“U.S. newspapers see more bad news, as jobs decline.” “Newspaper newsrooms suffer large staffing decreases.” “Newspaper industry lost 3,800 full-time editorial professionals in 2014.” The halving of America’s daily newsrooms.”
Executives at the American Society of News Editors are sick of headlines like these being used to sum up ASNE’s annual newsroom diversity survey. It’s not that newsrooms aren’t losing jobs; they are. But the survey, launched more than 20 years ago, was never really intended to provide a quick snapshot of the general state of health of American newsrooms. It’s supposed to be a reflection of how newsrooms are doing at hiring women and people of color. And they are doing badly.
“In many legacy news organizations, moving the needle on staff diversity took a back seat to the survival of the enterprise,” ASNE president Mizell Stewart III wrote this month. “Instead of a to keep issues of diversity on the front burner, the ASNE survey was used as an annual barometer of the changing fortunes of local newsrooms.” In the meantime, diversity figures at newsrooms barely budged; in 2017, they are nowhere near “parity with the percentage of people of color…in the U.S. population” that ASNE had hoped for by the year 2000.
“In my more pessimistic moments, I believe our industry has made little progress since 1968,” Stewart wrote.
The fact that newsrooms are still so male and so white should be the focus of the headlines and coverage of the survey, argues Teri Hayt, ASNE’s executive director. Why? Because shrinking newsrooms are, frankly, a given at this point. The mix of people who work there can change.
“You have the choice of two very unhappy headlines,” Hayt told me. “‘You’ve lost jobs’ and ‘You haven’t really moved any numbers on the diversity issue.’” Given that state of affairs, ASNE is revamping its survey (which is backed by the Knight Foundation) and enlisting help from Google and other partners — to make diversity more of a focus and to include more online-only outlets that are doing a better job of hiring all different types of people than traditional newsrooms are. (ASNE’s survey last year found that, in 2015, people of color made up 23 percent of the workforce at digital-only sites, compared to 17 percent at daily newspapers.) I spoke with Hayt about why she thinks newsroom diversification has been so slow and what she thinks ASNE can do to help change it.
Print products are shrinking, shrinking, shrinking, but the online end of things is really expanding. The idea behind a lot of our changes and some of these open-ended questions is to look at organizations that are willing to share where they’ve had success: What did that success mean to your community, to your news organization’s bottom line?
We don’t want this to be a headline about ‘X number of jobs were lost this year in journalism.’ We kinda know that, unfortunately. We want to focus on the diversity in the news organizations, and hopefully offer some good ideas or best practices.
We started to reach out to the online-only outlets, like BuzzFeed, just in the last year or two. Getting our arms around who’s operating in the online space is a challenge, but we’ve got a lot of good partners and they’re helping with that.