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Representation in journalism

The Columbia Journalism Review published an article yesterday asking why there aren’t more minority journalists in newsrooms. Alex Williams, a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania, studies trends in journalism.

While the Commission called for an increased emphasis on better housing, education, and social service policies, some of its strongest criticism was directed toward mainstream media. “The media report and write from the standpoint of a white man’s world,” they wrote in 1968. “Fewer than 5 percent of the people employed by the news business in editorial jobs in the United States today are Negroes.”

How much have things improved? According to the 2014 American Society of News Editors (ASNE) census, the number of black newsroom employees has increased from “fewer than 5 percent” to … 4.78 percent. The Radio Television Digital News Association estimates that in 2014, minorities made up 13 percent of journalists in radio and 22.4 percent of journalists in television. Still, these figures are a far cry from the 37.4 percent of Americans that are minorities.

Williams called for hiring managers and editors to make a better effort of finding and hiring more diverse candidates in the hiring process. He referenced Executive Editor of News at BuzzFeed News Shani O. Hilton’s post on Medium, where she explained that building diverse newsrooms takes work. She called it “the Twice as Hard Half as Good Paradox,” where people “are so busy working twice as hard and hoping to get noticed that we don’t do the networking that seems like bullshit but is actually a key part of career advancement.”

1) Everyone starts with their networks. But maybe your network isn’t sufficient. If all you’re turning up is white dudes, that’s a feature, not a bug, in the system. It seems obvious, but sometimes the pipeline is the problem. Look at the sources of your references, beyond your friends and immediate colleagues, and evaluate whether you’ve done all you can to make sure you’re considering a wider variety of backgrounds than, say, white guys from different parts of the country.

2) Sometimes you don’t know who the best possible candidate is until you’ve met them. People who are defensive about their hiring choices often say something like, “We’re hiring the best candidate for the job.” But sometimes the best of all possible hires is someone who didn’t seem obvious on paper, and then brings something more to the organization — not just the job.

3) Sometimes you have to put your pride aside. Maybe the job as conceived isn’t what the job should be. Maybe the requirements for it are biased in ways you don’t realize. Things change so fast — that’s the beauty of the web — and sometimes your applicant pool can illuminate the flaws in what you’re looking for. And when it comes to inexperienced candidates, take the time to be more thoughtful about who you’re giving a chance to.

The rewards are worthwhile, Williams said, citing the opportunity to attract additional readers and that minorities may be more interested in local news than caucasians.

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