13 Top Editors On How They Think About Diversity In Their Newsrooms

We asked editors from top publications six questions about diversity in their newsrooms. Here’s what they had to say.

Justine Zwiebel / BuzzFeed

For journalists, the newsroom diversity conversation is one constantly being had, often by people of color struggling to make it in the industry. But we’ve found that what’s missing from that conversation are the voices of editors and decision-makers at the country’s most well-known and respected publications.

We reached out to the editors at some of the top publications —magazines, newspapers, and websites — and asked them six questions concerning their handling of racial diversity in their newsrooms. This is the second part of a two-part project, the first of which focused on journalists of color.

Of the 33 publications we reached out to, we received responses from 13, including BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief, Ben Smith: The Guardian, The New York Observer, Politico, New York Magazine, Vice, The New Republic, Vox, the Washington Post, Slate, ThinkProgress, The New Yorker, and the Los Angeles Times.

Justine Zwiebel / BuzzFeed

The representation of different genders, ethnicities, sexualities, and classes in staffing and in types of news coverage.

—Ben Williams, Digital Editorial Director, NYMag.com

In an editorial capacity, I consider “diversity” to mean being very mindful of hiring editors and reporters with varied backgrounds and experiences. But the goal of this isn’t to ensure political correctness; rather, it is to ensure that the breadth of backgrounds and experiences of your readers are represented as fairly as possible. Ethnicity, socioeconomics, gender, sexual preferences, etc., should all be taken into account; however, at the end of the day it’s all about distilling those experiences into quality commissioning and stories. In other words, an individual’s background does not, by default, give him or her a leg up — it’s all about how they leverage that background into their storytelling selection and methodology.

—Rocco Castoro, Editor-in-Chief, Vice

A diverse newsroom is inclusive not just of racial and ethnic minorities, but also of women, gays and lesbians, and people from various socioeconomic backgrounds.

—Annie Augustine, Director of Communication + several editors at The New Republic

I think I’ve been persuaded of a definition by my colleague Shani Hilton: It’s important to hire in a way that doesn’t oblige people to represent their own identity internally or externally. Ideally, that means that you have enough, say, black or Hispanic or Mormon staff writers that, far from representing some monolithic viewpoint, they can disagree with one another about any given thing. Conversely, we do try to have a newsroom where people can choose to write about their identities in a direct way, and where the subjects of identity and diversity aren’t taboo.

—Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief, BuzzFeed

Slate strives to offer its readers a wide array of insightful arguments. Having writers and editors from diverse backgrounds can help us achieve this, for the obvious reasons — our varied life experiences help shape the way we think about the world. So when we talk about fostering a more diverse workplace, we define it pretty broadly, thinking about socioeconomics, race, sexuality, gender, political affiliation, age, religious affiliation, and more.

—Julia Turner, Editor-in-Chief, Slate

I see diversity as simply viewing “difference” as a good thing. In terms of media and journalism … diversity of opinion and perspectives, and of course the different lenses of people, are vital ingredients for a lively, balanced and enriched debate across all media, and I strongly feel journalism can play a powerful role in creating cohesion and understanding through dialogue. However, the media industry does attract criticism (in places, rightfully so) of being exclusive and not diverse enough, and I think it’s fair to say that it is a heavily networked industry. Working in media, and journalism more specifically, is a complex yet rewarding career that does require a high degree of determination, know-how, self-assurance, and passion to succeed; opinion and perspective are paramount. So if we can promote pluralism through diversity, that is always a good thing.

—Yasir Mirza, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, The Guardian

A diverse staff should have a mix of racial backgrounds, sexual identities, and different genders. The team should come from different geographic locations and should have different economic, religious, and political backgrounds.

—Melissa Bell, Co-Founder and Senior Product Manager/Executive Editor, Vox

Anything that has the potential to bring a different perspective to the work, I consider diversity. So that includes “traditional” diversity like race and gender and also things like religious affiliation, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and citizenship status. I also think it’s important to keep an open mind as to what might add diversity to a newsroom.

—Judd Legum, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkProgress

Justine Zwiebel / BuzzFeed

No.

—Ben Williams, Digital Editorial Director, NYMag.com

Yes, but it has far less to do with an individual’s background and much more to do with the quality of the stories an individual brings in, regardless of his or her background. And, in ideal situations, these factors inherently beget quality stories and ideas. It also provides for a good, organic system of checks and balances when it comes to the prism from which an individual’s story is told — or how a story is told about an individual.

—Rocco Castoro, Editor-in-Chief, Vice

After VIDA released numbers tracking female bylines in major literary publications in February, The New Republic publicly recommitted to a more equitable split between male and female bylines in 2014. Since then, we have been tracking the gender breakdown of bylines in both the print magazine and online. Also, at our staff-wide retreat this past April, it became clear that a diverse newsroom is top priority to everyone on staff. As a result of our conversations at the retreat, we established a working group to address the issue. The working group is an internally diverse group, made up of both senior and junior-level staff members.

—Annie Augustine, Director of Communication + several editors at The New Republic

I don’t have a numerical metric, but I do think that online journalism, or at least the kind we practice, has changed the pressures around diversity. Every newsroom I’ve ever been in was run by people who believed, in a sincere but sometimes abstract way, in the value of having people of diverse backgrounds. That’s certainly a value I share. But the internet brings a new, positive pressure. It’s organized, deeply, around identity, and I feel a pressure in a very straightforward way to employ people who are going to write about things that people who are often underrepresented in newsrooms — whether black people, Latinos, or devout Protestant Christians, or Muslims — care about. Those people don’t necessarily have to be members of those groups, though naturally they often will be. And I think that straightforward commercial pressure is probably more powerful than the abstract liberal value of diversity.

—Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief, BuzzFeed

We have not historically done a good job of tracking how diverse Slate is, but earlier this year we launched a diversity initiative that is working to establish metrics.

—Julia Turner, Editor-in-Chief, Slate

Yes, the diverse makeup of our teams, to ensure our workforce is reflecting the society in which we live, work, and serve.

—Yasir Mirza, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, The Guardian

We keep track of our diversity in terms of gender, ethnic background, and sexual orientation, and we are constantly working to improve. When hiring, we also keep track of the diversity of the applicant pool and work on direct outreach to make sure we have talented, diverse candidates for every position. Without going into internal targets, the staff today is much closer to where I want it to be than it was when we started six months ago. I would like to continue on that trajectory.

—Melissa Bell, Co-Founder and Senior Product Manager/Executive Editor, Vox

The most important metric is the applicant pool, rather than the people ultimately hired. I try to make sure that each pool of applicants for an open position is diverse. If it’s not, we think of ways to reach out and get more applicants. In my experience, if you select the best candidate from a diverse pool, you end up with a diverse newsroom.

—Judd Legum, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkProgress

Justine Zwiebel / BuzzFeed

It is one of a number of factors we take into account in every hire.

—Ben Williams, Digital Editorial Director, NYMag.com

It is not something that I think about on a forward-facing level. And I find that if one focuses more on the potential of an individual and how that individual may work with the staff as a whole, then somehow everything regarding diversity works out organically because a good editor will consider how the sum of the parts of his or her staff works as a whole.

—Rocco Castoro, Editor-in-Chief, Vice

As noted above, we created a working group to specifically address this issue. As a result, we are:

• Making an extra effort to ensure that we have a robust pipeline of minority writers and pieces from them.
• Recruiting from places with large numbers of minorities, such as traditionally black colleges and minority conferences. We are specifically attending the Asian American Journalists Association convention and the National Association of Black Journalists convention.
• Participating in the PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools program this coming school year.
• Promoting women from within to management positions. Amanda Silverman was recently promoted from managing editor to deputy editor, and Linda Kinstler was promoted from reporter-researcher to managing editor.
• Instituting a mentorship program within our organization to foster young people’s careers.
• Hosting new editorial seminars geared towards the education of young staffers. Franklin Foer is leading the first seminar in September on argumentation.
• Implementing yearly reviews of all staff members.
• Paying interns starting September 2014.

—Annie Augustine, Director of Communication + several editors at The New Republic

It’s something we are always thinking about in hiring, whether from a pool that’s already quite diverse — like the entry-level writers who apply to our fellowship — or when we are looking to poach from the less diverse senior ranks of major news organizations. And where it seems like other publications aren’t wildly diverse, we are looking to create new opportunities in ways I hope we’ll be able to talk more about soon.

—Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief, BuzzFeed

We’re addressing the issue head-on. We convened a working group on the issue last fall that resulted in a big shift: We began paying all of our interns. This required some adjustments to the budget, but we thought it was important to be able to attract candidates who couldn’t afford to take a free internship. We’ve also over the past few months initiated a review of our hiring practices. At one meeting on the subject, the staffers present went around the room and explained how they’d come to Slate. Of those present, all of the white staffers had found out about their positions through their networks: friends, connections, forwarded email listings. All of the people of color had seen a public listing posted on our site, a job board, or social media. That was striking to us, and has caused us to rethink how we are writing job listings and where we are posting them.

—Julia Turner, Editor-in-Chief, Slate

I have overall responsibility for ensuring that on an editorial level, The Guardian better reflects the values of independence and inclusiveness, by not only ensuring a broader diversity of voices to be heard within our papers and websites, but that our editorial coverage accurately reflects the diverse societies we live in today, and one that is truly open and inclusive. I run a number of programmes to get new diverse writers writing for us globally, and also run a citizen reporting programme for marginalised voices, working with communities globally who are silenced by poverty, social exclusion, and political repression — with projects most recently run in India and South Africa. I have written about my work here.

—Yasir Mirza, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, The Guardian

It starts at the hiring process. We post every job (see listings here!), we circulate those listings across different networks, and we actively seek out talented candidates from diverse backgrounds. And it’s important not just at Vox, but across all our verticals and in all our departments at Vox Media. I’ll feel we’ve been successful when we’ve built a highly talented, highly diverse team that feels welcomed and happy at Vox. And that diverse team will create accelerated returns for us: The more diverse staff, the wider network of talent we’ll be able to reach and hire; the more diverse staff, the more the environment is welcoming and inviting; and the more diverse staff, the better our content will be.

—Melissa Bell, Co-Founder and Senior Product Manager/Executive Editor, Vox

The biggest factor that leads to a homogenous newsroom is an over-reliance of personal recommendations. We make an effort to closely consider the entire pool of applicants, whether or not they have a personal connection to someone already on staff. This process leads to better applicants and more diverse applicants.

—Judd Legum, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkProgress

Justine Zwiebel / BuzzFeed

I don’t think any of our writers of color focus “mainly” on identity. It comes into play depending on the nature of the story and the desire of the writer to address these issues.

—Ben Williams, Digital Editorial Director, NYMag.com

Being that Vice takes an immersive approach for many of its stories, identity (and race, which is inherent to identity) plays a large part in the majority of the stories we approve and commission. It is inherent to our point of view.

—Rocco Castoro, Editor-in-Chief, Vice

It is hard for us to quantify the subject matter covered by minority writers. We welcome contributions from writers of all backgrounds on all topics.

—Annie Augustine, Director of Communication + several editors at The New Republic

Very few. There’s this one incredible comic writer, you may know her, you may know her, who helped the hashtag #BlackBuzzFeed trend nationally on Twitter and writes a lot, though by no means exclusively, about stuff black people care about. We’ve got a great news reporter, Adrian Carrasquillo, who writes a ton about and breaks a ton of news around questions of Latino identity and has been very involved in our broader push in that area. We also all (including me) write about our own identities from time to time — it’s a classic BuzzFeed format — but we have chosen not to build separate teams or pages around black or Latino identity. We don’t see being black or Latino as some kind of niche; they’re big, front-page parts of being American.

—Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief, BuzzFeed

Jamelle Bouie is probably the only one who counts race as a key beat. Since he joined us a few months ago, he has been writing brilliantly and extensively about race as it intersects with politics; he also writes about poverty, policy, political strategy, and more.

—Julia Turner, Editor-in-Chief, Slate

Most of the writers from my new diverse voices programme talk about issues and stories to do with their identities. They are telling a story that only they can tell.

—Yasir Mirza, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, The Guardian

We may hire someone in the future to cover race and identity more directly, but it’s important to us that we hire writers of color to cover all sorts of topics for us, from politics to culture. Currently, our writers of color were not hired to cover specific race or identity beats; instead, they bring diverse perspectives to every story they write.

—Melissa Bell, Co-Founder and Senior Product Manager/Executive Editor, Vox

We have seven people of color on our 30-person staff. One writer is a DACA recipient and covers immigration. The rest have beats unrelated to their identity.

—Judd Legum, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkProgress

Justine Zwiebel / BuzzFeed

There’s a chicken and egg problem here. There are usually fewer “diverse” candidates for almost any position, whether via application or a survey of who’s already working in the field. And there’s probably more competition to hire them, because at this point, more publications value diversity than not. It’s well-established that, in part due to economic reasons, not enough “diverse” candidates enter journalism on the ground floor to begin with. So the biggest factor in improving newsroom diversity is getting more non-white male employees into the profession to begin with.

—Ben Williams, Digital Editorial Director, NYMag.com

This question is not applicable to myself and/or Vice, as diversity is quite simply a necessity if a national or international media outlet wants true credibility in the 21st century. The same goes for individuals, really. If all of your friends are white or brown or black and you live in anything that resembles a metropolis, in my opinion you are either a bigot, lying to yourself about your feelings of race and/or background, or painfully boring as a person. If you’re a reporter working for a local paper in a town that’s 75% ____ ethnicity, then maybe that’s OK. But, as a reporter and editor, I seek out situations that force me interact with people I might not otherwise. And if that’s not your personal and professional ethos as an editor, I question your credibility and — quite frankly — how in the hell you got someone to take you seriously and give you a job in the first place. It’s also a lot of fun, so if that’s not you, give it a try. I highly recommend it.

—Rocco Castoro, Editor-in-Chief, Vice

External accountability, like VIDA, is important and effective. While it is necessary for individual media companies to set goals internally, we welcome an external group like VIDA to track ethnic and racial diversity as well. Analytics, benchmarks, and other goals are crucial. Addressing the issue earlier in the process (in high school and college) is essential. We would be thrilled to see more diversity in college newsrooms. Diversity scholarship programs and paying interns broadens the pool of candidates as well.

—Annie Augustine, Director of Communication + several editors at The New Republic

The single most important thing is being able to draw on the networks of our own staffers, which is just how a lot of hiring happens. So at best there’s a kind of virtuous cycle, where you hire great people who tap new networks. I don’t really think “diverse candidates” are a category about which I can generalize though. They’re pretty, uh, diverse.

—Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief, BuzzFeed

I don’t think it’s an issue of lack of experience. We’ve found that diverse candidates tend to be less plugged into job opportunities at Slate, and we are working to change that.

—Julia Turner, Editor-in-Chief, Slate

It’s not a case of diverse candidates lacking the required experience, but more so to do with creating more fair and transparent opportunities in an industry that has been criticised for being nepotistic and exclusive. The media industry is going through a tough time these days, but through digital journalism and social media, there are new and exciting ways for anyone to start writing and get their voice out there via blogging and tweeting as an example.

—Yasir Mirza, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, The Guardian

There is no experience diverse candidates lack, but I am contacted above and beyond by more young, white men than any other group. And they are not just contacting me for job options. They are asking to get coffee, to show me their work, to get some advice, to put their name in front of my face. They are squeaky wheels. I’d love to see more women and more people of color be as squeaky.

—Melissa Bell, Co-Founder and Senior Product Manager/Executive Editor, Vox

It would be easier to hire more diverse candidates if more diverse candidates applied. I think it’s my responsibility to find a diverse pool. But sometimes it can be very challenging. It can be difficult for some candidates, particularly those starting out in their career, to participate in a bunch of internships. A lot of times people may need to take a job that actually pays money instead.

—Judd Legum, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkProgress

Justine Zwiebel / BuzzFeed

I don’t think my advice to journalists of color would be different to the advice I would give anybody else. You have to build a résumé, and since management in journalism means being an editor, you have to choose that path. It’s true that making a name as a writer can earn you consideration for a job as an editor if that’s what you want (most writers don’t), but the other path is to look for opportunities, whether within your current job or at a new one, that allow you to demonstrate your ability to improve the work of others, execute large projects, or display a vision for growing an audience. Beyond that, do you understand the sensibility of the place you want to work at, and are you tailoring your work to fit that? Are you trying to network at your dream publication? If you really know what you want and go after it, that alone will separate you from most candidates.

—Ben Williams, Digital Editorial Director, NYMag.com

Seek out workplaces where diversity isn’t something that’s at the forefront of people’s minds (i.e., a modern workplace). This, however, is an opportunity not always afforded to reporters and editors outside of major cities. In these cases, and even in those where these opportunities are afforded, just write and commission better stories than anyone else on your staff — keeping in mind that if you have been singled out as adding to the “diversity” of a workplace that, in some ways is dependent on the situation, this could be leveraged in your favor. But, above all else, just kill it on the daily and do good stuff.

—Rocco Castoro, Editor-in-Chief, Vice

Try to establish a champion and mentor early on in your career. Seek out the people who are in a position to help and seem eager. Then use them for advice, guidance, connections, and introductions. Respect their time, but don’t be afraid to ask for help. Older people like to help younger people.

—Annie Augustine, Director of Communication + several editors at The New Republic

I typically advise everyone to stay the hell out of management positions, because being a writer or reporter is the best job in the world. The way we’ve hired managers is basically people who take on projects and own them and do them well, but that’s not really specific…

—Ben Smith, Editor-in-Chief, BuzzFeed

This applies to journalists of all backgrounds, but: Ask people out to coffee, or strike up relationships on social media. Most hiring editors are delighted to get to know talented journalists and keep them in mind for future openings. Also, pitch the publications you love. That’s often a meaningful way of establishing a relationship with writers and editors there. Finally, I’d say, if you do land at a place you really like, a place that appreciates your talents, stick with it and work your way up the ranks.

—Julia Turner, Editor-in-Chief, Slate

Be authentic in your voice, and do your research on the publication, its editors, and the readers you are wanting to target, and aspire to work and progress in.

—Yasir Mirza, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, The Guardian

Ask the person in the job you want — in two years, five years, ten years — out for coffee. Ask them for their advice. Be frank with them: “I want to do what you do. Help me.” More often than not, they will.

—Melissa Bell, Co-Founder and Senior Product Manager/Executive Editor, Vox

I don’t think talented journalists of color really need my advice on this. It’s up to people in charge of newsrooms to recognize talent and hard work and reward it.

—Judd Legum, Editor-in-Chief, ThinkProgress

52. Some of the editors we reached out to gave a statement instead of answering the questions:

53. Bill Nichols, Editor-at-Large, Politico:


Newsroom diversity is vitally important at Politico, and in recent months, we’ve launched our inaugural Politico Journalism Institute, which is designed to broaden our outreach to aspiring minority journalists. The Institute — to be held July 31 through Aug. 9 and co-sponsored by American University and the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, will bring a dozen college students from across the nation to Washington for an intensive, 10-day fellowship focused on online coverage of government and politics. We plan for this to be an annual event.

54. Ken Kurson, Editor-in-Chief, New York Observer:


“Diversity is important to the Observer. We have worked hard to identify, recruit, and publish diverse voices, and that means writers of color, writers of all ages, writers of many viewpoints, writing on all kinds of subjects, from politics to the arts. In addition, the Observer has strong ties to CUNY’s journalism school, which has perhaps the most diverse student body of any J-school. That’s been a terrific two-way street, as we’ve recruited many CUNY alums for good jobs here (for example: Carl Gaines, a CUNY alum, was made editor-in-chief of our publication, Mortgage Observer) and we’ve also recommended outstanding Observer interns from diverse backgrounds to enroll at CUNY’s J-School.”

55. Tracy Grant, Senior Editor in Charge of Recruiting, Washington Post:


I’m Tracy Grant, the senior editor in charge of recruiting here at the Post. Marty Baron is out of the office but I wanted to get back to you on your query about newsroom diversity. I hope you don’t mind that I didn’t answer each question individually, but I hope you’ll find that this offers some insight into how we view diversity in our newsroom. Thanks for inquiring about this important issue.

Diversity has always been a core value at the Post, and it is something that we define broadly. We look for diversity in educational, geographic, and economic background as well as in race and gender. We value diversity not so that we can say X percent of the newsroom are women or black or Spanish-speakers but because in order to report on and reflect the concerns of an increasingly diverse society, we need an increasingly diverse newsroom. So diversity is part of the discussion for every hiring decision we make. This year, we are fortunate enough to be in the position of hiring many talented journalists and we’re pleased that we are hiring women and journalists of color at higher rates than we have in the past. But we are not hiring them because they are women or journalists of color. We are hiring them because they are exceptional journalists who will be part of shaping the journalism of the Washington Post for the next generation of readers.

56. Tracy Boucher, Director of News Development, Los Angeles Times:


I run a program here called Metpro, which I’m guessing is why I was on the distribution. One of your respondents from the last round, Wesley Lowery, was in the class of 2012. So here’s a little bit about the program:

Metpro is a 30-year-old training program started in 1984 specifically to address diversity in our newsrooms. Since its inception, the program has trained hundreds of reporters and editors, many of whom continue to work in journalism. Originally METPRO was an acronym for Minority Editorial Training Program, but over the years it has evolved into a broader diversity program.

Diversity in our newsroom isn’t just a matter of race; it’s also an issue of life experience, language skills, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious affiliation, to name a few ways we weigh it. The program’s application materials can be found at metpronews.com.

We do report on the newsroom’s breakdown through ASNE’s yearly survey, but I don’t see our 2013 numbers posted.

57. David Remnick, Editor, The New Yorker:


For a publication like ours, and for anyone’s, really, diversity is a complicated question, or set of questions. Clearly, it’s a matter of race, ethnicity, gender, and age on the editorial staff and among the writers and artists. But it’s also a question of subject — a question of what you are writing about, what your concerns are. So my colleagues and I are thinking not only about encouraging and publishing more writers of color and more women but also about publishing stories that focus on people and subjects that are too often overlooked. I don’t want to minimize the seriousness of the first aspect, but the second is important, too. You ask about “percentages”: I don’t think, though, that a writer ought to be pigeonholed into a subject — namely, his or her identity — unless it really is that writer’s obsession and subject. By the way, I think asking questions like this is a good thing. It sharpens our attention, and the attention of our industry; it has a positive effect.

We did not receive responses from Complex, the Huffington Post, Mashable, Bloomberg Businessweek, Gawker Media, Vogue, Teen Vogue, The Awl, TechCrunch, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Pitchfork, Variety, 538, the New York Post, Grantland, GQ, Business Insider, the Wall Street Journal, or The Atlantic.

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