Reframing the Diversity Conversation

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Dori Maynard
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.

 
  

Comments

Diversity may be essential to quality, but not the bottom line

Given what we know about human bias and society's fault lines, journalists cannot hope to cover a diverse community without a diverse staff. They just won't get it right. 

But as news media tailor content to attract advertisers, they introduce a bias based on the audience's customer potential. Topics attracting upscale 18-54 year olds get more attention than those relevant to younger, older and the growing army of poorer Americans. 

 

re: Diversity may be essential to quality, but not the bottom l

While that might not be my idea of a viable business model for the long term, it also begs the question of what it means for upscale 18-54 year old people of color?

Reframing the Diversity Conversation

Are you still listening to voicemail?

The passage of proposition 209 killed any intelligent conversation about diversity.  I heard a presentation from a Japanese bank owned US domicile's African American diversity office, that they have repackaged "diversity" training and has the programs full backing from its board. My thought on the issue of diversity " same soup different bowl, same results."

Think Globalization! Think Video technology--podcasts...Think about the next step after blogging...You are starting to sound like Spike Lee.

These mammoth media outlets are sluggishly responding to the new technological age and are baffled as how to do react...opportunities await us.

After what I know about corporate --I am not sure if in good conscience (ethics 101) refer a friend--It is my vision that the next generation of economies will not look like what we know it as....Are you viewing this on your mobile device?

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