For several decades, one of the primary goals of those who run American newsrooms has been (and justifiably so, from my point of view) increasing the number of mainstream journalists who are African-American, Latino, Asian, Native Americans and part of other minority groups, defined by race.
At the same time, there have been less publicized debates -- mostly behind the scenes -- about the need to bring more intellectual and cultural diversity into our newsrooms. As one journalist friend of mine once put it, what's the use of bringing in more African-Americans, Latinos, etc., if they all basically went to the same schools as everyone else and have the same set of beliefs between their ears?
You can see these two issues collide in William McGowan's the much-debated 2003 book, "Coloring the News: How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism." He argues that years of diversity training in American newsrooms has actually made them more elitist and narrow, purging many professionals who come from blue-collar and non-urban backgrounds.
Before you write that theory off as conservative whining, what was that statement near the end of the famous New York Times self-study entitled "Preserving Our Readers' Trust (.pdf)"?
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).
In part because the Times’s editorial page is clearly liberal, the news pages do need to make more effort not to seem monolithic. Both inside and outside the paper, some people feel that we are missing stories because our staff lacks diversity in viewpoints, intellectual grounding and individual backgrounds. We should look for all manner of diversity. We should seek talented journalists who happen to have military experience, who know rural America first hand, who are at home in different faiths.
This brings me to a sobering think piece that ran recently at the Columbia Journalism Review under the tense headline, "Why aren’t there more minority journalists?" Like I said, this is a question newsroom managers have been asking, with good cause, for decades.
However, I learned about this piece via a tweet that asked a truly radical question about this issue. Hold that thought, because that is where this post will end.
Meanwhile, here is the conclusion of the Alex T. Williams article in CJR. This is crucial, so read it all:
First, Nieman Reports has noted that minority students are less likely to serve on campus newspapers because they are more likely to attend colleges without the resources to support a newspaper or to feel ostracized by a mostly white newsroom.
Second, minority students are less likely to complete unpaid internships. As The Atlantic wrote in 2013: “Unpaid internships compound diversity concerns by reserving entry-level journalism positions to financially advantaged youth who can afford to work for free.”
Lastly, minority students often aren’t in the hiring networks that editors rely on to find job candidates. Shani O. Hilton, executive editor at BuzzFeed, wrote on Medium that she believes minority journalists are so busy working twice as hard for half of the credit that they overlook the importance of networking.
But are minority students that graduate with a journalism degree unqualified to be journalists because they didn’t volunteer on the campus newspaper or complete an internship?
With the economic crisis facing journalism, it’s not surprising that publishers want to hire graduates who can hit the ground running -- those who have more experience or come personally recommended. This means that we need to do a better job of attracting minority high school and college students to participate in school newsrooms and create more diversity scholarships and paid internships. But we also need to scrutinize the hiring bias that hurts the job prospects of minorities graduating with journalism degrees.
When newsrooms eliminate candidates because they didn’t volunteer on the campus newspaper, complete an unpaid internship, and come recommended by a friend -- it disproportionately affects minority candidates. This has led to the myth that minorities are not trying to enter the field of journalism. They are. They’re just invisible because they aren’t getting job interviews.
Rather than approaching hiring with a one-size-fits-all mentality, newsrooms should try to interview a variety of candidates. If a job candidate is a solid, curious writer with drive and a good work ethic, they deserve consideration. By making this small adjustment, more minority candidates will get their foot in the door -- literally -- which could help address the decades-long criticism that newsrooms need more diversity.
Ah, but what if -- in addition to these valid concerns -- there was another issue affecting this trend? What if it had to do with something between the ears and in the hearts of thousands and thousands of potential journalists, including many minorities?
As the editors at NYCReligion.info tweeted out:
Think about that, for a moment.
In other words, how many black Pentecostals and Baptists are there in your local newsrooms? How many Arab Christians or traditional Muslims? How many Latino Catholics who regularly go to Mass and Confession? How many Korean Presbyterians? Is your newsroom a place that welcomes traditional religious points of view?