Improving diversity and inclusion in the news. Takeaways from ONA21

Jul 1, 2021 in Diversity and Inclusion
People on the street with trans and rainbow flags

During the past year, many news organizations and associations around the world ramped up efforts to improve their practices around diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This year’s Online News Association (ONA21) conference, which took place in June, offered a variety of sessions on these issues.

From understanding diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) as key ingredients for sustainable growth, to sharing tips for web accessibility, media professionals discussed a wide range of topics on how to improve approaches to these challenges in journalism. Here are five takeaways that you can start implementing in your own organization.

1. Taking the pulse of your staff

Last year, California’s inewsource decided that DEI was going to become part of everything they did as an organization, explained CEO and Editor Lorie Hearn, during one of the sessions. 

Her newsroom started with an internal audit: a survey to take the pulse of their staff, to better understand if they felt included and how they saw their organization’s attitude. While many of the responses were positive, some provided feedback on what was wrong: it felt like an organization for white people.

In order to make DEI part of everything inewsource is – including staff, donors and its board – they hired an expert to chart a way forward. They created committees and developed action items to help tackle the issues. They opened discussions about inclusivity and developed protocols for hiring processes to ensure diversity. Now, they use inclusive language in their job postings and offer trainings on topics like implicit bias or allyship.

“A little advice: you hope for the best, you prepare for the worst when you do a survey. Keep an open mind, listen, listen and listen some more,” Hearn said.

[Read more: Advancing diversity and inclusion in the news media]

2. Listening to community members’ needs

Sustainability not only refers to revenue, but also to an outlet’s relationship with the community it serves. For that reason, The Oaklandside, another California-based outlet,makes sure that it’s listening to community members and identifying their needs. That’s how the newsroom strives for diversity and inclusion in its coverage.

The Oaklandside started by asking what people wanted from a news organization, said Managing Editor Jacon Simas during the same panel. They used that feedback to create their foundational values: People wanted to see themselves and include community voices in the newsroom’s reporting. 

The outlet also created a community advisory board, which reads three articles per week and provides feedback. Members of that group are selected from different neighborhoods in Oakland, and come from different backgrounds in terms of gender, race and length of time living in the city. “We’re paying these folks, they’re invested in this process,” Simas added.

3. Paying attention to source diversity

The sources that journalists choose to quote in their stories influences whose stories get told, who is seen and who is listened to. For that reason, ONA21 hosted a panel with media professionals who have been working toward diversifying their pool of sources in recent years.

Caroline Bauman, a community engagement strategist at Chalkbeat, said that the education-focused U.S. outlet tallied the gender, race and ethnicity demographics of two of their reporting series from 2018 and 2019. They realized that they were over-representing white voices when compared to the makeup of the school districts they cover.

In order to track this data, Bauman suggested your newsroom ask the following questions as a starting point:

  • What do you want to track and why — what do you want to learn?
  • What are you benchmarking your audit against?
  • How will you use the audit process to change your own patterns of behavior, or that of your newsroom’s? 

Ki Sung, senior editor of MindShift at KQED, added that her organization uses a form built in their CMS to track this kind of data.

[Read more: Reporting during two pandemics: COVID-19 and racism]

4. Addressing racial blind spots

Understanding and identifying one’s implicit biases or blind spots are also key steps for inclusive coverage. The Washington Post’s Nicole Dungca shared advice on how to address these issues, in a panel centered on building the necessary cultural literacy to confront them.

For Dungca, better educating yourself about the history of anti-Asian racism or the history of anti-Blackness, for example, is paramount. Without doing that, a journalist can miss phrases or terms that are hurtful for some communities and which may perpetuate stereotypes. She also suggested adding context to the coverage and being a good co-worker with colleagues who might be struggling with upsetting events.

5. Caring about web accessibility

Making journalism accessible isn’t a feature on your website, but a responsibility of everyone in the newsroom. For people interested in improving web accessibility, ONA21 offered a best practices session on this matter.

Led by Patrick Garvin, an adjunct instructor at the Missouri School of Journalism, the discussion centered on websites and web tools that are properly designed and coded so people with disabilities can use them.

Garvin urged journalists to be mindful of the barriers that keep people from being able to consume what they publish and to pose accessibility questions early and often when developing a website. Here are some of these questions:

  • How will someone use this if they can't use a mouse? 
  • How can they see this if they can't distinguish the colors? 
  • How will the link text make sense on its own? 
  • Where are the captions for this video, and where's the transcript? 

“Ask questions early and often. Come up with a plan across departments and disciplines in your newsroom,” Garvin said.

Photo by Josh Wilburne on Unsplash.