The Grade’s 4th annual look at racial diversity in education journalism reveals a handful of bright spots but a lot of work that remains needed.
By Alexander Russo
On Friday, the LA Times announced that Stephanie Chavez will be the new education editor, a spot it’s been looking to fill for quite some time.
A longtime LA Times journalist with previous experience covering education, Chavez brings a lot to the beat. And the team she will head will be racially diverse, reflecting the newspaper’s coverage area.
The hiring of Chavez is one of several instances where education outlets and news teams within larger organizations have made progress toward greater racial and ethnic diversity in the last 12 months.
And, like a small but growing number of big-outlet outlets, the decision gives the LA Times education team edited by a journalist of color. The paper also joins a handful of education teams that are mostly made up of nonwhite journalists.
According to the latest information provided to The Grade by news outlets, education outlets and teams are taking newsroom diversity seriously. More outlets are reporting their newsroom diversity data, and of those, several are showing increased numbers of nonwhite staffers.
By and large, some real progress has been made.
That being said, there have been some unfortunate departures of education journalists of color in the past 12 months, as well as many outlets and teams where the racial diversity numbers have not been increasing substantially. Much work remains to be done.
Chavez (far left) was named as education editor last week by the LA TImes.
Since 2016, The Grade has published an informal snapshot of racial diversity at a handful of education teams and outlets. Later that same year, the Education Writers Association (EWA) produced a national survey of the field showing that the percentage of education journalists who identified as nonwhite was 22 percent.
Since then, newsrooms and journalism organizations appear to understand more about the importance of diversifying their staffs, racially and otherwise.
“We need more news organizations led by people from historically marginalized groups, serving marginalized groups, and governed by diverse groups,” said Chalkbeat co-founder Elizabeth Green in a Media Impact funders interview earlier this year.
In 2018, newsroom diversity was an explicit focus in the EWA education conference in Los Angeles.
Buoyed by a sense of progress in newsroom diversity and forthright attention to the issue, I called on the education beat to be the “diversity leader” in American journalism.
Education writer Sarah Carr, who is white, touched on the need for newsroom diversity in in a recent column for the Columbia Journalism Review, calling for “vastly increased numbers of reporters, editors, and producers who bring an intuitive understanding to the lives and experiences of black and brown communities, low-income communities, immigrant communities, and many other groups—because those experiences are their own.”
Of the four journalists who make up the LA Times education team, only one is white.
How has this interest in diversity shown up in newsrooms?
In addition to the LA Times’ Chavez, journalists of color who edit education include New York Times Metro editor Dodai Stewart, New York Times national staff editor Dave Kim, and KPCC’s Tony Marcano, who edits the education team at the Los Angeles-based NPR affiliate.
With the addition of Marcano, KPCC LA joins the LA Times in having an education team that is predominantly nonwhite.
The list of journalists of color who edit education stories also includes The Conversation’s Jamaal Abdul-Alim, the Hechinger Report’s Delece Smith-Barrow, and Chalkbeat’s Sharon Noguchi, Julie Topping, Jacinthia Jones, and Stephanie Wang.
Among writers, Erica Green and Moriah Balingit, two of the four national K-12 education reporters at the Washington Post and New York Times, are playing increasingly prominent roles.
Sally Ho, AP’s de facto national education reporter, has written in the New York Times about having arrived in the US as a 3-year-old refugee from Vietnam. Chalkbeat Chicago reporter Adeshina Emmanuel has won accolades for his work and was a presenter at EWA.
The LA-based KPCC education team is now edited by Tony Marcano (bottom right) and predominantly made up of journalists of color
There are other signs of progress toward more diverse and inclusive education journalism.
At least two education outlets – the Hechinger Report and Chalkbeat – participated in the 2018 American Society of News Editors diversity survey.
Chalkbeat has 12 journalists of color on staff, perhaps the largest single group of nonwhite education reporters in the nation.
Journalists of color including the New York Times’ Green, Chicago Tribune’s Juan Perez, EdSource’s Sunny Xie, and Vox’s Alvin Chang won their categories at this year’s EWA awards.
NPR’s Claudio Sanchez won the lifetime achievement award for education journalists.
EWA board member Steve Drummond recently announced that EWA had set a 15 percent increase in representation of people of color as its goal in the coming year.
And The Grade is in the process of relaunching its monthly column on the intersection of race and education coverage.
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This chart depicts the percentage of editorial staff on education teams and education outlets who identify as people of color, from 2016-2019. However, be aware that the data are self-reported and, given the small size of most education outlets and teams, the results can be dramatically affected by the arrival or departure of a journalist or two. For additional caveats and considerations, scroll to the bottom of this column.*
And yet, there are some worrisome signs that progress remains insufficient and may even be slowing.
The Washington Post, New York Times, and ProPublica either did not respond to multiple requests or said they don’t share demographics by beat.
“We don’t traditionally track each beat’s breakdown since our folks tend to shift reporting topics quite frequently,” ProPublica’s Minhee Cho emailed.
According to NPR, 27 percent of its entire news and information division are people of color as of last November. Newsroom-wide, the NYT reports 30 percent for 2018.
A handful of news outlets and teams who have previously shared diversity information with The Grade did not respond as of press time. Among them are NPR and The 74. (EdWeek provided information shortly after publication.)
The Grade’s own progress has been insufficient. Most contributors to The Grade are white, and not all of The Grade’s efforts to be more inclusive have been successful. A recent column about the role of editors was inadequate in its inclusion of editors of color.
At the senior editor level, education news outlets and teams remain predominantly white. White reporters dominated the top three EWA education awards and also the “category” winners earlier this month.
In addition, the education beat has lost some important journalists of color since last year. Francisco Vara-Orta, perhaps the most visible advocate of newsroom diversity issues in education journalism, left the beat and no longer sits on the EWA board.
Yasmeen Kahn moved to another beat at WNYC New York public radio, which replaced her with Jessica Gould. And longtime NPR education reporter Claudio Sanchez has retired.
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“I see a lot people come in without training, feeling isolated at work, and they leave,” said KPCC’s education reporter Priska Neely in a recent CJR look at newsroom diversity (image above).
Some education journalists of color say that they are not particularly concerned about newsroom diversity, and don’t think recruitment and retention efforts should be a priority.
“I don’t even worry or care about it anymore,” said one journalist of color who didn’t want to be named, expressing the belief that lack of interest is as much an obstacle as failures to recruit or retain journalists of color.
But by and large, there seems to be a strong belief that diversity benefits newsrooms and their coverage, and that outlets should push ahead on this front through such changes as elimination of unpaid internships, short-term fellowships, and friend-based referrals.
One obvious and immediate reason to push for further newsroom diversity are the conflicts and concerns covered by education reporters in 2019, including segregation, choice, charters, and school discipline. These issues especially affect communities of color. Black and Latino parents tend to see such matters through different lenses than white ones.
We all have “empathic blind spots, people we can’t relate to on an emotional level simply because their experience is too distinct from our own,” the Teacher Project’s Carr wrote in her CJR reflection.
Once again, I urge the education journalism community to acknowledge the importance of diversity in our work and to do the difficult, uncomfortable things that may need doing in order to make education news as good as it can be.
*The numbers in the chart include permanent education staff who work in editorial roles, not administrative staff or part-timers, short-timers, and fellows. In some cases, such as the LA Times, KPCC, and USA Today, the totals include a higher education reporter. In 2016 and 2017, the snapshot included in-house “estimates” of racial diversity when news outlets didn’t respond or declined to provide demographic information, based on biographical information and images. Since 2018, the roundup includes information provided by the outlet or indicates that they declined/failed to respond. No estimates are provided.