Reframing the Diversity Conversation
April 19, 2011
Lately there has been some discussion about how we can get the issue of diversity in journalism back on the table. Clearly the changing demographics and the growing gulf between journalists and the communities they cover have not sparked a renewed commitment to ensure that our newsrooms reflect our country.
Do we need to rethink how we start the conversation? And, do we also need to revisit our premises to make sure we’re on the same page?
Previously, when media professionals talked about diversity and total community coverage, those pushing for diversity in staffing and content were sometimes dismissed by colleagues who said “that’s just good journalism.” Yet as our newsrooms failed to reflect our population, whole swaths of many communities continued to get short shrift.
Of course we know that dwindling resources have restricted the scope of what some traditional news organizations can do. Training that would help journalists increase their reach has been cut. Training that would help grow a diverse pool of media managers has been cut, and the number of journalists of color continues to dwindle.
But if the inability for news organization to reflect their communities really is a matter of resources, that begs the question of why so few news organizations take advantage of free resources. Recently, at the American Society of News Editors annual conference, only a few members actually attended the diversity panel.
That is not an uncommon occurrence.
For those who say they are truly interested in diversity, those free panels might yield a few ideas for how to better ensure that the coverage reflects the totality of their communities.
But if diversity really is not a priority, perhaps now is the time to just admit it.
That might spark a few difficult conversations.
It might also go a long way toward at least ensuring that we stop having circular conversations that frustrate most involved and go nowhere.
On the other hand, if diversity really is a priority, now is the time to put energy behind it.
As a reader commented on my last column, many in the industry ignored warnings about what the new technology might mean for traditional news organizations.
Today we know how that worked out.
It’s entirely possible that the combination of changing demographics and the low barriers to entry in the digital space will have an equally devastating effect on traditional media.
The news industry has long struggled to make the connection between diversity and increased audience. A recent piece on National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” looked at how Home and Garden Television’s intentional efforts to diversify its programs, from the hosts to the homebuyers has resulted in increased ratings, particularly amongst viewers of color.
Looking at HGTV and other industry success stories might be one way to rekindle the diversity conversation. But it will only work if everybody participating in the conversation is not only on board, but also willing to be entirely upfront about their goals and the amount of effort they are willing to expend.
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