the satirical #OscarsSoWhite hashtag. A #NewsroomSoWhite hashtag would now be equally fitting.

As I stressed, this is still an important, must-discuss issue in American newsrooms.

At the same time, read the whole piece and look for any kind of hint that other forms of diversity are also needed in newsrooms today.

Read it all. Anyone want to suggest some other hashtags?

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