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‘There’s always more that can be done’: How J-schools can help newsrooms with diversity

Miya Williams Fayne is an assistant professor in the Department of Communications at California State University, Fullerton

There is a “reckoning moment” happening in the industry today. As newsrooms work to address racial inequities within, we reached out to journalism schools to learn how academia can help.

There is no pipeline problem,” said Robert Hernandez, USC Annenberg School of Journalism associate professor of professional practice, last week. “J-schools across the country have trained and prepared talented, diverse voices ready to work in our industry, but they are often overlooked when hiring.”

This week Miya Williams Fayne, assistant professor in the Department of Communications at California State University, Fullerton, shares her perspective.

Why do you think the industry has been so slow in addressing racial inequities within?

Williams Fayne: I think the industry doesn’t truly want to reckon with its shortcomings. The American Society of News Editors (now The News Leaders Association) set a goal for newsrooms to reach racial parity by 2000, but that goal has continuously been pushed back as media outlets have yet to mirror the diversity of the population. Some newsrooms have actually regressed and have fewer people of color now than in years prior. The low percentage of outlets that even take the time to complete the ASNE Newsroom Diversity Survey (last year it was less than 25%) is revealing and shows a lack of initiative to address this issue. 

Do you believe that journalism schools are doing enough to encourage diversity both in terms of faculty and students? 

Williams Fayne: There’s always more that can be done. The percentage of students of color at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) is still far from representative. Journalism schools can intentionally recruit from more high schools in low-income neighborhoods and create summer programs for students of color that will help strengthen the pipeline. Also, while faculty at minority-serving institutions should at least reflect the diversity of their student body, this is often not the case. Journalism schools can be more intentional in the recruitment and retention of faculty of color to ensure that students are able to learn from professors who are more likely to relate to their experiences. It’s also important that all students are exposed to diverse perspectives from both faculty and their peers.

How can journalism schools help reshape the industry to become more inclusive?

Williams Fayne: Journalism schools can intentionally teach their students about the importance of diversity through courses, assignments and speaker series. While having a diversity course in the curriculum is one way to address this, faculty should also include readings by and about people of color no matter what course they are teaching. Also assignments that require students to report on communities of color or include diverse sources in their stories are essential. Training the next generation of journalists to be aware of diversity issues and know how to competently address them is a big step towards industry inclusivity. 

Can you share examples of hiring managers or organizations that are doing it right?

Williams Fayne: The Black press, Spanish-language media and other minority media outlets are doing it right. I think the mainstream media can do better: from telling stories through a more inclusive lens to not only hiring people of color but actually promoting them to leadership positions and creating a safe and supportive work environment.

What do the recent changes and pushbacks in the industry mean for the future of newsroom culture?

Williams Fayne: Hopefully it means that there is going to be more internal regulation from the bottom up. While newsroom staff have previously expected change to come from the top down, they are now seeing the power that they wield. We saw some of this happening with the #MeToo movement as well, where women demanded change. I certainly hope that these pushbacks are not isolated to these moments and that anti-racism in the workplace will eventually become the norm in the industry.

How do you think COVID-19 will affect diversity in newsrooms?

Williams Fayne: Unfortunately, the 2008 recession already showed us the outcome for people of color in times of economic crisis. Across industries, Black and Brown people have previously lost jobs at a higher rate than their white counterparts and newsrooms are not exempt. The overlap of COVID-19 with a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement may limit the number of layoffs to some degree but if history is any indication of what’s to come, COVID will certainly still have a disproportionate impact on people of color in and outside of the newsroom.

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