An updated look at racial diversity among education outlets and newsroom teams reveals some progress but stubborn challenges.
*Including an editor’s note explaining disputed quotes near the end of the piece.
By Amadeus Harte
“If your newsroom isn’t diverse, you’re failing at journalism,” argued Washington Post digital editor Swati Sharma earlier this year.
A diverse and inclusive newsroom is a necessary step towards producing the highest possible quality coverage of schools.
According to Sharma, writing in the Nieman Lab’s “Journalism Predictions,” 2017 would – finally – be the year newsrooms should “finally embrace this notion.”
“If your newsroom isn’t diverse, you’re failing at journalism.”
– Washington Post editor Swati Sharma in “Journalism Predictions for 2017”
So how have things changed since The Grade took a snapshot last year of diversity demographics in education-focused news outlets and newsrooms?
In some regards, education journalism is ahead in breaking the mold of white, male reporters and editors who still dominate mainstream newsrooms.
In other areas, however, education journalism hasn’t made as much recent progress as is needed.
There’s still a long way to go, especially for the bigger outlets like the New York Times and NPR, and a stubborn reluctance to discuss and address newsroom diversity publicly.
As you may recall, last year’s newsroom diversity column (by Alexander Russo) expressed concern that “the education beat may be lagging behind in the industry-wide push to diversify editors and reporters.”
Since then, The Grade has published numerous pieces on diversity, including Education Journalism’s Diversity Challenge (by Tara Garcia Mathewson), How Lack Of Diversity Skews School Coverage (featuring Nikole Hannah-Jones), and Seven Resources to Help Education Journalists Avoid Racial Blind Spots.
The proportion of nonwhite education reporters is still not even close to the school populations they often cover, considering that over half of American schoolkids are non-white.
However, it was revealed last May that education journalism is actually ahead of the curve on the diversity front, at least compared to journalism writ large.
According to the Education Writers Association’s 2016 State of the Education Beat Report, released during last year’s national conference, 22 percent of full-time education journalists are of a non-white ethnic background, in comparison to a disheartening nine percent of U.S. journalists overall. A large majority of education journalists are also female (71 percent). This is stands in contrast to U.S. journalism overall, where female reporters are a minority at 38 percent.
As in the past, only a subset of newsrooms provided specific diversity information in response to being queried for this story in early April.
According to Holly Peele, senior librarian at Education Week, out of a 45 person newsroom, 11 employees are from minority ethnic groups (24 percent), which represents a small decrease from last year’s newsroom, which had a 27 percent minority composition.**
Elizabeth Green, co-founder of Chalkbeat, acknowledged that newsroom diversity is an important topic, claiming that “since last year, we have made progress growing our team’s racial diversity [and] making a public commitment to building a team that represents the communities we cover. We continue to invest in strengthening our recruitment efforts so we can build the strongest possible team.”
Last year, Green declined to provide a specific figure. This year, Green said that 30 percent of Chalkbeat’s editorial team identify as people of color.
Los Angeles’ KPCC public radio station is still in the lead in terms of racial diversity. According to education editor Maura Walz, last year, three out of four reporters were journalists of color (75 percent), with a decrease this year to three out of five (60 percent).
Ben Fishel, Senior Publicist at NPR, tells us that NPR’s education team composition remains the same since last year – on a team of 10 employees, two are reporters of color (20 percent). This is the lowest percentage of nonwhite reporters among the education outlets and beat teams that responded to our queries with a specific figure.
**According to updated information from EdWeek, 11 out of 45 newsroom employees (24 percent) are from racial/ethnic minority groups. This chart has been updated.
With regards to measuring the racial diversity numbers on each team, it should be noted that the numbers presented here are either self-reported or rough estimates according to surveying staff websites and pictures.
The statistics for outlets and teams that didn’t respond to our queries or didn’t provide demographic statistics are generally even lower when it comes to journalists of color (see following chart).
“We do not share that data at the desk level,” said to a spokesperson from the New York Times. However, from what we were able to tell from a search of bylines and Google images, just one out of six education reporters is of color (17 percent).
On Politico’s education reporting team, an estimated 1 in 4 staff members is non-white (25 percent).
At the Washington Post, two out of nine education reporters are estimated as non-white (22 percent).
“We strive to make sure different backgrounds and points of view are reflected in our work and on our team,” said Hechinger Report executive editor Sarah Garland. On a team of 25, an estimate of six staffers are non-white (24 percent).
The 74 has an estimated 4 staff members of color on a team of 19 (16 percent).
Hillary Manning, director of communications at the LA times, declined to share demographics by beat, claiming that “The Los Angeles Times has made increasing diversity within our newsroom a top priority, to better serve the community we cover. Each year we make progress on this goal – and we are not done yet. Almost 35 percent of our editorial staff is non-white. That’s almost three times better than the average newsroom (The latest ASNE Census estimates 12.76% of newspaper workforce is minority).”
However, the LA Times’ education team appears notably diverse. From a quick glance at the LA Times staff page, it can be estimated that four out of six staff writers are of color, or 66 percent.
Otherwise, none of the unresponsive news outlets had more than 25 percent people of color on their news teams.
In all unresponsive news outlets covered, none is estimated to have reached above a 25% ethnically diverse education newsroom other than the LA Times (see below).
The Education Writers Association, which represents reporters and editors nationwide, has both convened a Diversity Task Force and described efforts to model a diverse workforce of its own.
With a full-time staff team of 12 members at EWA, four are African-American, and one is a Pacific Islander, making the team 41 percent non-white as of early April, according to Hendrie.
In 2016, the EWA Diversity & Inclusion Task Force was created, with an 80 percent non-white membership. The Grade published the list of journalists and board members who are part of the task force earlier this year:
EWA Task Force membership list
The group’s first meeting in February focused on planning the programming for the upcoming EWA 70th Annual Seminar. The list of participants was recently added to the EWA website, and EWA hired the Raben Group to help administer a survey about diversity and inclusion that went out just this week.
“Working with EWA staff and a well-respected consulting firm, the task force has mapped out a work plan for the coming months,” said EWA executive director Caroline Hendrie. “That work will include systematic gathering and analysis of input from our members in preparation for formulating recommendations.”
Diversity will be addressed at the June 1 member meeting, according to Hendrie. In addition, a session entitled Untold Stories, Broadening Your Source Base will be chaired on Wednesday, May 31st, by NPR’s Keith Woods.
“Different demographics are all competing for a piece of the pie, and all angles must be considered equally,” said EWA task force chair Francisco Vara-Orta. “So considering a multitude of perspectives makes logistics taxing and complicated. Harboring more diverse newsrooms certainly can’t happen overnight.”
Vara-Orta noted that diversity can be a very sensitive issue. A person of color should not get the job over a more qualified white person. He also noted that we must accept the nature of the reality of the capitalist society we live in.
I’d argue against this. It’s the capitalist system that awards opportunities on the basis of class and racial inequality. What about candidates without access to good schools and an economic safety net, who are more likely to be of color? These realities need to be addressed in the realm of hiring towards diversity.
*Please see the editor’s note at bottom for Vara-Orta’s response to this section of the piece.
If journalism serves to hold institutions accountable through a demand of transparency, as Poynter Institute diversity columnist Meredith D. Clarke writes, a lack of engagement and material dedication to diversifying the newsroom does a disservice to journalistic credibility in a cultural climate where public trust in the media has never been lower.
The lack of response by major education news sources to repeated inquiries also signals a sense of apathy or lack of time for this important issue, and a lack of transparency in the very media institution that claims to push for greater transparency, democracy, and accountability in society.
There are countless reasons why diversity in education reporting is important, but perhaps most important of all is the fact that education journalism should accurately represent the human narratives behind the facts. This requires a propensity to seek answers beyond professionally sanitized employee-to-employee means (ie, story pitches and press releases).
A reporter who seeks out the personal stories of parents who are implicated in big news in the education beat will be better equipped to address and communicate human concerns if they can navigate nuances across socioeconomic and racial divides according to their own cultural and material backgrounds.
It is not impossible for a white journalist to cover non-white communities and schools, but interviewees are more likely to trust those they recognize themselves in, and thus to trust reporters to represent their experiences accurately.
And while the focus in terms of diversity has thus far largely been oriented towards race/ethnicity and gender, we must not forget that diversity as a marker for inclusion should also include social class, gender identity, and sexual orientation, which will represent an additional challenge — and opportunity — for education journalism.
Amadeus Harte [email@example.com] is an Irish writer, activist, and performer living in Brooklyn.
*Editor’s note: Shortly after this piece was published, Francisco Vara-Orta reached out to The Grade to say that he didn’t feel his quotes were given proper context, that some of the paraphrased remarks did not reflect his views, and that that he hadn’t been given the opportunity to respond to contributor Amadeus Harte’s arguments.
Here is an explanatory note from Vara-Orta explaining his views, in full:
As chairman of the Education Writers Association’s Diversity & Inclusion Task Force and a journalist of color, I was distressed to see my comments misconstrued and taken out of context in the article “Diversity In Education Journalism 2017: A Snapshot,” published May 11 by The Grade.
Contrary to what the article may have suggested, I’ve said newsroom diversity and inclusion are important priorities that must never be pushed to the back burner. While news industry executives have said that adverse economic conditions may have made it harder to assemble staffs that look like America, those conditions don’t mean we must just accept the under-representation of people of color and other historically marginalized groups in our newsrooms. In other words, hard times for news organizations may help explain the lack of progress, but they are not an excuse.
It is also clear from both research and from conversations with colleagues of all backgrounds over the years – women and minorities don’t want to be hired just because they fit some type of quota in the eyes of a manager. They want their colleagues who don’t come from historically marginalized groups to understand they are just as qualified to be in the room. Hiring managers have a responsibility to ensure all employees feel included and valued. That is why you often can not reach diversity without employing an inclusive mindset when it comes to hiring or coverage.
As someone who grew up in a working class, Mexican-American neighborhood in South Texas and an openly gay man these issues have shaped my experience in the industry, and still do. Many of us from these historically marginalized groups feel a constant responsibility to help enlighten others about how to sensitively approach diversity and inclusion efforts. I am proud that EWA has prioritized this work and is making an effort to help our field do better.