Attention to diversity must include investment in talent development in newsrooms, panelists at ISOJ said

On the second day of the 23rd ISOJ (International Symposium on Online Journalism), four journalists dedicated to addressing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) shared their impressions on the panel “Diversity in newsrooms and in the news: Cultural change, content audits and other initiatives.”

Charo Henríquez, development and newsroom support editor for The New York Times (USA); Flavia Lima, diversity editor and assistant editor for diversity at Folha de S.Paulo (Brazil); and Keith Woods, director of diversity at NPR public radio (USA), spoke with moderator Manny García, executive editor of the Austin American-Statesman (USA).

García started the conversation by asking the panelists about cultural change in newsrooms and the stimulus to the development of journalists' careers by news companies.

“Managing change has had to be part of what we do as a generation of journalists who are introducing digital change in newsrooms,” Henríquez said. She added that the NYT newsroom development and support team has been working “to make sure that we have the right skill sets in place, so that it's not constantly rewarding the same things, and offering development and moving people up the ladder who have the same skills and same backgrounds and the same understanding of journalism. But actually building out new kinds of pipelines of talent who approach the work differently, because the industry is changing. Who we bring in, and not only who we bring in, but how we lead change from within, also has to change.”

For Woods, an important aspect to make the organizational culture of news organizations more inclusive is to normalize the debate on diversity, “so that it becomes something other than that annual box checking exercise in some organizations or the crisis response,” he said.

“We've made twice monthly conversations about race a regular thing at NPR now over the past year. We've incorporated the ideas of diversity into all training, so it isn't the thing that you do after you've been trained in how to write a story and how to use a microphone and all of the other things that might be part of the job. To change the culture, you have to go hard at inequity and exclusion. You can't create a culture in which you talk about something and then don't do anything about it,” Woods said.

Lima talked about some changes introduced by Folha to change the company's culture in order to make the newsroom and content produced by the newspaper more diverse. Among them are carrying out a demographic census of the newsroom and an internal survey on the diversity of sources and journalistic production, “to help us assess where we are and where we want to be.” As well as creating a committee of 16 journalists, coordinated by Lima, “whose role is to present inclusion demands to the management and amplify the communication channels between the newsroom and the leadership.”

“We also promote well-being initiatives such as having a psychologist available for journalists from Monday to Friday, especially during the pandemic, and a gender-neutral bathroom as well,” Lima said.

Woods noted that NPR has conducted an annual survey on the diversity of its sources since 2013. The first edition of the survey found that in that year, 80% of NPR's sources were white people and 28% were women. From there, the goal was to diversify the sources in order to “to look and sound like America,” he said.

“In the last two years, we've begun to do a much more real-time tracking of our sources. In fact, we created software for our organization a year ago to allow us to track the sources as a part of the regular workflow in our content management system. We created this thing that allows you to put your sources into the system as you're beginning to write your story, in either digital or for audio, that you have to put that information in [about the sources],” Woods said. He also shared the latest NPR source diversity data for 2021: 69% were white and 41% were women.

Henriquez noted that, in addition to the numbers, “it’s the systems that need to change.”

“Whenever we talk about diversity, it's about ‘we need to hire more people of color,’ and that's fantastic. That's one part. But that's not the answer to the question. What happens when journalists are in your newsroom? How are you developing their careers? How are you offering mobility? How are you coaching them and elevating their reporting? The same goes for our coverage. Are we only talking to sources of color when we're covering communities of color? Are we only talking to victims of color, but experts that are not from communities of color?,” she questioned.

“It's about understanding how we're doing our journalism, how we are staffing and who our audiences are. So when we talk about diversity, equity and inclusion, it's about the systems that we have in place. It's about communication. It's about the whole process,” Henríquez said.