Are newsrooms really moving closer to equity and inclusion? ‘I think it’s different this time’
News organizations have shared a lot of ideas in the last few months: new diversity leadership positions, new task forces, new projects. But after years of systemic racism in America’s newsrooms, has anything really changed?
AP deputy managing editor Amanda Barrett, Star Tribune editor & senior vice president Rene Sanchez, and president of the National Association of Black Journalists Dorothy Tucker discussed what’s next for newsrooms pushing toward equity at a Journalism Institute and National Press Club Communicators Committee program on Friday. Michael McCarter, USA Today managing editor of standards, ethics and inclusion, moderated the conversation.
One priority the speakers emphasized as a path toward diversity and inclusion in the newsroom is recruitment and advancement of staff.
On the gap between entry-level opportunities and retention
Tucker: There are mentorship programs, there are apprenticeship programs, there are fellowship or scholarship programs that help people get in business. … The problem is that there’s a gap. You know, they get in. And then there is nothing to do to continue that mentorship, to continue that relationship, to continue to give them opportunities. So after four, five years, six years, they leave.
Barrett: Let’s face it: Journalism was not always great at helping people create career paths just from the get go. … For us, I know we can be very hierarchical. And we have committees, but there’s always the same people on the committees. Can we pull some other people in? Can we give them a chance to lead? Give them a chance to try something new? Because we know that we need them to build those skills. Because we need them to be leaders in the newsroom in the not-so-distant future.
On hiring at the boardroom
Barrett: I am really fed up with the idea that the only way that we can bring in minority journalists is to bring them in on the entry level. There are plenty of people like me who’ve been in the business 30 years. They’ve been doing the work for a very long time. Why are they not being considered? That’s just something we really have to focus on.
Tucker: Hire them right at the boardroom. People of color have the kind of experience, they’ve been in the industry long enough, they can come in as executive editors. … So just start there. You know, we shouldn’t always have to start on the bottom. We should be able to start at the top as well.
Sanchez: What we’re striving to do with more intensity, to do better, is frankly to increase accountability. What I mean by that is to increase accountability on this issue in every single department of the newsroom. … What we’re hoping is that if we can increase accountability in each department in a structural way over the next year, a lot more will bloom. And then that critical mass would present to journalists of color coming in at all different stages of their career. You know, they see the commitment, they see themselves, they see peers like them, and then that’s how it gets sustained.
On expanding the circle
Barrett: There’s also power in just talking to people about what you are looking for. What are the exact qualifications? Because one of the things that we found was that, you know, there’d be a supposedly list of qualifications, and then someone would come along who was a friend, but someone who does something totally different like speak French. And that’s what we say is what we’re basing the hire on. Well that wasn’t in the qualifications for the job.
Tucker: You have to make sure that you are searching beyond your small circle. And that means reaching out to organizations like the NABJ, with 4,100 members. You know, we have databases of editors. We have databases of producers. We have databases that we’re now developing of freelancers.
On thinking beyond the “Rooney Rule”
Sanchez: I have literally invoked the Rooney Rule here to our leaders because, on the one hand, it sounds great. But let’s assess it; like where are we X years later when you look at the landscape of professional football and head coaching? And I think it could easily be argued that that hasn’t been that effective. … It’s a kind of box-checking exercise, and so we have invoked that directly as a clear sign of how this can go way off track or start a strong rhetoric but have no consequence. … We’re trying to create a culture of full ownership, not box checking, because I think that is the key risk. And we’ll look up in a year, and we’ll have these sort of feel-good box checks but no consequences of change.
Tucker: I know that we may not be able to see these changes happen today or tomorrow. But I think it’s different this time. You know 50 years ago, individual companies were not putting together an action plan … There was a mandate from ASNE to do the right thing, and to make some changes, but now individually these companies are putting together a plan to make the difference. What we have to do is to make sure that they carry out those plans.
About the speakers
Amanda Barrett, deputy managing editor of AP, oversees newsroom talent development and manages the Nerve Center at AP’s New York headquarters. The Nerve Center serves as AP’s hub for global news coordination, research, customer communication and audience engagement.
As head of talent development, Barrett helps lead efforts to create career paths to retain talented staff across the globe, and to develop a more diverse workforce. She works with news leaders around the globe to drive more inclusive storytelling more fully representing the communities AP journalists cover.
Barrett joined AP in New York in 2007 as a content coordinator, working with journalists across the company on interactive projects. She became deputy East editor in 2009, helping to establish a new regional desk in Philadelphia and lead AP’s coverage of 10 northeastern U.S. states. Two years later, she returned to New York as city news editor, directing AP’s award-winning coverage of Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath. In 2015, she moved to the Nerve Center as planning and administration manager and assumed leadership in 2017.
Barrett has played a critical role in coordinating news coverage of many of the biggest stories of recent years, including hurricanes Harvey and Maria, the #MeToo movement and the 2018 Winter Olympics. Barrett also serves as a leader of AP’s race and ethnicity reporting team.
Before joining AP, Barrett worked at Newsday, where she led a team of interactive journalists and managed the NYNewsday.com and amNY.com websites. She previously worked as a sports editor at the Orlando Sentinel and at the Roanoke Times in her hometown of Roanoke, Va.
Rene Sanchez leads Minnesota’s largest news organization, overseeing all aspects of the Star Tribune’s print and digital editions. He joined the Star Tribune in 2004 as a regional reporter and was later named its Sunday editor. He has subsequently overseen the Metro, Business and Sports departments as well as special reporting projects and investigative work. He helped lead the Star Tribune’s investigation of child deaths at daycare facilities in Minnesota that earned the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting.
Sanchez’s journalism career began in New Orleans at The Times-Picayune, where he reported on sports and local news. He then spent 17 years as a local and national reporter for The Washington Post. In his last six years at the Post, he was based in Los Angeles, covering California and the American West.
A New Orleans native, Sanchez earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University.
Dorothy Tucker is President of the National Association of Black Journalists. A Chicago native, she has been a reporter for CBS 2 Chicago since 1984 and currently is a reporter on the station’s 2 Investigator team.
Tucker has been honored numerous times throughout her career. Her many awards include several local Emmys, including one for her breaking news reports during the 2008 Northern Illinois University shootings and two for her work on CBS 2 Chicago′s 2003 and 2004 broadcasts of the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon.
She was honored by the Chicago Association of Black Journalists with their annual award for Outstanding Television Reporting (1994 and 1987) and received a national UPI Spot News Award.
She joined CBS 2 Chicago from KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, where she worked as a general assignment reporter and talk show host. Prior to that, Tucker worked at KWGN-TV in Denver, as a general assignment reporter. Previously, she was a reporter and weekend anchor at WREG-TV in Memphis. (1979-80). Tucker began her broadcasting career in Peoria at WMBD-TV, after serving as an intern at CBS 2 Chicago in 1977.
Tucker is a former board member of Northwestern Alumni Association and a current member of the Northwestern University Leadership Circle. Tucker graduated, with honors, from Northwestern University with a B.S. in Communications. Tucker lives in Hyde Park and is the mother of three.
About the moderator
Michael McCarter is managing editor of standards, ethics and inclusion at USA TODAY. In this new role, McCarter works closely with USA TODAY journalists across the country focusing on five building blocks that include ethics, standards, mentoring, education and inclusion.
McCarter previously served as executive editor of Evansville Courier & Press of the USA TODAY Network, and also coordinated coverage with editors and reporters across Indiana and Kentucky.
Prior to his time in Evansville, McCarter worked for 10 years at the Cincinnati Enquirer, where he served as senior news director and director of photography before that.
A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, McCarter took an unconventional path into journalism through an elective photography class. After completing a photo internship at the Pensacola (Florida) News Journal, he began his career as a photographer at The Shreveport (Louisiana) Times while pursuing a master’s in psychology at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. Later, he moved to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution where he served as photo editor. He oversaw historic photo coverage of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and a special section commemorating the life and death of Coretta Scott King.
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