Three papers recognized with the 2009 Diversity Pacesetter Awards

Two Texas newspapers and one in Massachusetts led the industry in their diversity efforts this year.

Two Texas newspapers and one in Massachusetts led the industry in their diversity efforts this year.

The Diversity Pacesetter Awards recognize top performers in three categories: top diversity index, top percentage of minorities on staff, and top percentage increase of minority staffing and the top performers in seven circulation categories.

The Standard-Times in New Bedford, Mass., won for best diversity index, El Paso (Texas) Times for highest percentage of minorities on staff for the second year, and the Victoria (Texas) Advocate for largest increase in the percentage of minority staffing. The top three winners will receive $3,000 each made possible by a generous contribution from the Gannett Foundation.

We asked the winning editors how a diverse staff improves news coverage:

Chris Lopez, El Paso TimesChris Lopez, El Paso Times: The staff of the El Paso Times covers the nation's largest binational border, and ethnic diversity of our staff is essential to our day-to-day success in reflecting the news, culture and lifestyle of the tri-state region that is Texas, New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico.

We have numerous Spanish-language reporters and photographers who cross into the city of Juarez to cover events. Their bilingual skills allow them to more easily relate to the subjects of their stories and communicate on a level more comfortable to the people we're interviewing. Likewise, our journalists, many of whom grew up in the border region of Texas and Mexico, bring a cultural awareness to their reporting that allows our journalism to reflect the everyday lives of our readership.

Issues that resonate across the country such as diabetes and obesity rates among Hispanics, immigration and an underground economy fueled by foreign-born laborers, are more easily identified and explained because of the diverse nature of our staff, and as such our stories on these topics should be exclusive but relevant to the rest of the country.

Chris Cobler, Victoria Advocate: We used your question to prompt an engaging newsroom discussion. Managing Editor Thomas Martinez summed up the conversation with the admonition that we can do better yet:

“A diverse newsroom accurately and thoroughly covers its community. We do an OK job of that, but OK isn't nearly good enough. Every staff member needs to make diversity a priority. To use a cliché, it's not enough to just talk the talk; we need to walk the walk as well. For reporters, they must expand their sources to include voices of diversity. A photographer must make a commitment to expand his comfort zone to shoot faces of diversity. Desk people must make smarter wire selections that offer diversity whenever available. And lead editors have to make a commitment to diversity a priority for the entire staff. That includes focusing coverage that will make us more diverse and valuable to the community.”

Robert Unger, The Standard Times, New Bedford, Mass.: Diversity is less about numbers and quotas than it is about understanding your community from the inside. In New Bedford, where nearly 40 percent of the population is Portuguese or Cape Verdean, we have been lucky to have Portuguese and Cape Verdean staff who speak Portuguese and who know the community in a way that others cannot. We were able to publish a book that came out of a series on the Portuguese-American experience with reporters who were able to travel to Portugal and the Azores and speak the language of the people we used as sources. Ours is a cautionary tale, though. We lost three of our diversity hires to other jobs and one to a layoff. None of those people have been replaced, and as a result, we have lost something of our ability to cover the region from the inside-out as we once did. Still, The Standard-Times has established itself as an honest voice that Portuguese-Americans, Cape Verdeans and, most recently, Central Americans as a whole trust and respect.