What We’re Doing To Keep Building A Diverse Editorial Operation

I sent this email to BuzzFeed’s editorial staff this morning.

Diversity in BuzzFeed’s editorial operation isn’t a side project or special initiative. It’s core to how we operate and how we hire.

As we enter another round of intense growth and hiring, I thought it was important to make clear our vision and to put out numbers that will help keep us accountable — to you, to our readers, and to others in our industry who care. Almost everyone here plays some role in hiring, and so I’ve asked some editors to help come up with this statement of what we’re trying to build and why. We’ve also decided to share the current demographic data for the editorial operation and the company, as of September 2014, at the bottom of this e-mail.

So here it is, our rough and evolving hiring guide:

A definition:

BuzzFeed’s working definition of diversity is this: enough people of a particular group that no one person has to represent the supposed viewpoint of their group — whether ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, gender identity, socioeconomic background, or disability. And if the group is a small one we should never expect one person to be the “diverse” reporter or writer, or to speak for anyone other than themselves.

4 Reasons It Matters:

First is the ethical imperative: Our industry, like all industries, should be open to anyone prepared to join it, and our industry, like most industries, has historically been terrible at inclusivity. But it’s a mistake to look at diversity solely as an ethical imperative. In fact, diversity is an urgent and unending project for anyone who’s ambitious about journalism and entertainment on the internet. Here are three reasons why:

• Reaching more readers: The internet is, in some ways, organized around identity. News and entertainment companies have often alienated or failed to reach consumers who don’t hold the characteristics of the straight, white everyman. We are a new kind of media company with the opportunity to reach a huge global audience, and we need to build an organization that’s capable of connecting with a vast range of readers.

• Hiring the best people: We have hired many of the best writers, editors, and reporters in the world, from a wildly diverse group of backgrounds. We want to keep doing that. Very few people, including minorities, would choose to be a tiny minority at work — or to work only with people just like them. In fact, most of the greatest journalists and writers will, all things being equal, choose to work in a diverse newsroom. We want them all to come work for us.

• Doing better work: Diversity makes us a better editorial operation. Underrepresented writers and journalists don’t exist to solely to speak to readers who look like them. Diversity helps editorial organizations avoid the bland and often false conventional wisdom held in a room full of people who come from similar places. Having diverse writers on staff also brings a much wider array of stories that matter, and to more people. To get the biggest stories in the country and the world, we need as many insiders in as many communities as possible.

With all of this in mind, and in order to maximize our ability to create a great, diverse newsroom, we’ve come up with a list of five things editors should do when hiring:

1) Understand the beat or field you’re hiring in:
There are some fields in the media that boast large, diverse pools of smart, hard-working people. There are other fields — particularly the most elite, like investigative reporting — that currently have smaller, whiter candidate pools. We often use our personal networks to hire from both, but in the first case, those networks can limit us. The latter is a harder problem, and one where we should be seeking to improve the pipeline ourselves.

2) Insist on a diverse pool of serious candidates:
The final interview round should never just be several straight white men. One key is casting a wide net: Jobs should be listed whenever possible — having a link to send to a wide variety of networks makes it more likely that we’ll have a diverse pool of candidates. And be thoughtful about the wording of job listings, and of using language in ways that inadvertently signals that we’re looking for a guy, for someone who’s straight, or for someone who doesn’t have a disability.

3) Look for opportunities to make hires that will increase the diversity of our readership:
We’ve been focusing this year on news and buzz aimed at stories about and of interest to Latinos, which is to say, to a large share of Americans. The writers doing that aren’t all Latino, but naturally most are. And we’ll keep hiring obsessively focused maniacs, as we always have, at times to focus on the obsessions of one group or another — with the understanding that the organization of the web around identity often means that these are the most widely shared topics.

4) Tap networks beyond your own:
Make an effort to look outside of job board applications and personal networks: To start, that means emailing the job to colleagues and journalists and writers elsewhere who are more connected to underrepresented communities. But it also means getting creative and seeking out great diverse journalists on your own — try HBCUs, professional organizations, and publications made for non-white audiences. Joel Greengrass’ talent team is very focused on finding the right events and making the right connections; we recently had recruiters and senior editors at the National Association of Black Journalists convention, and will be at OUTC in October and the National Hispanic Media Convention in November.

5) Create our own pipelines:
Tommy Wesely has done an outstanding job of creating, in our fellowship program, a diverse pipeline of current and future BuzzFeed stars. We’ll continue to invest in that program, of course, and we’ll also be looking looking to expand that vision in a couple of ways:

• Chances to create opportunities for mid-career journalists to become the top reporters of tomorrow. We’re nearly ready to announce the details of a project Mark Schoofs is leading to bring in aspiring investigative journalists of color.

• Internships for students of color who are interested in journalism but aren’t professionalized student journos.

Thanks for your wholehearted embrace of this mission. It’s already made a big difference, and it offers us an opportunity to be leaders in this industry. And as you see, there’s no simple answer — but if you’ve got suggestions for more specific steps we can take, please let me know.

Ben

And here are the numbers:

Gender numbers reflect approximately 650 employees across BuzzFeed’s global staff and 225 employees in the editorial department.

Ethnicity numbers reflect approximately 585 employees across BuzzFeed’s US staff and 185 employees in the editorial department.

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