Monday, April 21, 2008

After decades of diversity, looking for reader gains

Gannett's drive to feature more minorities in news stories was a constant during the 20 years I worked for the company. So, too, was an emphasis on hiring minority news staffers -- a push that will be on full display at the big Unity '08 journalism conference in July. Now, looking back, I wonder whether all those diversity programs achieved their intended benefits.

It would be easy to dismiss my views as those of a privileged, 51-year-old white guy. But I became something of a diversity pro during my time in Gannett. USA Today asked me to write a chapter on diversity in news for a new-employee guide. I built a database of small businesses that included more than 500 minorities. I also developed a class on diversity, which I taught to dozens of staffers at McLean, Va.; Washington, D.C.; New York City, and in San Francisco. In Boise at the Idaho Statesman, I created DiversityNet, an online network of minority professionals to help the paper better "mainstream" stories. Plus, at both the Statesman and at USA Today, I was a member of newsroom diversity committees.

The premise behind news diversity seems simple: A more diverse staff produces more varied news. That, in turn, should attract more readers who "see'' themselves more frequently online and in print. On paper, that sounds smart. My beef is that I've never seen rigorous research showing that readership rates correlate with improvements in diversity. I've also never seen research showing that a more diverse staff necessarily leads to more variety in news coverage. I did as good a job (possibly, a better job) as many of my minority colleagues over the years. And I'm that white guy.

Your thoughts, in the comments section, below. Use this link to e-mail feedback, tips, snarky letters, etc. See Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

[Image: this morning's Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Newseum. Last fall, the New York paper won Gannett’s All-American Outstanding Achievement Diversity Award, for the second time]


  1. Boring, boring,boring Jim. This blog is boring.

  2. Hey, GCI Anon 4:35pm. You're comments are boring. Go away. Leave it to the rest of us.

  3. Part of the problem is management is not nearly as diverse as the people who fill the run-of-the-mill jobs in most newsrooms. A generation isn't long enough to see that diverse pool of reporters and editors make it to the executive level, where the real decisions are made. There's ad in a recent issue of Presstime with GCI wishing Sue Clark-Johnson the best in retirement. On the next two pages is a spread with photos of all of Gannett's publishers. Look at those photos and tell me how diverse Gannett REALLY is - or isn't!

  4. The good ol' boy network will protect itself as long as it can. Diversity is for the lower ranks.

  5. Jim:
    Your main point seems to be that the expected circ gains have not followed the emphasis on diversity.
    Several years ago, a book author, William McGowan, made the same point in "Coloring the News."
    Here is a WSJ link to a review of the book.
    Diversity may be a social good in its own right. There dosen't appear to be much evidence that it draws new customers.

  6. A reader sent the following note to me in an e-mail. With his permission, I'm posting it as a comment:

    "I couldn't agree more with the readers post. I don't feel that there is anyone in management that speaks for me. I am gay, biracial, and Jewish. I am the company's poster for diversity. My biggest frustration with this company is that they talk about diversity and grooming the company's leaders of tomorrow but those of us who are willing to work hard and stand behind that hard work they forget about."

  7. Gannett was the first big journalistic plantation, and we were the cotton pickers.
    And after years in the field, they let the older workers go.
    Beware young plantation workers. You face the same fate.


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

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