In our kickoff of the Inside the Inclusion Index series last week, we gave you an overview of how your newsroom benefits from building a sustainable DEIB plan, and resources on where you can begin to take action — starting with the Inclusion Index rubric. As we continue to highlight our findings from the Pittsburgh news ecosystem, consider the importance of trust in this work.

On a scale from one to five, the Pittsburgh news ecosystem scored a low 1.0 in this area. Residents of color deeply distrust the local media after yearslong, public instances of offensive  editorials and columns, mistreatment of reporters of color, racist statements made by local reporters and questionable decisions related to coverage of communities of color.

The participating Pittsburgh newsrooms recently presented their plans to address this distrust, which include engaging marginalized communities directly by hosting more frequent listening sessions, developing feedback committees that include community stakeholders and addressing the hiring and retention of more staff of color.

Newsrooms need to build trust with their readers from marginalized communities — not only is it part of journalism’s ethical ethos, but it’s also connected to your newsroom’s sustainability as a business. Communities of color ultimately want to feel seen and have their experiences adequately and fully represented in local media. Identifying that your newsroom needs an assessment like the Inclusion Index is the first step, but it’s fair to acknowledge how challenging it can be to recognize the pain points that need to be addressed — and how they even came to be.

ASSESS YOUR NEWSROOM These five signs and thought starters will help you reflect on what is currently embedded in your newsroom’s workplace culture and operations, and how that impacts community trust. The demographic makeup of your full-time newsroom staff is homogenous and does not represent the community it covers. Have you looked around your newsroom and noticed that almost every member of staff and management looks like you? Is it difficult to recruit staff and interns of diverse and marginalized backgrounds?  Your newsroom’s staff of color find it difficult to express concerns and lack the needed resources to thrive, so they leave after short periods of time. Is it challenging to retain staff of color after you’ve gotten them through the door? Do you conclude the work environment wasn’t the most welcoming and open for them to communicate their concerns about their role after their exit? Your newsroom’s coverage isn’t as fair as it should be when covering marginalized communities, so these same communities don’t trust your news organization as a local media resource. When you canvas the coverage of marginalized communities from your newsroom, does it fall under mostly crime and sports/entertainment? Do you find your newsroom publishing editorials and reports that reinforce stereotypes that offend the communities they impact?  Your newsroom’s coverage tends to tap the same sources to comment on behalf of marginalized communities, as your reporters are not regularly engaged with key community stakeholders. Does your newsroom give reporters on the ground the space to visit the communities they report on outside of needing a quote for a piece? Do they tend to pitch reactionary story ideas based on press releases from the same publicists and spokespeople?  Your newsroom doesn’t have a structure to receive constructive feedback from marginalized communities on how to build trust and improve coverage. Does your newsroom tend to manage community feedback based on comments found on social media? Has your newsroom ever considered hosting consistent, in-person listening sessions with the community?


In your newsroom

  • Work collaboratively. For your newsroom’s DEIB efforts to succeed, getting buy-in from all levels of your organization and ensuring your diversity committee doesn’t solely depend on the few people of color in your organization is key. Chalkbeat shared how they were able to embed DEIB principles in their organization and transform their newsroom, including locking in executive-level support from the beginning. Their DEIB working group is composed of volunteers from entry-level staff to senior leaders and team members representing different ages, gender identities, sexual orientations and racial backgrounds.
  • Use your influence and privilege. If you have the power to allocate budgets in your newsroom, devote funds to DEIB initiatives. Think about how your newsroom’s budget could address pay inequities, diversity training for staff and funding for memberships and conferences hosted by affinity organizations. Emma Carew Grovum provides these tips, alongside how your newsroom can get started and keep the momentum, in “The year to resist forgetting about diversity.”

In your community

  • Invest in relationships. Chalkbeat’s field guide details how they bake authentic listening into everything they do, from tracking source diversity to issuing frequent reader callouts to solicit feedback. Their approach also includes continuously evolving their use of language and core values to respond to current events. By designing their events and products to be accessible and trust-building — and viewing those efforts as service journalism — their newsrooms are able to connect with people outside of their usual readership.
  • Produce journalism that engages and gives back. Try using a high-touch, low-tech approach to connect with marginalized audiences, spread the word about your reporting and garner feedback. Asking for community help with reporting is a form of sourcing, fact-checking and trust-building — it strengthens your stories while involving people affected by your coverage. And don’t forget to circle back to the people and audiences who have helped with your reporting — sustaining these relationships is just as important as building them.

+ Coming up: Pittsburgh newsroom participants, consultants and community members reflect on their experiences participating in the Inclusion Index program. 

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