Improving representation in news coverage takes consistent commitment — but not everything can happen overnight.
“A lot of these changes are institutional,” says Krissah Thompson, Washington Post managing editor. “And they take a long time given, especially, the scars in the community.”
Newsrooms have looked hard at the diversity of their teams, leadership, and coverage in the last year, and many say they’re now devoting consistent attention to hiring more journalists of color, investing in them, and supporting them in helping shift the stories that are told. Thompson and three leaders whose work focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion shared how their newsrooms have worked to produce representative content during a discussion Feb. 25, 2022.
Seek out new audiences
- Accuracy remains a core value. “If we are not connecting with the areas that are growing, the value is one of accuracy and telling the real stories of communities in a way that our readers know what we’re talking about,” said Leona Allen, Dallas Morning News deputy publisher and vice president — diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- Aim to integrate — not introduce — communities you’ve neglected into your coverage.
- Accurate representation is also a business proposition. “We have to create content that audiences want,” Allen said. “If you have different people at the table — different perspectives — covering your chances of really mining the areas that you’re not hitting now increases.”
Cover your blind spots
- Involve your team. “We have a, I think, generally young and very active newsroom, and they’re not shy about talking about things and pointing out holes in the story,” said Joseph Serna, L.A. Times deputy editor of culture and talent.
- Ask questions early and often of your content: Who are the haves and have-nots? Who is benefitting or not benefiting from an action? Who is suffering? “We are now not afraid to ask that question out loud,” Allen said. “We’re not afraid to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, we’ve missed this hole.’ ”
- Framing matters. “There’s a greater understanding on who we are talking to and how we frame stories, pictures — who is in the picture and why,” Serna said. “Particularly when it comes to, like, the pandemic and attacks against Asian Americans. We have to be very cognizant of who we’re putting in photos for these kinds of things.”
Rethink your infrastructure
Engage experts and your staff in modernizing your style and usage guides.
- Shift resources to create beats that reflect news needs. The Dallas Morning News, for example, created a beat at the intersection of trans lives and the laws the Texas legislature is considering. “There are people in leadership in our state who are laser-focused on these issues, and we’ve got to be willing and able to dig deep on them,” Allen said.
- Shift the mindset: Race and identity are part of every beat. “Race in America is a huge story if you’re just thinking about that aspect,” Thompson said. Keeping eyes open for issues around identity across beats helps all staff see their involvement in telling the story.
- Invest in specialized training, like conferences or opportunities put on by identity-focused organizations. “It brings a lot of value just in terms of our everyday reporting, in our connection to those communities, and they also hold our own management accountable,” Serna said.
Gut-check your content
- Make it easier to ask for help: Create a Slack channel to drop in copy for colleagues to review, to suggest style changes, or ask questions. “Make it OK to ask a question,” Allen said.
- Open meetings and content conversations to the team, regardless of title.
- Respect and welcome your team’s lived experiences while guarding against tokenism, said Mizell Stewart III, Gannett / USA TODAY Network vice president, news performance, talent, and partnerships.
- Lessen the reliance on outdated practices of outside agencies. “One of the things we encounter a lot as journalists, especially from public agencies, law enforcement, specifically, or the coroner’s, is they might tend to deadname people — misidentifying them, you know, by their previous name, Serna said.
- Put curiosity and learning first. “Part of our tact has been to get everybody up to at least an acceptable level of understanding around [newer] issues. What do the terms mean, when is it appropriate to use this term or this term,” Allen said.
- Give your team a voice in shaping coverage. “This is about contributing to the journalism and sharpening coverage,” Thompson said. “We find that our staffers are looking for an opportunity to do that. They don’t want to read it after it’s published and it’s not quite right.”
Missed the conversation? Watch here:
From earlier this week: Tips on improving inclusive coverage