Much has been said over the years, and quite rightly so, about the fact that if journalism exists to serve the public, then it makes sense that the demographic makeup of journalists should look like the public. Recognizing the many facets of diversity is essential for providing fair and accurate coverage of people, events, and issues. But the American Society of News Editors, which performs an annual census of U.S. newsrooms, found that in 2016 minority journalists comprised just 17 percent of the workforce.
The most prominent and oft-discussed facet of diversity is, of course, race— and the industry still has a long way to go in terms of ensuring fair representation. Pew Research Center projected last year that by 2055, the U.S. will not have a single racial or ethnic majority, and over the next five decades the majority of U.S. population growth will be linked to new Asian and Hispanic immigration.
When it comes down to it, what does “diversifying” as a verb actually mean? To me it means recognizing the need for greater representation and keeping that need in mind when hiring and also throughout the journalistic process. It helps to reflect constantly on the sources you’re using for a story to make sure they are representative of the issues being discussed. This may sometimes mean privileging minority voices over others— one of a journalist’s most important jobs is to give voice to the voiceless, after all— but this is not always the case.
In Missouri, among journalism institutions that chose to disclose their newsroom demographics to the ASNE, such as several local newspapers, the majority do not employ any minority races at all. To be fair, small local newspapers often draw their staff from the nearby areas, and one could argue that some of these papers are serving communities that are home to a population that is so dominated by one race, the fact that few home-grown minority race journalists have arisen is not all that surprising. That being said, the fact that the minority population in these communities is so small— and is sometimes particularly vulnerable— means that journalists who work there must take special care to work to understand them and treat them fairly. In Kirksville, MO, where I went to college, there is actually a relatively large population of Congolese immigrants, many of whom have settled into a comfortable life in northeast Missouri, but of course face cultural challenges. In this instance, unless one of the immigrants is hired by the local paper (which of course is possible), finding a “minority journalist” who is able to cover Congolese issues from a Congolese perspective for Kirksville is very unlikely. In this instance, local journalists must be diligent in ensuring they cover Congolese issues fairly, and as they continue to cover the group and get to know its members, it will get easier and easier for them.
But race is far from the only important facet of diversity to consider. Recognizing that there are many more that we could mention, what else do we mean when we say minority? Is it possible to look like everyone else in the newsroom and still be a minority?
I would argue that yes, it is. As a person who takes my religion seriously, I have often felt like a minority in many of the newsrooms I’ve worked in. I think part of the reason for this is that is that, as mentioned before, a person’s religion cannot always be inferred just by looking at them, and may not be something that regularly comes up in conversation. Sometimes I simply do not feel comfortable sharing my religious beliefs with others in the newsroom because I’m afraid that my views could clash with the views of others. But in today’s world in which religious issues of all kinds are at the forefront of public debate, journalists should neither shy away from these kinds of stories nor be afraid to ask for clarification or advice when writing about a religion that is not their own.
The important thing to remember is that all viewpoints deserve to be covered fairly— even if it seems as though that viewpoint is already the “majority.” Does your newsroom have policies to ensure that all religions are being protected?