One moment years ago remains influential in my thinking about issues of diversity and inclusion inside and outside of the newsroom.
In the hallway of an upstate New York courthouse, a local Black pastor came up to me.
What he told me was quite jarring.
“Man, you’re a racist,” he told me.
I was dumbfounded.
I had taken my job with the specific goal of providing fair and representative coverage of the Black community. And as the only African American journalist in that newsroom, I took the responsibility of fairly covering Black people very seriously – so I thought.
But rather than ignore his claim, I went back and started taking a close look at the stories I was writing. Frankly, he was right to have such a perspective. More often than not, I wrote stories featuring Black criminality. I was not covering stories about everyday life within these communities.
How I got to that position – a Black reporter writing nothing but negative stories about the Black community – is one of the reasons I decided to go to graduate school to study how newsrooms cover and engage communities of color. And the further I got away from that moment, I came to understand that my failures were the result of multiple factors related to how I was trained, what issues the newsroom prioritized and how often our newsroom engaged communities of color on an everyday basis.
When newsrooms fail to adequately cover communities of color, there is no single reason why this happens. There also is no magic bullet or quick fix that can remedy the situation. Newsrooms must undergo an intense evaluation of how their practices both inside and outside the newsroom play a role in such coverage.
And it was my realization of that fact that led me to create the API Inclusion Index program.
API is under new leadership. Central to its new vision is that we must seek to dismantle newsroom policies and practices that impede newsrooms from adequately covering communities of color.
That is why the Inclusion Index program, which is based on direct research, assesses how newsrooms perform across several different areas essential to producing fair and just journalism for all communities. What we assess with the Index includes:
- The level of diversity within a newsroom
- The level of inclusion and belonging workers of color feel within the newsroom
- How communities of color are represented within news coverage
- How the newsroom engages communities of color
- The level of trust held by communities of color for the newsroom
- The newsroom’s understanding of key assets that can help it better connect with a community
- The infrastructure it has in place to actually perform this work
Typically, we are pleased to do this work with a single newsroom. We are currently underway with a project focused on NJ.com, New Jersey’s most prolific news source.
But we are equally as excited about our effort to assess and cross-train five different newsrooms in Pittsburgh.
One fact is often overlooked when we seek to give counsel to newsrooms on inclusion issues. Newsrooms do not exist within a vacuum. When one newsroom covering an area causes harm to a community, that harm could impact how the community views other newsrooms, especially if they do not have strong relationships within them.
The impact of a cohort approach is that newsrooms can learn from one another how to best serve communities of color within an area, and potentially work collaboratively on efforts to provide better engagement and coverage to neglected communities.
This, in addition to working with newsrooms individually, is our hope with the Pittsburgh project. This week, we will meet with staff members and editors representing five local newsrooms: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Pittsburgh City Paper, Public Source and Pitt News. At this session, we will reveal up-to-date results of our study and provide recommendations on how they can better improve relationships with communities of color both inside and outside of the newsroom.
As part of our agreement, each newsroom will create a strategy addressing how they plan to remedy issues and will release the highlights of those plans to the public.
It is our hope to replicate this effort in other news ecosystems across the nation.
API offers its Inclusion Index service to newsrooms on an individual basis. If you are interested in getting updates or potentially getting involved with this project, please fill out this form.