Diversity in the Newsroom, a Pervasive Challenge
Posted on 24th November 2021 at 22:10
By Sebastian Grace
Amid the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, diversity at newspapers has been under the microscope.
The last few years of protest and division around race and gender have forced many news organizations to look introspectively at their newsrooms.
A 2020 report by the New York Times into diversity and inclusion at the newspaper concluded that “Diversity is not in tension with our journalistic mission. Instead, it helps us find the truth and more fully understand the world.”
But real progress is yet to be seen. For example, 81% of the newspaper’s employees are white, and diversity figures at the New York Times have improved just three percent over the past 16 years.
Meg Heckman, an assistant professor in Northeastern University’s School of Journalism and head of the AEJMC Commission on the Status of Women, has published new research titled “Constructing the “Gender Beat:” U.S. Journalists Refocus the News in the Aftermath of #Metoo.”
When asked what inspired her latest research project, professor Heckman said, “My goal in this work is to end journalism’s masculine, macho culture. It’s got this really problematic culture that means that the voices of women are often excluded both in newsrooms and news coverage.”
“This has all sorts of negative repercussions for women’s access to civic life, for what we as communities understand about the lived experiences of women. It can perpetuate stereotypes in ways that can be damaging,” she added.
Newspapers that aim to inform the public they serve should represent that public, but many fall short of that standard, in turn losing readers who instead pay attention to the content that better speaks to or serves their identity.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, racial and ethnic minorities comprise almost 40% of the U.S. population. Yet, they make up less than 17% of newsroom staff at print and online publications and only 13% of newspaper employees in leadership roles.
“To accomplish elevating the voices of all women in journalism, we need to make sure that a gender beat is not the only thing a newsroom is doing. Unfortunately, female reporting and women’s issues have long been ghettoized in newspapers,” professor Heckman said.
“They also need to take a long hard look at how they’re covering racial justice and economic inequalities, for example. We need to make sure that news organizations look at lots of different versions of the shared human experience, rather than just that default white, middle class and male experience, which is historically what the gaze of most news organizations has been,” she continued.
Leveling the playing field on race and gender will allow news organizations to ensure they are covering the stories and experiences of America’s diverse communities. In turn, this will increase the value of news in an increasingly competitive media environment where newspapers are struggling economically and with issues of trust.
Newsrooms must include the diversity of perspectives that reflect the diversity of America, and journalists should continue to challenge the prejudices of their workplaces, demanding accountability and change.
“Different demographic groups in a newsroom need to be empowered to have some influence on coverage. Having a more diverse newsroom with a variety of voices and perspectives can guard against not knowing what you don’t know,” professor Heckman said.
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