'D&C' a leader in newsroom diversity, but more should be done

This column is courtesy of ASNE Diversity Committee Co-Chair Karen Magnuson, editor and vice president/news of the Rochester (New York) Democrat & Chronicle.

In 2004, we took a comprehensive look at the diversity of the Democrat and Chronicle newsroom. At the time, minority members made up about 15 percent of the staff, and a survey of current and former journalists of color revealed our culture was not welcoming.

We implemented a plan to hire more journalists of color, help them acclimate through a new mentoring program, and provide more professional development and opportunities for advancement. We also worked on building a greater understanding of the value of diversity in our coverage with the help of a newsroom Diversity Committee.

A lot has changed in 14 years due to our industry's financial challenges and the transformation to digital, but our commitment to diversity remains the same. Our staff of 48 is smaller but more diverse with minorities comprising 25 percent — a mix of African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians across the newsroom.  

Our primary coverage area, Monroe County, has a minority population of 29 percent with the largest group being African-American. The breakdown for our newsroom in Rochester is 10 percent African-American, 8 percent Asian and 6 percent Hispanic.  This summer, we'll welcome two more African-Americans as reporting interns, and internships introduce us to talented up-and-comers whom we seriously consider as openings emerge.

About half of our newsroom staff are women in what once was a male enclave.

Of course, it's critically important to have diverse voices making decisions about strategy and coverage, and the diversity of our leadership team stands at 27.3 percent. Our Editorial Board of eight includes three African-Americans, including community member Adrian Hale.

Our diversity is well above the national average for newsrooms but more can and should be done by the D&C and all news organizations to keep up with the changing composition of the population.

The news industry in general has struggled mightily with diversity as newsrooms have downsized due to financial challenges. A 2017 survey conducted by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) found that minority journalists comprised 16.6 percent of the workforce in U.S. newsrooms. The survey received responses from 661 news organizations, including 598 newspapers and 63 online-only news websites, but not all participate.


I'm doing what I can to advance the cause as a member of the ASNE board and co-chair of the ASNE Diversity Committee. I work with editors around the country to update the annual survey and provide professional development for editors on topics such as recruitment, retention and community engagement. I feel an even greater sense of urgency and purpose as minority populations grow and more communities grapple with racial strife.

Without question, embracing diversity is the right thing to do, but it's also a business imperative in a multicultural society. Diversity of thought is part of the solution. It inspires more creativity that drives innovation. It leads to more robust community conversations that may lead to positive change.

We saw it work firsthand through our public service project, the Unite Rochester Challenge, when 89 viable ideas were submitted from people in our community to help address racial and socioeconomic inequality. The challenge was part of the D&C's ongoing Unite Rochester campaign to promote inclusiveness. Unite Rochester convened countless community conversations, sparked new initiatives such as a citizen court academy and student summits at area high schools, and led to an expansion of the Urban-Suburban program in Rochester-area schools.

Diversity of thought in the newsroom also helps us in the daily conversations we have about coverage. Everyone in the newsroom is invited to our morning news meeting to contribute ideas. We also glean ideas from readers who call or write us and digital users who share with us via social media.

Diversity is a core value as important as upholding our First Amendment responsibilities as a free press. We embrace it as an issue of accuracy and credibility. If we reflect and cover communities of color in authentic and inclusive ways, we deliver a more accurate news report. How could we inspire inclusive problem-solving in our community if we are not inclusive ourselves?

Inclusiveness is part of our culture now and we'll continue to keep it top of mind in the days ahead. Although we've come a long way since that study in 2004, we're always looking for opportunities to improve, and welcome your suggestions.