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Earlier this month, more than sixty journalists, editors, and representatives from journalism organizations convened for the second UNITY: Journalists for Diversity’s “Diversity Caucus.” Participants discussed UNITY’s new direction and brainstormed on best practices for engaging more diversity in the newsroom.
The caucus came at a critical moment in UNITY’s history, according to UNITY Executive Director Eloiza Altoro. That’s because the organization recently had weathered internal strife after two of its founding organizations, National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), left over concerns about money and governance. In the months that followed, the organization has struggled to regroup and redefine its mission to with little success.
At the Diversity Caucus, Altoro posed a question to participants: Is UNITY still viable as an organization?
Caucus participants overwhelmingly agreed that UNITY was still relevant to journalism and strongly recommended that UNITY focus on moving forward rather than continue to define itself by the past. Participants envisioned UNITY as an umbrella organization that would promote diversity of all kinds, provide training to journalists and newsrooms, aggregate activities from individual ethnic journalism organizations, and recognize good examples of newsroom diversity. Participants also emphasized that UNITY should not detract from nor duplicate efforts from individual ethnic journalism organizations.
That weekend, UNITY’s board of directors voted to turn many of those recommendations into actionable steps, setting the groundwork for a new UNITY that will continue to solicit input from members of the journalism community.
In addition to providing feedback on UNITY’s new direction, participants a the Diversity Caucus engaged in a robust conversation on best practices for increasing diversity in newsrooms and news stories. Some highlights from the discussion include:
- Start from the top: In order for real change to occur, CEOs need to be involved said Virgil Smith, Gannett’s Vice President for Diversity. In addition, middle managers, who are often the gatekeepers for specific news stories, need to be on board with bringing more diverse stories into the news mix.
- Do an internal diversity audit: Keith Woods, NPR’s Vice President for Diversity in news and operations, launched a three-year project to increase diverse voices in NPR’s stories. But before he started, he looked at baseline numbers. They were shocking: 71 percent of sources were male and 79 percent of sources were white. The lesson? You never really know how your organization is doing until you look at the numbers.
- Get out of the newsroom: The best way to find diverse stories or to build a diverse source list is to take the time to get out of the newsroom. Neal Justin of the Star-Tribune noted how his newspaper would invite members from ethnic communities out to lunch for an off-the-record conversation about the issues in their community.
- Re-frame your stories: Jon Funabiki, executive director of Renaissance Journalism Center emphasized that the way we frame our stories tend to lead to less diverse stories. “For example, we always write about ‘poverty,’ but what if we looked at the wealth gap instead? That’s a very different story with very different sources,” he said.
- Look for micro-communities and fly-over communities: These communities include prisons, Midwestern United States, and immigrant enclaves. They all have diverse and rich stories to offer.
- Expand your idea of diversity: Diversity isn’t just about color. Make sure you’re including diversity of thought, geographic diversity, and socioeconomic diversity in your stories as well. And remember to look at who isn’t at the table. It’s important to give them a voice as well.
UNITY Journalists for Diversity is a strategic alliance that:
- Advocates fair and accurate coverage about diversity — especially race, nationality, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation.
- Aggressively challenges that industry to staff its organizations at all levels to reflect the country’s diversity.
The UNITY board is made up of representatives from the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association, and NLGJA: The Association of LGBT Journalists.