Panelists at SAJA awards share experience, methods to improve newsroom diversity

by Tabitha Richmond
Oct 22, 2018 in Diversity
SAJA panel

South Asian journalists and those who have covered the region were invited to celebrate the work of more than 30 finalists at the 18th annual South Asian Journalists Association’s (SAJA) Awards Ceremony last week at The National Press Club.

During the ceremony, a panel consisting of Sudeep Reddy from POLITICO, Kainaz Amaria from Vox and Idrees Ali from Reuters News Agency gave tips for increasing diversity in the newsroom and how it can lead to increased trust in the media.

Many news organizations and reporters are wrestling with questions of diversity. During the panel, Amaria quoted an article published by The Washington Post that explores the culture of the White House press briefing room, which is dominated by white reporters.

Ali has experienced this lack of diversity firsthand. He is one of the only people of color covering national security and working with the Pentagon. “To have a person who is nonwhite and non-American is very different,” Ali stated. “But I do think that [the military] really appreciates the perspective that’s brought in by the coverage and the way we ask questions.”

Including different perspectives in the media is critical for people to feel represented in the country, said Reddy and Amaria.

“As journalism at the local level is eroded, I think it’s only natural that people start to mistrust [the media] because they see people climb in and tell their stories,” Amaria said. Subjects and audiences,don’t see themselves represented by the reporters that are covering local stories. “That’s where having different points of view comes in.”SAJA

She added that newsrooms need to start examining themselves to make sure they are representing the population in all its diversity. Doing so is one way to rebuild the eroding trust in national media outlets because people will have a higher chance of relating to those who are reporting their stories.

How do newsrooms increase diversity so that their audience feels like they are all being represented?

In an interview after the panel ended, Amaria shared some tips.

Make diversity a business priority.

Think about increasing diversity on all levels. While it’s important to incorporate a diverse staff at the reporting level, it should also be considered in middle management and leadership positions to generate a holistic approach.

If you’re organization is struggling, bring in experts to create new diversity initiatives and who can draw in a wide array of applicants.

Be transparent.

Share your newsroom’s numbers, which will help you to hold your newsroom accountable. According to the 2017 survey of minority percentages in newsrooms published by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), over 200 of the participating newsrooms across the United States had an all-white staff.

It’s important to participate in surveys like these to show that your newsroom values diversity, is aware of its shortcomings and will make an effort to move towards increased diversity in the future. You should also highlight your efforts recruiting and maintaining new staff, to keep your own employees and watchdog groups informed.

Elevate all voices.

Don’t continuously promote the same person’s voice. Make sure that the communications and social media teams are boosting a variety of stories and ideas from all members of the newsroom. Promoting a variety of stories and ideas equally will help build a wider, more diverse audience.

Create employee resource groups for diverse communities.

Part of building diversity is ensuring that it can be retained. Creating resource groups will give  underrepresented employees a place to go to where they can speak freely and work to influence the business and management. When executed well, employee resource groups can also help members develop leadership skills, increase visibility, recruit new and diverse staff and gain access to high-level employees.

For an example on how resource groups create a positive impact, Vox Media received a score of 95/100 rating for corporate equality from Human Rights Council, and cites resource groups as one of their successful diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Images courtesy of Alexandra Sarabia/SAJA.