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‘Stereotypes need to be shattered’; How j-schools can help diversify newsrooms

Tracy Everbach, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of North Texas

As newsrooms continue to grapple with racial inequities, we emailed journalism schools to determine how academia is addressing the same issues, and what lessons journalists can learn from them. 

News organizations cannot wait for people to come to them, said Tracy Everbach, Ph.D., professor at University of North Texas’ Mayborn School of Journalism. They “need to be out there identifying talent” while journalists are still in school. They “need to be out there identifying talent” while journalists are still in school.

“This talent has to be nurtured and recruited,” said Everbach, whose research focuses on gender and race in the media. “Too often hiring managers are seeking people who remind them of themselves, and that perpetuates the same hiring patterns.”

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

Everbach: As a former journalist who was part of the newsroom culture/routines/practices, I have thought about this a lot. I think that the industry has problems focusing on itself. We can see the inequities in other industries, agencies and government, but journalists have a hard time looking at their own newsrooms. 

For many years, news media organizations promised to diversify, but did little to follow through beyond hiring some people of color and some women. Hiring such people was a good intention, but there was little follow-through on promotion, retention and mentoring. This is one reason why, although journalism schools are majority women students, newsrooms as a whole have remained about 37% women since the 1980s. In a white male-dominated industry, it takes the introspection of white men and the admission that they have been inequitable to finally solve these problems. Frankly, white men at the top either have not paid attention, been in denial, and/or have not been willing to do the sustained, difficult work it takes to diversify. 

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

Everbach: That is a broad question because different schools are doing different things. In general, no. Universities also are white male-dominated institutions that too often pay lip service to diversity issues. That said, many faculty, administrators and staff are responding to the needs of their students. But faculty still is not diverse enough, including with race/ethnicity, gender and sexuality. Faculty hires are not keeping pace with the diversity of the students. Students need role models who look like them and come from similar backgrounds, and this is not happening. 

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

Everbach: We as faculty need to support our students of color, women, LGBTQ students, students with disabilities to let them know they have our backing. We need to encourage them and recommend them for internships and jobs. We need to teach them about the history of this country and the treatment of people of color, women, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities so that they understand why these groups have been oppressed and discuss how they can improve coverage and make it more equitable and inclusive. They are the upcoming industry leaders and we need to prepare them for an even more diverse world. 

Another initiative is to teach them to diversify their sources by keeping track of who they are reporting on and what kinds of stories they are producing about different types of people. For example, keep track of how many women, men, non-white people, etc. you are featuring in your stories and how you are portraying them. This can go a long way in learning how to end stereotyping and give voice to the voiceless.

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

Everbach: Rather than give specific names, I am going to give specific practices. Organizations cannot wait for people to come to them, they need to be out there identifying talent from the time journalists are in school. It’s important to partner with j-schools and diverse organizations such as NABJ, NAHJ, NAJA, AAJA, NLGJA, JAWS and other groups to get to know talented journalists of color, women journalists and others. This talent has to be nurtured and recruited. Too often hiring managers are seeking people who remind them of themselves, and that perpetuates the same hiring patterns. Reach out to professors, advisors, department chairs and deans in j-schools. Go to conferences of diverse journalism groups. Cultivate young, talented journalists. This takes TIME. But stereotypes need to be shattered. Stop going to the same 10 j-schools to hire interns. You may find talent in your own backyard, and you can hire someone who cares about the community where they live and intends to stay there and make it better. 

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

Everbach: I am heartened that people of color are pushing for change. I know efforts in the past have brought about some diversification, but still left a lot to be done. Now journalists are pressuring those at the top and holding them accountable. I hope this will lead to long-needed changes in newsrooms to make them more equitable and inclusive.

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

Everbach: I am afraid it will have a negative effect. Often those hired last are the first to be laid off, and people of color often are the journalists hired most recently. In addition, without much new hiring, news organizations will not have the chance to recruit and hire more diverse staff. And while they are preoccupied with COVID-19 coverage and trying to stay healthy, they will have fewer opportunities to find and recruit new people.

Read more from professors on how J-schools can help newsrooms:

“There is no pipeline problem,” said Robert Hernandez, associate professor of professional practice at USC Annenberg School of Journalism. “ 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.”

“There’s always more that can be done,” said Miya Williams Fayne, assistant professor in the Department of Communications at California State University, Fullerton. “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.”

“If we lack leadership sensitive to the value of diversity and inclusion, we can’t easily advance in the inclusion of diverse voices in the newsroom,” said Julian Rodriguez, a broadcast professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.” Most attempts to diversify newsrooms are explicit, on paper, but implicit forces still rule decision-making today.”


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