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.
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[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]