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Newsroom leaders, here’s what future staffers want you to know about diversity

The pandemic, economic struggles and the most recent demands for social justice are forcing newsrooms to account for their own failures at diversity, inclusion and representative coverage. The work of sustaining change will fall on the incoming generation of journalists.

As the National Press Club Journalism Institute spotlights recent graduates ready to pursue careers in journalism, we asked them what they are thinking about how newsrooms can change to better reflect the communities they serve.

As Carol Wright, a graduate from American University, wrote: “They need to know that the work does not stop with the hiring process. Newsrooms need to take the time to listen to the diverse perspectives of the employees they bring in.”

Today we are highlighting responses from Wright and four other emerging journalists: Marcus Sykes, a graduate from the University of North Texas; Dan Toomey, a graduate from the University of Southern California; Jenna Ortiz, a graduate from Arizona State University, and Jacob Reyes, a graduate from the University of Texas at Arlington.

“There are so many groups out there who should be covered, and that’s on us to share their stories,” Ortiz wrote. “Never be complacent in your work and continue to reach out to marginalized groups. They want to be heard.”

“We say that we are supposed to hold the powerful accountable,” Sykes wrote. “How can we ethically do that when we don’t hold our newsrooms accountable?”

Why do you think diversity and inclusion are important ethical values in journalism?

Carol Wright: They are important ethical values because if a newsroom is not diverse, the stories written will not reflect the diversity of the world we live in. This is a disservice for those who look to newsrooms to share stories that reflect all of us.

Jenna Ortiz: It would not be right to have only one side of a story. There are so many groups out there who should be covered, and that’s on us to share their stories. Never be complacent in your work and continue to reach out to marginalized groups. They want to be heard.

Jacob Reyes: Because the media’s sole responsibility is to inform the public and bring untold stories to the spotlight. If our reporters don’t represent the diversity of America, then we are nowhere close to completing that responsibility.

Marcus Sykes: We say that we are supposed to hold the powerful accountable. How can we ethically do that when we don’t hold our newsrooms accountable to have a life of diversity of inclusion.

Dan Toomey: Your newsroom must reflect your audience. In the digital age, your audience is diverse. That’s the formula. The job of a journalist is to be a reflection of society and look to the issues that are pertinent to readers and viewers. 

As a student journalist and/or intern, what was your experience with diversity and inclusion?

Carol Wright: I have an online magazine called Nyota and, through working on it, I have made sure to feature diverse voices in the areas of music, fashion and culture. It’s incredibly important to me that our readers see themselves in the stories published.

Jenna Ortiz: As a woman in sports journalism, I usually was one of the few women on staff for student publications. Sometimes, I was the only woman on the hockey beats for my publication. I was very fortunate that I was not looked down upon by my peers because of my gender, but it still felt odd being the only woman or Latina in a press box.

Jacob Reyes: In numerous editing and reporting roles, I was able to highlight stories of marginalized people through reporting and op-eds. At times, these communities represented those of my own.

Marcus Sykes: I’m blind, and I have heard microaggressions in the hallways some directed at me personally.

Dan Toomey: As a freshman, I saw many more white students in positions of leadership and on-camera positions. … But as the years went on, we began to focus more on digital. As that happened, we also became more diverse and made efforts to be more inclusive, as well. … As an intern, I found that there was usually an equal balance. At larger outlets, I would usually share internships with POC and a diverse range of sexualities. … But that was mostly at the intern level. In terms of higher-ups and people who were actually employees of the company, it was mostly white people and others who looked like me.

As you begin your job search, what are your concerns, if any, surrounding diversity and inclusion?

Carol Wright: As I continue my job search, it is important that I work somewhere that is diverse in more ways than one. Working in a space where people have varied backgrounds, different ways of thinking, and different skill sets is also something I’m taking into consideration.

Jenna Ortiz: I want to work in the hockey industry, which is primarily white. My appearance is white-passing, but my last name is Latina. Part of me is worried that I will not be viewed the same as other white applicants. You don’t think of a Latina from Southern California when you think of hockey fans, but that’s who I am.

Jacob Reyes: My primary concern is that media outlets are only looking for candidates from a certain background whether it be through identity, academic or socioeconomic class.

Marcus Sykes:  My greatest concern is having a station take a chance on a blind broadcast journalist.

Dan Toomey: As a straight, white male I understand that I might not be what many newsrooms are looking for in terms of diversity. And that’s fine by me. If anything, I hope it challenges them to judge me more on the work that I am proud of and my skills as a journalist, rather than my appearance.

What do you want today’s newsroom leaders to know about diversity and inclusion?

Carol Wright: They need to know that the work does not stop with the hiring process. Newsrooms need to take the time to listen to the diverse perspectives of the employees they bring in.

Jenna Ortiz: Treat us all equally.

Jacob Reyes: Reporting and highlighting stories from a reporter’s own community does not immediately imply bias. To assume so is dangerous and contradicts discussions that media must adapt in the current social demographic landscape.

Marcus Sykes: That it’s definitely needed. We need a more diverse set of reporters in the newsroom. African American, Latino, Asian American, as well as gender identity, sexual orientation and reporters who have disabilities. Our newsrooms must reflect the society we live in. Also, we need more diverse leadership in the newsroom.

Dan Toomey: Always ask questions to people who are from a different background as you. It’s guaranteed that you will be missing a perspective, and it’s vital that you have open channels to communication. … Just don’t let your pride get in the way of reaching for more diversity.

What questions or expectations regarding diversity and inclusion do you have for your future employers?

Carol Wright: Are you having open and candid conversations in the workplace about how your company can do better when it comes to diversity and inclusion?

Jenna Ortiz: I want to be judged by my work, but I also want them to be mindful of who they hire and what that says about their company.

Jacob Reyes: I want to know what steps are there in ensuring people of a marginalized background get promoted to editor or senior positions. This visibility in leadership changes how media operates and informs the public.

Marcus Sykes: Will you let me be part of the change in your newsroom?

How do you want to be involved in discussions about diversity and inclusion in your future newsroom?

Carol Wright: Newsrooms reaching out to aspiring journalists is a great place to start. That way they can hear from the next generation exactly how change should be enacted.

Jenna Ortiz: I want to be a support system for others. I also want to make sure that my future newsroom is doing the right things and having the right people working for them.

Jacob Reyes: Hosting public forums and in house discussions and creating open dialogue is essential and, I believe, an effective tool in discussions on inclusion and diversity.

Marcus Sykes: I want to be included in every discussion but most of all I want them to work with my disability and not hinder my growth to move on to larger markets.

Dan Toomey: As a straight, white male, I would still very much love to be included in conversations about diversity and inclusion. I want to learn more, I want to be challenged on my views, just as I would like someone else to take my own views into consideration. I don’t believe echo chambers help anyone, and I would want to be a part of any conversations about achieving diversity as there can be.

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