Communities will benefit from the commitment of news leaders to staff diversity

By Mizell Stewart III, President, American Society of News Editors

As the news media transform, the urgent need for the nation’s newsrooms to reflect America, in all its facets, is more vital than ever. We need the help of every news leader to make that a reality.

As digital platforms, such as Google and Facebook, and digital-only news organizations grow in influence, reach and revenue, it is critical that issues of diversity be on their agenda, as well.
That’s why the American Society of News Editors is proud to welcome Google News Lab as a new partner in its annual Newsroom Employment Diversity Survey. We are launching the 2017 survey more committed than ever to helping news leaders advance the cause of diversity in staffing, as well as content and coverage.
Your participation in this effort is critical if ASNE is to present an accurate picture of the makeup of the U.S. newsroom workforce. It is an important credibility issue during a time when many question our ability to truly reflect the communities we serve.
Almost 50 years ago, the Kerner Commission, also known as the National Advisory Committee on Civil Disorders, declared, “the journalistic profession has been shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring, training and promoting Negroes.” Ten years later, ASNE set an ambitious goal for newsrooms to reach parity with the percentage of people of color, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, Native Americans and African-Americans, in the U.S. population by 2000.
The ASNE diversity survey was established to help track progress toward that goal. Unfortunately, the year 2000 came and went with the U.S. newsroom workforce far short of the desired mark; in the meantime, ASNE extended the deadline for reaching parity to 2025.
In my more pessimistic moments, I believe our industry has made little progress since 1968. That is not because of a willful disregard for diversity; on the contrary, countless programs and initiatives are in place with the goal of bringing persons of color and women into the industry, and women and persons of color occupy top leadership positions in media organizations of all stripes.
The lack of progress is palpable because the continuing transformation of media business models has led to dramatic reductions in newsroom employment, particularly at local newspapers.
In many legacy news organizations, moving the needle on staff diversity took a back seat to the survival of the enterprise. Instead of a tool to keep issues of diversity on the front burner, the ASNE survey was used as an annual barometer of the changing fortunes of local newsrooms.
Our Diversity Committee made several changes to the 2016 survey to address those issues. We quickly recognized that some of those changes were viewed negatively. We adjusted immediately once that feedback was received and are redoubling our commitment to transparency, sharing staff statistics from each participating newsroom.
This year, with the help of Google and the continuing support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, we are adding questions about best practices in coverage and community engagement to provide news leaders with actionable strategies for better reflecting community interests.
We are also increasing efforts to reach digital-only news organizations and exploring ways to more deeply examine the challenges for news leaders across all platforms aiming to diversify their staffs.
To make the survey as useful as possible to you, to your news organization and to the communities you serve, we need your participation. Please take the time to complete the survey. If you don’t receive an invitation to complete the survey by the end of this week, then please reach out to ASNE at diversityresearch@asne.org.
Thank you in advance for your commitment to furthering the cause of diversity. By working together, we can help our newsrooms truly mirror our communities and our country.

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