American Journalism’s Diversity Problem in the Age of the Political Wave.

The need for journalists from a variety of backgrounds is a well-established one. During the civil rights movement in the U.S., ​black journalists​ like Dorothy Butler Gilliam played an invaluable role in risking their own safety to cover countless incidents of brutality and injustice – mobilising communities and providing dedicated coverage that mainstream media outlets would not have provided. During the second-wave feminist movement, essential female journalists like ​Gloria Steinem​ and ​Carole Simpson​ made waves in the media industry, with Steinem becoming the the first woman to speak at the National Press Club in 1972, and Simpson becoming the first woman and person of colour to moderate a presidential debate in 1992.

The call for a diverse body of voices in the media industry is no exception in today’s society. America culture has been, and is changing at a rapid pace; the modern civil rights movement and Black Lives Matter, the intersectional feminist movement, the gay and transgender rights movement, the #MeToo movement, and other social groups are continuing to gain prominence in the public sphere. As society continues to change and evolve, a wide array of journalists is crucial to providing media coverage on issues that are often highly nuanced and deep-rooted in cultural experience.

According to ​NPR​, in 2017 only 37.7% of the news was credited to women, and people of colour made up only 17% of the workforce in online and print newsrooms. This becomes problematic when you consider the power a media organization may have. Journalists can give voices to the voiceless, draw attention to issues plaguing society and most importantly, ​inform​ the public so people can make their own political decisions. With this in mind, having journalists that represent ethnic, gender, international, or even sexual diversity allow important social issues to be covered in ways that provide the whole story, rather than one singular perspective from predominantly wealthy, white men.

For example, when football player and activist Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel for the national anthem during NFL games, the coverage of his political choice varied drastically through different media outlets. Fox News took a national approach, and centered the conversation on how Kaepernick’s decision affected ​veterans.​ Other outlets, most notably black journalists like Steve Wyche​, instead covered the issue through a racial lens, contextualising the reasons why Kaepernick chose to kneel- that being the continued oppression of black men and women in America. In a case such as this one, the context is especially illuminating and it was most thoroughly covered by black journalists.

Most recently, during the Senate confirmation hearings on Brett Kavanaugh, who was just sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice, media coverage has played an important part in invoking national debate and even protest. Female journalists have covered the ​effects​ Kavanaugh’s confirmation will have on women in the 2018 midterm elections, the ​protests​ in Washington D.C., and Dr. Ford’s ​influence​ in the #MeToo movement; issues that hold powerful consequences in the lives of American women, issues that female journalists may recognise or understand. While it’s important to acknowledge that sexual assault affects both men and women, the #MeToo movement has been predominantly organised by women, allowing female journalists to enter the conversation with more ease and perspective.

This is not to say that the only “good” journalists are women or people of colour. A changing society affects everyone, and all voices should participate in the conversations regarding race, gender, sexuality, and human rights in the U.S. But with this in mind, if the news is for everyone, a newsroom must be a heterogenous body. Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Eva Tapiero, a french Journalist said: “If everyone has the same schooling background and asks the same questions, I think it becomes harder to think outside the box.”

Journalists decide what is important enough to be shared; an informed society is a more active society, and if importance is only decided by the minds of the few, the minds of the many may suffer.

Sources used in this post and which make for interesting further reading:

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