Leadership advice

You’re covering racial justice; are you heeding diverse voices?

Advice from Jill Geisler, Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago and Freedom Forum Fellow in Women’s Leadership

As newsrooms cover two Black Americans, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, their deaths and the aftermath, journalists are making critical decisions. As those stories develop, judgment calls happen in a moment. And as journalists choose words, images, interviewees, focus and context, we know this: a majority of the top managers in newsrooms are white. 

You can read about journalism’s diversity issues here and here and here. Newsroom staffs are more white and more male than all U.S. workers. That’s hardly a secret to those on the job. They know this industry’s gaps and the longstanding conversations about how the lack of diverse voices affects the quality of news coverage. 

People bring their life experiences to work with them. When those experiences differ around critical things — racial profiling, health disparities, employment, educational opportunities and discrimination — the people with the most power may see too much of the world through their eyes only. They may be oblivious to things that are obvious, often painfully obvious, to others — the “fault lines” so aptly described by late editor and publisher Robert C. Maynard.

Meanwhile, journalists of color are once again watching as all those important daily decisions are made. Will they have a voice? Will they once again have to go through the heavy lifting of trying to teach others who haven’t paid sufficient attention to historic patterns of discrimination? If they do, will they be respected, appreciated, challenged, or ignored? 

Now add distance to the mix. Because many newsrooms are operating remotely, there’s a greater chance that someone could be left out of conversations and decisions, the kind that happen more easily when we can walk across a room and look colleagues in the eye. 

Don’t let that happen. The best leaders understand that in this moment, when this country is struggling with a COVID-19 pandemic as well as the virus of racism, that diverse voices in your newsroom must be directly involved in guiding the context and content of your journalism.

It’s a matter of urgency and accuracy.


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