Welcome to American Press Institute’s four-week series on our Inclusion Index approach to serving communities of color and implementing concrete, sustainable DEIB changes within and outside of the newsroom. Each Monday for the next four weeks, API Director of Inclusion and Audience Growth Letrell Crittenden will share insights from his recent work with the Pittsburgh Inclusion Index cohort and solutions to try out in your own newsroom.
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Building a sustainable DEIB plan
My colleagues and I studied the Pittsburgh news ecosystem and worked with five local newsrooms for the past nine months on assessing their commitment to DEIB and helped them establish strategic plans to improve their efforts going forward. In this series, we’ll share how collaboration on issues related to DEIB in media may lead to significant changes within the Pittsburgh news ecosystem, and ways you can use these results in your own newsrooms.
First, the tough news. When it comes to better connecting your newsroom to communities of color and other marginalized populations, no easy fix exists.
Communities of color, notably African Americans, have developed a deep-seated resentment for most media outlets, and for good reason. Study after study — including one we released last week — demonstrates that newsrooms have too frequently neglected or harmed communities of color through their coverage practices and lack of engagement. This harm also exists inside the newsroom, where many journalists of color have opted to leave the industry as a result of toxic working conditions.
The challenge is real. But potential solutions are also real, as long as newsrooms develop clear plans with achievable outcomes. Solutions are even easier if newsrooms take a collaborative approach to problem solving with other newsrooms.
As newsrooms continue to repair relationships within the community, people of color who have turned away from local news coverage may see, within these newsrooms, a reason to believe that at least a few newsrooms in the area are investing in serving their information needs. As with any competitive industry, we will likely see other newsrooms taking stock of their shops as a means of generating trust with communities of color. This is not merely a good service for democracy and social justice — it’s good business for the news industry. That’s why it is in the interest of other newsrooms to assess how they serve and are perceived by local communities of color.
BUILD A PLAN
✅ Strengthen local talent pipelines. Developing local pipelines that train people of color to become journalists is the best way to bring diverse talent into newsrooms. This can begin in high school, but a pipeline for adults interested in journalism should also be considered. Collaborating with other newsrooms and community organizations can help broaden this effort.
✅ Invest in community engagement. Trust cannot be rebuilt without a strong investment in community engagement, which requires time and money. Consider partnering with other local newsrooms to host routine community listening sessions. Additionally, separate newsrooms could find ways to create and sustain community advisory committees that could inform them of issues on a collaborative basis.
✅ Make your newsroom a place staff can thrive. Internal structure and culture can impede the improvement of DEIB. Newsrooms must assess their overall health and put in place structures to ensure that all staff members can thrive. This could include stronger onboarding processes, mentorship programs, funded opportunities for training, access to mental health professionals and strong policies related to harassment and abuse.
✅ Regularly assess your newsgathering practices. Source auditing, content auditing and asset mapping help newsrooms track the impact of their efforts. Start this work at a lower cost by using a simple spreadsheet that contains the names of sources to track how sources are used in stories. Efforts to systematically review content, sources and practices will help solve issues of representation, even if they are not the most high-tech endeavors. And don’t forget to update your style guide, too!
+ Work with local organizations that offer journalism or multimedia training, such as the Frank Bolden Urban Multimedia Workshop in Pittsburgh.
+ Use the API Inclusion Index rubric as a starting point to assess your newsroom’s DEIB efforts, and check out how the Pittsburgh news ecosystem scored on the Index. Note that just applying the Index without the research will not lead to systemic changes, which is the goal of the work — get in touch with API about the proper application and analysis of the Index.
+ Draw inspiration from the Solidarity Journalism Initiative, which offers guides on solidarity reporting, how to navigate empathy fatigue and assessing newsworthiness.
+ Use Google tools to conduct asset mapping in your community.
WHAT OUR NEWS PARTNERS ARE DOING
+ The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review launched a diversity scholarship program for college students that includes award money, an internship and an offer of full-time employment following graduation. They also intend to expand their coverage of diverse communities and host more community listening sessions.
+ The University of Pittsburgh’s student news outlet Pitt News plans to outline the steps the university can take to address diversity disparities as a predominantly white institution. They will establish a system to connect with the community and ramp up recruitment efforts while cultivating a more welcoming internal culture to improve newsroom diversity.
+ Pittsburgh City Paper plans to track source data, give staff more time to connect with the community and use the current transition of ownership and leadership as an opportunity to create a more vibrant workplace community.
+ PublicSource aims to build a map of the people and places doing important work in Pittsburgh, foster a diverse community advisory group to provide regular feedback and formalize diversity tracking of job candidates, interns and staffers.
View the next installment here.
Assessing your newsroom’s DEIB needs
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.
TAKE IT FURTHER
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.
Community engagement and sustainable DEIB systems: Lessons from Pittsburgh
Community listening is an integral part of API’s Inclusion Index program, and the Pittsburgh newsrooms participating in the program conducted listening sessions with local community members following the Index assessment of each newsroom and training on community engagement.
Ensuring your staff finds tangible ways to engage with the communities you serve is important in embedding sustainable DEIB systems in your newsroom, internally and externally. Taking opportunities to reach across and collaborate with other newsrooms (when it fits) can also relieve the pain point of lacking infrastructure. Community engagement efforts, such as establishing committees and listening sessions, are not one-off actions. Consistency not only continues to build trust with the communities your newsrooms serve, but also makes it a worthwhile investment.
API and the Pittsburgh cohort hosted two listening sessions as a part of the Inclusion Index program: one with Pittsburgh community members, and one with students of color at The University of Pittsburgh. Below are the newsrooms’ takeaways from conversations with their communities, and how they plan to integrate their findings into their coverage.
From the Cohort
PublicSource tries to produce meaningful, in depth and inclusive journalism, including under-reported stories on people, communities and ideas that are underrepresented by prioritizing audience engagement in data, investigation and records use, said Halle Stockton, editor-in-chief.
“For a long time PublicSource has been trying to chart a new path for how local journalism has been done and actually seeing everyone and fully representing communities, so [the Inclusion Index] was really natural for us to be part of,” Stockton said. “We just need to keep on doubling down and formalizing things, and recommiting constantly because it’s ongoing work. It’s a core value of our organization, both the people and how we act and how we do journalism.”
PublicSource is working to learn more about the community it covers and how to connect with them by exploring its identity as a news outlet and how to better fit into the community and reflect on its coverage, said TyLisa Johnson, former audience engagement editor at PublicSource. The newsroom is researching how best to build an infrastructure with its community advisory group, which includes what recruitment and compensation will look like.
“What we want from this group is mostly connection and feedback, so we want to be able to discuss the important ideas going on in the community, important events that we should be at, and reflect their feedback on what we could be writing about, our direction and our tone,” Johnson said.
Managing Editor Betul Tuncer said she wanted to bring the Inclusion Index to The Pitt News, especially since the University of Pittsburgh is a predominantly white institution, making it hard to ignore the lack of diversity and the lack of inclusion efforts.
“Participating in the study gave us a way to look at our own diversity more critically from an outside institute coming in to help us and provide more professional guidance; since we were the only student newsroom participating in this,” Tuncer said.
One initiative that stuck out to The Pitt News from other cohort members was the implementation of mental health initiatives.
“Mental health is very important and a big part of the college experience, but it’s not something that we directly addressed as a newsroom,” Tuncer said. “This initiative could be an opportunity for us to program sessions on how to manage mental health in a newsroom like The Pitt News and even more generally work-life balance. We’re looking forward to building relationships and engaging with the community more and addressing our internal culture.”
From the Community
Gina Winstead, vice president of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility at Carnegie Museums, said the community listening session she attended offered validity and value in having the ability to speak to the media about what misrepresentations and under-representations of the community’s identity in the news.
“I noticed we had different folks from different community organizations and contributors who were older Black writers, and there was a difference between how some of us perceived the direction of where we should go, and I think I got a lot of value from listening to some of the older participants that were talking about what they see as struggles and what they see as assets for change,” Winstead said.
She noted that younger Black participants shared their own spin on what new resources and media pools might be more representative of the community.
“I look would like to see more investment and attention given to folks who are sharing positive news — people who are doing great things in the community — and that can happen just by having relationships with the existing community and being in the know,” Winstead said.
Farooq Al-Said, director of operations at 1Hood Media, said he attended the listening session to make sure that the conversation was authentic and to have some face time with other representatives from newsrooms and journalists. He thought the dialogue was good, and there were community members from all different walks of life and aspects of the Pittsburgh community present.
“I can’t really speak on what the newsrooms are going to do with the information that was shared, but I know that Pittsburgh is a very unique city when it comes to the Black experience and the reporting on Black [communities],” Al-Said said. “It tends to be sensationalized, and this dynamic is why 1Hood exists. One of the biggest things we do is document the spectrum of the Black experience and to shift the narrative. There’s no coverage about everyday Black life in Pittsburgh, and newsrooms can change that by broadening their coverage and hiring more Black journalists.”
Change the Narrative
These pieces of coverage from Pittsburgh newsrooms exemplify how to achieve balanced and positive coverage of communities of color.
- This episode of PublicSource’s ‘From the Source’ podcast follows high school sophomore Ja’Nya Coleman and her career dreams of storytelling.
- The Pitt News stops by “Apsáalooke Women and Warriors” — the latest exhibit at Carnegie Museum of Natural History showcasing Native American cultures, which takes visitors through the historical contributions of Apsáalooke women.
- The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports on the city’s first Black-owned, state-certified pre-apprentice program for the skilled trades, launched by the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
- Pittsburgh City Paper interviews author Natasha Tarpley as a guest of the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures’ Words and Pictures series on her childrens’ books and celebrating Black joy.
Q&A with Danielle K. Brown on LIFT Project’s approach to centering community voices
Following API’s work in Pittsburgh with the Inclusion Index cohort, we connected with others in the DEIB space in media whose work aligns with our goals, as we can’t advocate for change alone. One of those conversations was with Danielle K. Brown, PhD, project lead of the LIFT Project.
Brown is the John and Elizabeth Bates Cowles Professor of Journalism, Diversity and Equity in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. As an award-winning political communications researcher, her frustrations with how we communicate with each other sparked her interest in the research she conducts today investigating the intersection of media, marginalized communities and social justice. She has spent a decade studying the news representation of protests and social movements, almost exclusively around the Black Lives Matter movement. Alongside her comparative work, she found that the media egregiously misrepresents protests in their coverage — and it needs to be fixed.
Brown has advocated for changes that go against the grain of the routines within newsrooms, challenging them to change the way they think about adhering to objectivity and reporting time constraints, for example. Her findings have revealed patterns that newsrooms have yet to shake, and the slow progress to rectify these patterns can be discouraging.
“I haven’t lost faith,” Brown said, “I’ve just found that maybe I’m not the right voice to continue to yell because it’s getting old and I’m getting tired. I think that the LIFT Project stemmed from that experience of what one does when they find the same patterns and the intervention isn’t working.”
In an excerpt of our conversation below, Brown shares more about the research process and goals around growing the LIFT Project model.
This conversation was edited and condensed for clarity and length.
In the opening statement you gave at the Knight Foundation conference, you mentioned that “the racial reckoning of 2020 is not an equivalent to a reconciliation,” and that there was indeed no reconciliation of the media’s coverage of the protests happening at that time. We also witnessed companies across industries, including the media, make promises to take steps to address diversity disparities. What’s your take on that, three years after these promises were made?
The point that I was trying to make is that yes, there are some tangible things we can see that were put in place. One of the things that I wrote about in CJR is about the DEI managers that have been created — we have some of these in the Twin Cities. It’s not like they’re not doing anything — they’re doing hard work and it’s incredibly slow.
We also see the news industry continuing to change. Gannett laid off a whole bunch of people [at the time of this interview]. And we don’t know what that looks like because newsrooms still aren’t reporting their diversity statistics to the News Leaders Association. It’s hard to see what progress is when people won’t give us the data unless they put it out in a nice and pretty report that’s written by somebody who’s not from their city to tell them how great their news organization is for putting policies or practices in place.
What I mean by “reconciliation” is that full turnover. I’m not trying to ignore the things in place, but overall, with protest coverage, the patterns continue. Overall, we still see people talking about the same things; frustrated about the same things. I did a study with Northwestern and in that study, we see that journalists of color are the most concerned about what DEI means for them. They’re the most unhappy in our newsrooms. The problems haven’t been reconciled and things haven’t been made better — statements have been made and initiatives have been put into place. But to say that things are fixed now would be inaccurate.
That’s really the piece I wanted to drive home. It makes it hard for a lot of people to want to continue to engage in DEI work, but I think it also speaks to the need and the urgency of it. Change is slow, and that’s how racism can kill you — with slowness. To say that we can still see the same patterns three years from now is a way to also say that we maybe need to do something more revolutionary than we did before.
Give us an overview of the work you and your colleagues are doing at the LIFT Project.
The LIFT Project seeks to throw away the model of centering the legacy of journalism — where you’ll walk into a newsroom and say, “This is bad, let’s find ways to fix it,” and instead, center communities and think about the solutions they would want. We really take a “meet you where you’re at” approach.
We survey community members here in Minneapolis-St. Paul about how much they like the news, how much they watch it, why they do or don’t watch the news, and who they trust to give them the news. These were questions that were based on my own experience and some previous research, but some people go to the barbershop on Saturdays, or the beauty salon, where you’re sitting there for six hours getting your hair braided, or the preachers in the area, or they tap the huge network of activists in the Twin Cities to find out information.
What are you hoping to accomplish with these surveys?
We want to figure out who the gatekeepers are and what they want. We had them name the people that they got their news from, and then we decided to go in and talk to those trusted sources about what kind of news they give, how they get the information, how accurate the information is, and what their experiences are with the media and what it’s been like. Do they have an opportunity to have a voice? If not, what can we do to fix it?
The idea is not to network trusted messengers with the whole newsroom, because we can’t fix that legacy, but to network them with the change agents that I know for sure are doing the work in our newsrooms that is hard and grueling. Most papers tend to be the ones that people criticize the most, but having been in those newsrooms, I can identify some of the people who knew what wasn’t right and what needed to change long before 2020. We’re figuring out how to connect these Black journalists with the communities they’re reporting on so they can also help bring in new sourcing narratives for their broader newsroom.
How do you foresee the expansion of this model in other communities across the U.S.?
It would be shortsighted to say that I could just scale this and it would be perfect in another city, because another city defines their problems differently, the way they’ve been segregated are different, and all these other institutions are shaped differently. What I hope is that we are able to expand into other spaces with this model of “meet them where they’re at” and gather information in a safe way to identify whose voices are missing. The idea of LIFT was “lift your voice,” right? And if those voices were there, people might be more willing to engage with the news.
When I was thinking of solutions, I was thinking about my own family — what would make my grandma in Texas pick up the paper? And the only thing that will make her do that is if there was a picture of me. She’d go get it, cut it out, and put it on the fridge. And so for me, the idea is to give these community members a constant reason to have a new picture on the fridge. It’s not a perfect model, but I think that it’s at least an anti-racist model that says, “We’ve done harm in your community as a news organization, so we’re going to let your community have more space, and more opportunities for a voice that you didn’t have before.”