Be alert, news leaders: Guidance from NPR’s chief diversity officer

Keith Woods is Chief Diversity Officer at NPR

What can newsrooms do to help journalists cope with the trauma of seeing colleagues threatened and attacked by a mob storming the U.S. Capitol, sending a clear message: “Murder the media”?

Keith Woods, Chief Diversity Officer at NPR, shares how leaders can support their teams, particularly journalists of color, during this tumultuous time.

From your perspective as a diversity and inclusion leader, what are the key issues managers in newsrooms across the U.S. should be thinking about in light of Wednesday’s siege on the Capitol? 

Woods: Newsroom managers need to be alert to the elevated threats to all journalists and the specific vitriol and threats that have been directed at journalists of color in moments like this. Also, many journalists have already been pursuing stories highlighting the stark differences in the ways police officials continue to respond to the lawlessness of mobs like we saw on Wednesday compared to the behavior of uniformed (and unidentifiable) law enforcement officers during recent protests and marches by and about Black Americans.

How can — and should — newsrooms nurture conversations around race unrelated to coverage?

Woods: Newsrooms can best support people of color on their staffs by checking in with them regularly, naming the trauma they may be encountering, and creating space for them to process and recover. Though the impact differs, this would be good advice for anyone being sent to cover events like the one we saw on Wednesday.

If you could offer one piece of advice related to diversity for journalists today, what would that be?

Woods: My one piece of advice would be that it’s well past time to acknowledge that all distinctions drawn between the people carrying the American flags, the Trump flags and the Confederate flags during the insurrection at the Capitol are semantic and hair-splitting. Journalists need to report on the complex ways that bigotry is intermingled with similar “movements.”  

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