Great Struggle, Little Progress: A Case Study of the 2018 ASNE Newsroom Diversity Survey

The banquet hall was half-empty by the time the diversity session began during the American Society of News Editors' annual conference at the AT&T Executive Education & Conference Center in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 12, 2018.
To be fair, two additional conference sessions were being held at the same time, which may have accounted for some decline in the audience. But earlier that day, the association had published a disquieting press release about its annual newsroom diversity survey. The survey, introduced in 1978, is a tool for measuring meaningful inclusion of people from underrepresented groups — particularly white women and ethnic and racial minorities —  in digital and print newsrooms across the United States. While there were some highlights in the scant data, the low response rate was alarming. Only 17 percent of the 1,700 organizations queried actually completed the survey, limiting any meaningful comparison to survey data from the year before. The lack of participation signaled something troubling - why would journalism outlets, institutions committed to transparency and holding the powerful accountable - refuse to release the demographic data about their newsrooms? The panelists looked out on a room that 30 minutes before had held dozens of journalism professionals including hiring managers, executive editors and publishers, and began to discuss the problem.

On the dais, five representatives from ASNE, including Executive Director Teri Hayt, its 2017-2018 president, Mizell Stewart, and Diversity Committee Chairperson Karen Magnuson, addressed questions about the survey and its history from an audience of the usual suspects — editors and managers committed to actively working on issues of diversity and inclusion in their newsrooms. But the panelists were grappling with a number of questions of their own: How would the association increase participation in the survey going forward? Did the survey capture relevant data on demographic trends in the newsroom? How should the survey adapt to become more inclusive, gathering data from journalists who identify as part of LGBTQIA+ communities without putting those individuals at risk of discrimination? How would it account for organizations producing news without the structure of a brick-and-mortar ‘newsroom,' and reflect the reality of jobs that no longer maintained the divide between business and editorial work?

To read this case study, written by Meredith D. Clark, PhD., click here.

Last week's ASNE newsletter contained the link to a version of the case study on our 2018 diversity survey with a factual error. The link has since been removed and the case study, available on our website, has been updated for accuracy.