Diversity Spotlight

DEIA initiatives must be mission-centered and measurable to be meaningful


For the past few years, there has been an emphasis on increased diversity and inclusion efforts across all industries. Journalism outlets have responded through various avenues: crafting statements of commitment, offering workshops and training, developing source trackers and inclusion indexes and engaging with survey work.

However, these initiatives still fall into the same DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility) traps that have stifled growth and understanding in this area.

  1. The focus is only on demographic shifts. These surveys/assessments typically evaluate what the makeup of the newsroom looks like but fail to consider structures that have made it hard to diversify newsrooms. While useful on some level, the data does little to increase the understanding of why some newsrooms cannot retain diverse talent.
  2. Engaging in DEIA activities without clear outcome goals. When someone describes a workshop or training they are attending, my first question is, “How is the experience going to impact your approach to your work?” Often there is not a clear connection between the training and its implementation. And that reduces any training — no matter the quality — to something that simply checks a box. Specific and measurable goals can produce meaningful change.
  3. DEIA work continues to be siloed. Diversity initiatives are often seen as optional or framed as not mission-essential. This is more readily seen in inclusion indexes that continue to frame diversity and DEIA as work that benefits only marginalized communities. It overlooks the fact that even spaces that are 90% white would benefit from implementing DEIA strategies. Discussing and implementing DEIA frameworks should be as commonplace as discussing your editorial strategy — no matter where your newsroom is located or who it serves.
  4. DEIA work continues to focus on the problem rather than solutions. We know what the problems are in newsrooms, and we know that some newsrooms have mandated training and issued statements to combat these issues. However, this work often focuses on what organizations are doing wrong rather than proactively offering concrete solutions and steps to solve their diversity problems.

All of this isn’t to say that the work that has been done is wrong or isn’t helping to start the conversation. The issue is that the impact of DEIA initiatives, statements and activities aren’t being tracked. As a result, we can't say what is or is not working.

If, as an industry, journalism wants to be a change leader, newsrooms should consider the following:

  1. Stop only relying on checkbox diversity. While diversifying staff and having representation is extremely important, this alone will not solve the diversity problem. There need to be resources and structural changes within the organization to support and retain a diverse staff.
  2. Attach key performance indicators (KPI)/outcome goals to your DEIA initiatives. There is a growing sense of burnout around DEIA work due to the lack of application of the knowledge gained from workshops and training. If the professional development does not have a clear application to the work your newsroom is doing, it will not impact your organization in a meaningful way.
  3. Make diversity a part of your organization’s mission statement. DEIA frameworks should inform how business is conducted, how staff is hired and how journalists approach news stories. If your organization picks and chooses when to apply these frameworks, you won’t accomplish the change you hope to make in your newsroom.
  4. Participate in DPI’s diversity survey. Our newsroom diversity audit doesn’t just focus on demographics but works to understand how newsrooms approach and understand DEIA. The first step in solving a problem is understanding what has already been done to address it. We know newsrooms are engaging in DEIA initiatives, but we don't know the impact of these initiatives or the change they have made in the industry. To look forward, we first need to take a step back and understand how this work is currently being approached and understood by both leaders and journalists — the main focus of the DPI survey.  

Once we have a better understanding of the current state of DEIA initiatives in newsrooms, we can start changing internal structures and creating meaningful learning opportunities and frameworks so we can truly make journalism a trusted space for our communities.

Gaby Martinez-Stevenson has over 10 years of mixed-methods research experience. Prior to joining DPI, Gaby worked as a senior research analyst for higher education, public health and human services. Her academic work centers on race, immigration, citizenship and soccer. She also taught several college-level courses including race and ethnicity and social inequality. She was a member of her city government’s Community Relations Committee, has advocated for accessibility to resources and is a founding member of a local community organization that seeks racial and social justice within her community. Gaby earned her masters in applied sociology from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is currently a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


The October 2022 E&P edition includes a Diversity Spotlight article by Gaby Martinez-Stevenson, "DEIA initiatives must be mission-centered and measurable to be meaningful," that misses a big part of any media outlet's mission: Profitability.

This is why DEIA initiatives often only get lip service: They do nothing to improve the bottom line. Your audience does not care about staff diversity or inclusion if your staff does not produce meaningful content.

In this labor market, small media organizations struggle to find staff at all. Larger organizations will only implement DEIA initiatives so long as they can afford them. Can you name a large media organization in the past two years that hasn't trimmed its employees?

For sure, there are plenty of talented people across the spectrum, so if you can afford to replace staff, how much extra room do you have in your budget to attract and retain them?

We know what we need to stay in business — bulldog journalism, innovative story-telling, objectivity, accuracy, integrity, trust, fairness, etc. — and because start-up competitors only need a smartphone and social media, we have to react quickly, too.

So if you focus on hiring staff who can deliver this, regardless of their gender, race, politics, beliefs, religion, etc., you'll survive a long time.

Hire anyone less than the best, and you needlessly risk profitability and longevity.

Martinez-Stevenson wants journalism to be a "change leader" but how can they if they go out of business?

Gregory Norfleet
West Branch, Iowa


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