Diversifying newsroom investigative teams, long the domain of white male reporters, is essential for providing accountability journalism in underserved communities and requires persistence, mentorship and sponsorship to succeed, three veteran investigative journalists said Friday.
Cheryl W. Thompson, investigative correspondent for NPR and president of Investigative Reporters and Editors, and Maria Perez, investigative reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, discussed the need for more inclusive investigative reporting in a program moderated by Manny Garcia, senior editor for the ProPublica-Texas Tribune Investigative Initiative. The program was hosted by the National Press Club Journalism Institute and the News Leaders Association.
- Editors need to support their reporters, Thompson says, and tell them: “I’m going to trust you on this.”
- Mentors are key, a point Thompson emphasized for her alumni publication: “You need somebody who knows the politics of a place. Someone politically savvy; someone who is well respected among management.”
- When hiring, define intangibles (such as “fit”) for the job before interviewing anyone. That can help neutralize unconscious bias.
Importance of diversity
Perez: The issue of diversifying newsrooms is not just because reporters who are different, who are female, working class, people of color need a job. The issue is so that communities that have traditionally been underserved can be better served if you hire people who come from those communities or who are able to understand those communities better.
Garcia: The country has changed, and the reflection that we have in many of our news organizations, just still are not mirroring the communities, and that’s impacting our ability to grow as an organization.
Diversifying positions of leadership
Thompson: How do you expect to cover issues and institutions and individuals fairly without that representation? I’ve always been asked, as recently as yesterday, ‘Do you know someone of color who would be good to run this team or that team?’ … And the fact that there are few people in the pipeline to step into those roles says that there’s a problem.
Importance of mentoring and sponsoring
Garcia: In mentoring, you’re helping someone through career advancement and different ideas… sponsorship is the person who’s going to bring your name up in a room when you’re not there. If there’s a job opportunity, he’s going to say, ‘I’ve got the right candidate.’ When you go from mentor to sponsor, you have worked with someone, you’ve built a relationship of trust, and they’re willing to put their name and reputation behind you.
Small newsrooms with few resources
Perez: You have to cover every story thoroughly. But there are some stories you don’t need to make 10 phone calls. You constantly need to be assessing the value of your time. I would advise to not work all the time. … You need to be part of the community, and you need to have a life. Your stories are going to be better if you have a life, and your stories are going to be better if you don’t spend all your time working.
Thompson: If the resources are short, you have to figure out as an editor what is more important to your viewership, your listeners, your readership, and do those stories. And sometimes forgo a daily story that you can come back to later and do the bigger piece that is really going to matter.
Investigative Reporters & Editors is a wonderful resource. They have amazing training directors. If you go on the website there are tip sheets and all kinds of resources for every level of newsroom, from the smallest ones to the major ones.
How to push editors to hire persons of color
Thompson: Persistence pays off. If you keep bugging that editor, and putting someone’s resume, talking someone up — you can’t make them hire, but you can at least make them pay attention. … Sometimes people will just do what you ask just to get rid of you.
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