Look at the coverage of any major news event and you will see a wide variety of perspectives. Every news organization and medium will have a different way of telling the story, be it a major publication like the New York Times or a local cable channel. While the story may be presented in many different ways, the basic perspective follows what the organizations think people will be interested in, because their job is to provide information that will pique the public’s interest.
According to The Atlantic, 92 percent of journalists were white in 1992, and 92 percent of journalists were white in 2012.
In journalism we have this obsession with being objective. We assume that if we report all the facts, quote people accurately and follow up with our sources, our article will present the truth without our own personal viewpoints.
There is a difference between being objective and telling peoples’ stories in a way that represents their truth.
The overall news narrative is made up of a few different elements. One aspect includes the stories that journalists look for. News production involves stories that are of interest to the people that buy the newspaper or visit their website. One aspect where diversity is lacking is in which stories they choose to report on, or what that organization considers newsworthy.
The other aspect in which diverse perspectives is important is that no matter how objective a journalist is, their personal viewpoint and history is important. A source may say something different to a reporter who looks like them, who they can trust, than they would to a reporter that they are wary of.
Each reporter has their own personal bias and history as well. I’m not saying that reporters are racist because they are white or that white journalists can’t cover the news in ways that are accurate and engaging to their audience. Every journalist is a human being that brings their own life experience to the table. Each person will ask different questions during an interview and notice different details depending on what their experiences have been.
In Seattle, the publication Crosscut hosted a discussion about this very topic with prominent editors and reporters of color in the area. The title of the panel was #JournalismSoWhite, and the goal was “focusing on the state of journalism today, and the unique challenges faced by women and journalists of color in the industry.”
When discussing how hiring more people of color will impact the news that is produced, Venice Buhain, news editor at Seattle Globalist, said that “everyone has a responsibility to improve the news” and that “diversity improves the quality of journalism.”
Sonya Green of KBCS was one of the moderators at the event, and although she didn’t get a chance to respond as a panelist, she asked probing questions about what a white centered narrative looks like.
In response, Yessenia Funes, editor at YES Magazine, mentioned the balance that even she has to play. She discussed how the demographics of paying readers affect what news is produced, how it’s vital to make news that appeals to an often majority white audience.
Tyrone Beason and Jerry Large of the Seattle Times also explained a common theme that they have witnessed since the ‘90s of editors less willing to take risks in hiring and even in stories produced. The emergence of social media and the internet have changed how news is consumed and with that change has come massive profit loss for print, radio and television news.
Beason and Large explained that editors are often less willing to take risks on hiring people that are not like them, such as people of color.
To me, journalism should always be a mission to bring the truth to readers and to tell that truth as wholly as possible. It’s impossible to tell that truth when only viewing stories from a Western, white perspective. Not only should newsrooms focus on hiring passionate and well-qualified journalists, they should also focus on hiring people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to more fully represent all populations whose stories they tell.
A constant dedication to true and humble curiosity about one’s subject as well as the transparency to own our own areas in which we can grow are the hallmarks of what journalism should be.