Race in the newsroom

It’s no surprise that newsrooms often struggle to cover racial diversity in a meaningful way when the staff is largely white.

This is not to say that white reporters cannot or should not cover race. It does mean that white journalists may need to reconsider their experiences and perspectives about race.

A 2015 newsroom census by the American Society of News Editors found that among 32,900 full-time journalists across the country, about 4,200 were “racial minorities,” or  12.8 percent. Online-only news sites reported that “racial minorities” made up about 19 percent of the staff .

White vs. non-white population of the U.S. per U.S. Census Bureau (2014)
White vs. non-white population of the U.S., according to U.S. Census Bureau (2014)


White vs. non-white journalists, according to 2015 ASNE census
White vs. non-white journalists, according to 2015 ASNE census

A decade ago, 13.4 percent of newsroom staff were racial minorities, according to the 2005 ASNE newsroom census. The percentage has hovered between 12 and 14 percent in the past decade — which means the news industry is barely moving the needle.

Graph from Columbia Journalism Review article "At many local newspapers, there are no journalists of color"
Graph from Columbia Journalism Review article “At many local newspapers, there are no journalists of color”

“The needles never really seem to move.” — Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter at The New York Times Magazine, told Nieman Reports in June 2015.

Better racial diversity (and other kinds of diversity) improves newsrooms and the content the staff produces. This has been written about over and over and over and over again. Not only does racial and ethnic diversity add language skills and cultural insights to a newsroom, it also broadens an outlet’s audience and creates more nuanced and original reporting.

“Media diversity is not some type of progressive ideal. It’s a journalistic imperative for any outlet devoted to fairness and accuracy in its coverage.” — Wesley Lowery, Washington Post reporter, as he wrote for Nieman Reports in June 2015.

It’s about more than just numbers, though.

  • Newsrooms need to create a culture where journalists of color feel welcome and appreciated.
  • Non-white journalists should not be expected to speak for or cover all issues connected to their racial identity — it’s exhausting and unfair.
  • Being The Only One In The Room places journalists of color in a position where they must decide whether to speak up — potentially endangering work relationships and opportunities — or remain silent.

“A lone voice, asking the pointed question, waving the red flag, might well be drowned out by a chorus of often more senior and influential White voices … diverse newsrooms have the potential to transform the stereotypical, two-dimensional portrayals of minority communities into more accurate, multi-layered depictions. A critical mass of minority journalists committed to that goal, however, is necessary to bring about that transformation.” — From “Interviewing the Interviewers: Journalistic Norms and Racial Diversity in the Newsroom” (2009) as quoted by the Columbia Journalism Review.