A shoutout to news executives from ASNE President Pam Fine: 'Do the country a favor and participate in the ASNE Diversity Survey'
ASNE is sending out the 2016 newsroom diversity survey (previously known as the newsroom census) this week. With revisions, the survey reflects the growth of online-only news organizations, changes in job types, reliance on part-time journalists and other trends. Please fill it out promptly when your organziation receives it in the email.
The diversity survey is sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Peter Drucker, the late management guru, famously said, "You can't manage what you don't measure." That sentiment has undergirded ASNE's annual newsroom diversity survey since it was launched more than 30 years ago.
This year's diversity questionnaire will go into the field this week with revisions that reflect the growth of online-only news organizations, changes in job types, reliance on part-time journalists and other trends.
As always, the goal is to provide news leaders with a picture of their progress toward making online and newspaper newsrooms as diverse as the nation's population. At ASNE, we believe such parity is critical to providing fair and accurate coverage of communities and the country.
The late diversity champion and ASNE board member Dori Maynard, in a 2013 guest column for the Oakland Tribune, cited ASNE's diversity survey findings in her call for the news media to "look inward," not just outward, to find the cause of the nation's racial angst in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin shooting case.
Maynard said the news media needed to look at what its "distorted coverage of communities" was doing to the country and, in doing so, to also "look hard at who is telling the stories." She highlighted ASNE's research from that year showing a growing gap between the number of journalists of color in newsrooms and the number of people of color in the country.
"The nation and its news media are going in opposite directions, and the public is paying the price," she wrote. "To tell the stories of communities of color, we're relying increasingly on people who may have little or no knowledge about them."
Since its inception, ASNE's diversity research has revealed the degree to which newspapers, and more lately online-only news sites, reflect the public they aim to serve. Over the years, we've revised the survey to maintain its relevance as a useful and aspirational benchmark for racial and gender diversity.
In 1998, for example, ASNE began to ask for the numbers of women employed in newsrooms. Until then, the research tracked only employment and general job categories for black, Asian-American, Hispanic and Native American employees.
More recently, in 2014, the survey began asking for the number of women and people of color in top newsroom leadership positions.
This year, we're making three notable changes.
First, we will no longer estimate the number of journalists working in newsrooms. Previously, ASNE survey results included a projection for the number of journalists working in newsrooms based on what for years were relatively standard employment levels. But today, the structure of modern newsrooms makes it impractical and error-prone to try to estimate the number of working journalists. As we saw with more than 70 layoffs from the Orange County Register newsroom recently, employment numbers can change radically in a short time. So the ASNE results will be based only on the newsrooms that reply to the survey. As a result, we'll no longer refer to the research as a "census."
A second major change is that we will no longer ask news organizations to classify employees by job category. Editors have told us this change is needed because roles and titles are continually transforming. We will, however, continue to ask separate questions about newsroom leaders so we can track diversity among the top decision-makers.
Additionally, for the first time, we'll also be asking about recruitment and retention strategies employed in newsrooms, with a goal of creating best practices information to share with our colleagues.
Credit and follow-through on these ideas and others belong to several individuals: Survey Director Adam Maksl, assistant professor of journalism at Indiana University Southeast; ASNE Executive Director Teri Hayt; and Diversity Committee Chair Karen Magnuson, Vice Chair Hollis Towns and members Gilbert Bailon, Peter Bhatia, Jim Brady, Suki Dardarian, Mindy Marqués, Mitch Pugh, Troy Turner and Lauren Williams. A team at Florida International University is conducting the research.
I also want to thank the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for their generous support making this year's research possible.
"Diversity in our newsrooms is vital to helping journalists produce accurate reporting that reflects the concerns of the people in the communities they cover," said Jennifer Preston, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism. "The survey helps the field measure where we are and how far we have to go."
No survey tool is perfect. And the results alone won't increase diversity. But as Drucker and Maynard knew, knowing where you are is a critical step to getting to where you need to be. It's the way to turn aspiration into effort. So if your newsroom receives the questionnaire, please do the country a favor and fill it out.