News Media Is Overwhelmingly White: How to Fix It

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On Friday, an important discussion about inclusion happened during a keynote and panel at the annual conference for the Online News Association (#ONA16keynote). It was a specific challenge to newsrooms across the country to address their dismal diversity stats – more on that below. But the discussion raised an interesting idea for other industries as well. What if inclusion was a marketable and measurable badge of honor?

The discussion was led by Alisa Miller, the president and chief executive officer of Public Radio International. Panelists included Vanessa K. De Luca, the editor-in-chief of Essence; Lisa Stone, founder of Blogher; and journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, founder and CEO of Define American.

The panel used specific media staffing statistics to paint a grim picture: Some 83% of print staffs and 77% of digital staffs are white, for example. Ouch. “Our leadership and our staffs do not look like the market audience,” Miller wrote in a piece accompanying the keynote. “Even more acutely, we lack racial/ethnic and gender diversity in our sources — the experts and people featured in our stories.”

The solution on the table was a fascinating one. Could there be a ‘Bechdel Test’ for newsrooms?

The Bechdel test is designed to help people determine if works of fiction, movies in particular, depict women behaving in fully realized ways. It asks three simple questions. One, are there at least two named women characters? Next, do they talk to each other? And finally, do they talk to each other about something besides a man? An astonishing number of popular movies don’t pass. The test was named for cartoonist, playwright and social critic Alison Bechdel – who credits her friend Liz Wallace with the idea – and is a fascinating person in her own right.

Miller proposed something called ‘The Full Story Test’ for media organizations, defined by three less simple, but important questions:

  • Are our content priorities committing us to be more inclusive and to tell stories that aren’t being told?
  • Are we tracking the diversity of staff, leadership and our board? How do we measure up?
  • Do we regularly measure the diversity of bylines and sources? Do we have goals?

Here’s where it get interesting. Asks Miller: “But is there a marker we could use to identify organizations taking responsibility for solving a problem — like LEED certification for energy-efficient buildings, or fair trade seals on food? These concepts mean something to the user as they make choices about what they eat and where they work or live.”

Miller’s idea extends the idea of diversity as a driver of financial performance into a real world measure of differentiation. She believes, and I do too, that this would attract a base of consumers who increasingly understand that diversity means better products.

So, here are three questions for you. Would you be more likely to choose a car that you knew had considered the safety of all different sizes of bodies in its design decisions? Or pick a medical device or drug that you knew came from a company that routinely developed products based on the biology of more than just one type (or life stage) of human? Or a bank who developed smart financial services for the benefit – instead at the expense – of its diverse community members?

On Point

Alan Yang called for more Asian-centered stories in entertainmentThere were some lovely bright spots for diverse stories and storytellers during last night’s Emmy Awards. But Alan Yang, who won along with Aziz Ansari for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series (Netflix’s Master of None), offered a quirky rallying cry for more stories with Asian characters, by entreating Asian American parents to buy their kids cameras instead of violins. It was a joke Jimmy Kimmel could not have pulled off.Entertainment Weekly

“Still Processing” podcast takes on Airbnb
Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham – both of the New York Times - have a lovely way of making you feel like you’re the third friend in a three-way conversation about life, culture and race. In this episode, they dish about When The Bough Breaks, a movie they’d just seen together, but dig in more deeply into the new efforts by Airbnb to diminish bias on the platform. “You can’t code yourself out of racism,” says Wortham.
New York Times

When a white teacher mispronounces your “ethnic” name
It doesn’t just leave a mark, it leaves a scar, suggests the president of the National Association for Bilingual Education. A new campaign to highlight the importance of dignity for students, is calling attention to the potential negative effects of mispronouncing names. Besides embarrassment, many students lose rich ancestral connections when they are forced to Americanize their names.

Ruling: Employees don’t have a right to dreadlocks
A federal appeals court has dismissed a suit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a job applicant named Chastity Jones, who had a job offer rescinded from an insurance company when she refused to cut her locs to comply with their “grooming policy.” The EEOC put forth a fascinating argument that’s worth your time. As an aside, the story is, inexplicably, accompanied by a photo of the Dalai Lama touching the dreads of an Aussie athlete, which is also worth your time.
Wall Street Journal

The worst place in America to be Somali and Muslim is in St. Cloud, Minnesota
On Saturday, a man stabbed nine people at a Minnesota mall before being shot to death by an off-duty police officer. He has been identified as Dahir Adan, a member of the local Somali community, who may or may not have had ties to Isis. While details emerge, I bring your attention to this piece from January, which describes the increasing, often violent, tension between the growing immigrant Somali community and St. Cloud residents.
All Things Somali

Jen Wong is new named new COO of Time Inc.
The shooting star joined the company as president of digital in December, and will continue her oversight of all digital operations, strategy, product development, and the company’s content studio. Wong was previously the chief business officer for PopSugar, Inc. She is the first Asian American woman to be named to the post.

The Woke Leader

Evidently white supremacists tried to seize the U.S. government in 1898
A new documentary resurrects a long-forgotten episode of American history, perpetrated by a gang of white-supremacist Democrats from North Carolina who were outraged by the recently elected biracial Republican Congress. They were prepared “to choke the Cape Fear River with carcasses,” if necessary.  They managed to take over the government of Wilmington, NC, and may have killed as many as 60 black men. Around those parts, it’s known as the massacre that nobody talks about.
New Yorker

A local barber offers a safe haven for stylin’ LGBTQ people
The Gamesman is an olde tyme Brooklyn barber shop, with all the attendant charm. For some 50 years, the owner had been clipping the hair of the mostly white businessmen in the zip code. Enter Dez Marshall, who has not only brought in an underserved market, she helps them look their best by providing excellent service informed by a deep respect –a powerfully affirming act even in a modern age. It’s a two-minute shave and haircut (video) for two bits and a guaranteed smile.
Great Big Story

How a simple skirt worn by an enslaved child became a museum treasure
Every item in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture tells a story that winds its way into your heart and into history. As an object, the sweet hand-made skirt humanizes an enslaved child and the people who loved her. But was it the real thing? Authenticating it took the museum version of forensic historians. Not only is it real, it had a matching top.
Washington Post


Every single person, pretty much, is taught what they're supposed to do: go to school, get a job, find someone to love, get married, have kids, raise the kids, and then die. Nobody questions that. What if you want to do something different? 
—Aziz Ansari

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