Posted in journalism, multimedia journalist

Never Say ‘We Can’t Find Talented Journalists of Color’ Again

journalism diversityBy Tracie Powell, Co-Chair and Benet J. Wilson, Vice President, Education of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Digital Journalism Task Force

Now that the lack of diversity at journalism startups has been sufficiently underscored by others, this is the perfect opportunity to provide a set of principles to follow for those interested in  creating diverse newsrooms.

Diversity is not just about checking a box. In light of demographic changes that show the white, male audience is dwindling, diversity in newsrooms is good business. It just makes sense.

For some these guidelines will be a reminder, but for others they can serve as a new source of information that we hope you’ll make a permanent part of your company’s recruiting process and employee retention efforts. At the very least, these guidelines should go a long way in helping digital media funders and founders to never again say: “We can’t find talented journalists of color.”

1. We’re not here to bash or criticize, we’re here to help

The NABJ Digital Journalism Task Force has a strong record of providing free training for anyone who wants to participate and serving as a resource, mainly through the @NABJDigital Twitter account using the #mediadiversity and #journojob hashtags, for those looking for diverse candidates to fill jobs. Companies like NPR, American Public Media, CNN, TBS and NBC, to name a few, have reached out to us directly to promote their jobs and pass along qualified candidates.

In addition to @NABJ Digital, digital startups also get the resources and strong network of the Online News Association, with ONA board member Benet Wilson, who chairs the Diversity Committee, and DJTF Co-Chair Tracie Powell, who serves as a committee member. We are more than willing to meet with anyone for a friendly conversation and information on how we can help. We can meet with folks in person or via Google Hangout.

2. Build a more inclusive network

  • Talk with and partner with organizations and individuals with community connections that reflect the demographics that you serve or want to serve, including organizations like NABJ.

  • Go to diversity conventions yourself. Do not depend on recruiters. “My old boss at the Boston Globe came to a National Association of Black Journalists convention to actually meet people he never heard of, and they were talented. He hired two people and still had many on his list,” said Greg Lee, immediate past president of NABJ. “You have to get out and expand your personal pool.”

  • Lisa Williams, Program Chair of the Online News Association’s 2013 conference and Director of Digital Engagement at the Investigative News Network, wrote in her Life and Code blog, “Any call for diversity in hiring in the information industry (and in that I include the tech industry and the news industry) is usually met with a lament at how HARD it is to find female candidates, or candidates who are people of color.  Except for one thing.  It’s not.  All we had to do was….ask. That’s it.”

3. Say “YES”

Accept invitations to participate in panel discussions or workshops before diverse audiences where you can talk up your organization and the benefits of working at your company. In the past three years, the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University has done presentations with DJTF at NABJ conventions and held an online Q&A for potential applicants with DJTF, in conjunction with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Asian American Journalism Association. As a result of that and other outreach efforts, Knight has reported seeing more diverse applicant pools for its fellowship, according to the program’s director, Jim Bettinger.

4. Step outside of your comfort zone

We naturally tend to gravitate toward those we’re most comfortable with. For white men, that means mingling with other white men; the same holds true for people of color. That paradigm must be broken, especially in today’s newsrooms.

The most powerful line in a piece recently written by Shani O. Hilton, deputy editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, for Medium was this one: “The journos of color and women aren’t networking with white dudes doing the hiring because it isn’t in their DNA,” she wrote. “Call it the Twice as Hard Half as Good Paradox: Many of us are so busy working twice as hard and hoping to get noticed that we don’t do the networking that seems like bullshit but is actually a key part of career advancement.”

It is true that more journalists of color must pull back from their daily grind to network in order to ensure career advancement. But startups and venture capitalists must do the same thing. This effort can not, and should not, be one-sided. Go to mixers and seek out journalists of color. Go up to them, shake their hands, ask about what they are doing now, what they’d rather be doing instead or what they want to be doing in five years. You might meet your next game-changer.

5. Read publications and writers outside of those you normally read

Just as aspiring writers are taught to read those more established in order to improve their craft, editors need to do the same thing. Not only because it helps you identify new talent, but because it also clues you in about issues and ways of telling stories that you may be missing. You never know what gems you will come across. Some publications we recommend are ColorLines, Richard Prince’s Journal-isms and Racialicious.

6. Ask employees for referrals

Talk with managers, but more important, talk with your rank-and-file employees, who likely know others who are in the job market. Offer rewards for successful referrals, but don’t rely solely on employee networks, which may also be white and male.

7. Retaining is just as important as recruiting

Once you recruit diverse job candidates, keep them by offering benefits such as on-site daycares, non-gendered bathrooms, and quiet rooms employees can use to meditate or recite daily prayers. Offering these services also lets potential employees know that your company accommodates gender, family and religious diversity.

8. Make a seat at the table

Don’t just send employees of color to conventions as recruiters just to show that you have employees of color; if you send them, make sure they have hiring authority.  If your company does not have diverse candidates in key positions, then engaging diverse high-level employees in the recruiting process — even if they do not have hiring authority — can be helpful. Having someone at the table is important.

Even if you do not connect with NABJ Digital, you should be, at the very least, posting and connecting with other job boards that specialize in reaching diverse job candidates, including NABJ and JournalismNext. If you are not doing this, then you’re not really looking.

You can reach Tracie Powell at and Benet Wilson at We look forward to hearing from you!