The case for diverse and inclusive newsrooms is increasingly heard and understood across news publishers, but many news executives and editors may still be unsure how to effectively promote diversity in their workplace.
A session at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Africa 2023 offered practical advice for increasing diversity in the newsroom and discussed the benefits that come of having a diverse and inclusive editorial team.
For instance, having a group of people from different backgrounds working together ensures that different viewpoints are represented. This ultimately helps the journalism that the newsroom produces to better connect with a wider variety of audiences.
“We can never overemphasise the importance of diversity, because it brings diversity of experiences, diversity of ideas, diversity of perspectives, which are key to building successful organisations,” said Emelda Libanga, Acting Managing Editor of the Zambia Daily Mail.
Or as Emang Mutapati, Editor-in-Chief of the Voice Newspaper in Botswana, put it: “It shows that you respect your audience when you have diversity in your newsroom.”
Acknowledging and dealing with unconscious bias
When it comes to the barriers that newsroom leaders face when trying to promote diversity, Julia Majale, Managing Director of Tuko.co.ke in Kenya, highlighted unconscious bias as a very common obstacle.
“Everyone has an unconscious bias,” she said. “You tend to gravitate towards people who are like you, who think like you, who probably went to the same school as you. This is something that happens unconsciously.”
Clockwise from top-left: Tamala Chirwa, Lead Coach in Women In News, Malawi, Emelda Libanga, Acting Managing Editor of Zambia Daily Mail, Zambia, Julia Majale, Managing Director of Tuko.co.ke, Kenya, and Emang Mutapati, Editor-in-Chief of the Voice Newspaper, Botswana.
This can mean that a journalist prefers to interview men as sources or as experts rather than women. She also highlighted her own experience of realising that her own team didn’t have any team members living with a disability.
“I hadn’t realised we were lacking in this regard. As a leader, it’s not something that had come to my mind,” she said. “It happens to all of us and even to the best of us.”
The key is to become aware of how such biases can influence decisions and take active steps to counter them by setting specific goals and tasks.
Building leadership skills through training
Mutapati brought up another factor that hinders diversity in the newsroom: a lack of leadership skills.
“Leadership is all about inspiring someone to bring out their full potential,” she said.
“Anybody who knows their role as a leader will venture out to try and bring in more perspectives, more different and diverse individuals into their newsroom,” she said, because hearing from a broad range of perspectives will ultimately help leaders make better decisions.
All three speakers have participated in WAN-IFRA’s Women in News initiative, and they highlighted the benefits that such leadership development programmes can bring to the implementation of diversity strategies in news media companies.
One advantage that was key is guidance on drafting clear newsroom policies on sexual harassment and gender balance.
“We’ve come up with policies so that it doesn’t just become ad hoc,” said Mutapati. In particular, setting policies against sexual harassment has been a crucial step for the company according to her.
“This is one of the worst reasons that chases women out of the newsroom. And to have a policy for that has been a big, big success for us.”
Libanga highlighted several steps that the Zambia Daily Mail has taken to improve gender balance in the company, including promoting more women as senior reporters and considering gender balance when hiring new reporters.
Her newsroom also expects editors to aim for gender balance in their journalism: “At the end of every year, we review how they fared in terms of ensuring that there is gender balance in content.”
Start with a content and newsroom audit…
For anyone who wants to start making their newsroom more diverse and inclusive, the speakers had a clear advice as to what the first step should be: auditing your current situation.
Using a tool such as the Women in News Gender Tracker can help find out how gender balanced your content is in terms of the prominence of women and the use of women’s voices in stories.
“Start with the numbers. Just get the numbers in,” Mutapati said. “And from there, you can then start to craft a strategy: how do we go about increasing representation?”
She added that it’s also a good idea to audit the newsroom: Who are the people working for you? What are their ages and ethnicities? What part of the country do they come from?
“Then find out how you can balance the newsroom, because balancing content starts with balancing the newsroom. Different people bring in different perspectives,” she said.
… and define strategies to increase diversity
Once you’ve assessed your current situation, it’s important to set clear goals for what you want to achieve, said Libanga.
“Where do you want to see yourselves as an organisation? Once you are clear on where you want to get in terms of diversity, then you need to put in place a plan for how you’re going to get there,“ she said.
“I think developing policies is one of the key issues that needs to be addressed because you cannot leave such an important agenda to the goodwill of those in authority. You need a clear policy that will guide how you ensure that there’s diversity in your teams.”
One area where the diversity perspective is often overlooked is strategic planning, she said.
“I think it needs to start from [strategic plans] because diversity is a very key component of an organization. If an organization is going to succeed, they need diversity. So it needs to start from that strategic level.”
An important aspect of this is the tracking and monitoring that takes place at the end of each planning period, Majale added.
“As you’re planning your strategy for the year or for the quarter, you have to add this as part of the things you want to achieve. And actually check this at the end of the year or at the end of six months to see how far you’ve come with that particular goal,” she said.
Watch the full panel here: