As The Center for Investigative Reporting and The Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education prepare to welcome the inaugural group of Dori J. Maynard senior research fellows in July, we held our first Equity Exchange in Washington. The goal was to bring together individuals working across media to share challenges, concerns, questions and success stories related to equity in coverage, story development, staffing, management and engagement of diverse communities.

The discussion highlighted many challenges newsroom staff members face when considering equity issues.

Participants raised questions about how to make a business case for greater equity in media. For example, do newsrooms with greater staff diversity generate more revenue than those with less diverse staffs? Some asked what other industries have researched this question. Participants wanted to know whether programming and content designed to reach new demographic groups does, in fact, reach those audiences and, if so, what a successful case looks like.

One focus emerged about internal processes behind the choice of which stories to cover and how to report and edit them. For example, how and why are stories that deal with race or ethnicity killed internally? What are the pressure points in this process, and how could they be relieved? Participants talked about institutional barriers to the publication of stories with angles that might make some within an organization uncomfortable. Often, editors look for what one attendee called “the magic unicorn” source who makes an editor who lacks cultural competency accept a story’s angle as valid. Participants asked: What must be present within an organization for diverse angles to be not only tolerated, but embraced?

Attendees encouraged the fellows to look at subject areas that journalists of color find interesting. Of those, which ones draw interest from communities of color, too, and are news organizations pursuing those stories? To reach diverse audiences, broadcast news organizations have designed shows that they hope connect with diverse communities, but the results have been mixed. What are communities of color looking for in shows, and what has to be present for these diversity efforts to be successful?

Leadership development in news organizations – and who ascends the ladder, who doesn’t and why – were other key topics of interest. Participants wondered whether there is a connection between university students who choose to major – or not major – in journalism and a perceived gap in the “supply chain” of senior editors equipped to address challenges of equity in content production.

And what about journalism education in general? How does a curriculum contribute to who journalists think are appropriate sources for stories, what topic areas merit coverage and what perspective a story can and should take? How does the education they receive affect their general approach or where they get hired or want to work?

Participants felt strongly that the fellows should be immersed in real-life situations so their findings are relevant. One participant from the American Press Institute said early attempts to do academic research to inform newsrooms was unsuccessful because managers thought it wasn’t easily accessible or relevant. The fellows need to be plugged in to the working journalism community, not just the academic realm.

We’ll continue to have more Equity Exchanges over the course of the coming year. If you want to be part of this growing network, share your email address here. And if you have real-life questions, challenges or success stories about equity in media, please share it with us online using the hashtag #EquityEx.

Lindsay Green-Barber can be reached at lgreenbarber@cironline.org.

Lindsay Green-Barber

Green-Barber is the director of strategic research at The Center for Investigative reporting. She works to identify, assess and rigorously test areas of programmatic work where CIR can have catalytic impact through its content distribution and engagement. She leads research and analysis and serves as an expert both internally and for external partnerships.
Previously, Green-Barber was an American Council for Learned Societies public fellow and served as media impact analyst at CIR. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York Graduate Center. Her doctoral research, conducted from 2011 through 2013 in Ecuador, focused on indigenous organizations’ use of new information and communications technologies for social mobilization. She also taught political science courses at Hunter College.