Editor’s Note: This column reflects the opinion of the editor-in-chief and not of the newsroom as a whole, the editorial board nor individual Emerald reporters. Read the Emerald’s full diversity report here.
The Emerald’s first diversity census has been a long time coming.
Across the U.S., newsrooms are largely White, male and heterosexual. The most recent data from the American Society of News Leaders — which surveys newsrooms annually on their demographics — shows promise, but is frustrating in the slow improvements it does display.
Some key highlights from the 2019 ASNL survey include how People of Color comprise about one in five (21.9%) of surveyed salaried newsroom employees. About four in 10 (41.8%) newsroom employees are women, and among management, just under one in five (18.8%) are People of Color. Nearly half (40.5%) are women and very few (2%) are non-binary.
What does this mean for news organizations? Newspapers rarely reflect the diversity of their readerships, nor the communities they are based in. This disparity is reflected in their reporting, which can weigh White issues more heavily and minimize issues faced by Black, Indigenous, People of Color and other minorities. News reporting can shape our understanding of present reality, our perceptions of the past and the imagined possibilities of the future — but when entire perspectives are written out of existence, it furthers racist narratives and continues a harmful legacy of reporting.
Few college newsrooms conduct these surveys, and some — but not all — professional newsrooms do so. To be sure, journalists have made strides in advocating for more diverse reporting and newsrooms. There are several newsrooms across the country that focus on issues that BIPOC, women and LGBTQ+ people face, including The 19th News, MLK50 and Autostraddle, among others. But there’s always more that we can do.
We conducted the survey in May, and 52 of the Emerald’s 70 employees responded, making for a response rate of 74%.
Here are the key facts. These statistics reflect the demographics of respondents, but they need to be carefully used when discussing the newsroom as a whole.
Nearly four in five (78.8%) of respondents are White
Over half (53.8%) are women
About two-thirds (67.3%) are heterosexual
Nearly two-thirds (65.3%) are “very liberal” and none identified as conservative
26.9% have UO need-based academic scholarships, 25% are not using financial aid and 40.4% have some kind of loan
About two thirds (65.4%) do not receive a regular paid stipend
The vast majority (90.4%) do not consider themselves to have a permanent or temporary disability
Some of this data aligns with the University of Oregon’s own demographics. For one, the Emerald and UO have nearly the same percentage of women students, with a difference of less than a percentage point, according to 2019 UO data.
But there are a few key differences. The Emerald has a higher percentage of White students than UO’s student body, which is 60.0% White. Additionally, the UO Office of Institutional Research — which collects much of the data surrounding university demographics — does not have data on students’ sexualities or hometowns, so making some direct comparisons is difficult.
This survey also collected anonymous written responses about the newsroom’s diversity efforts from Emerald staff.
“I don’t think our work engages issues of race enough,” one respondent said.
“I don't have a lot of insight into what's happening when it comes to hiring/internal work, but I feel like I haven't seen a lot of intentional talk about diversity and inclusion beyond going to student groups for ETP,” another respondent said, referring to the Emerald Trust Project, a newsroom initiative for building transparency and community trust.
“I think we could make ourselves more accessible to students who don't necessarily have a lot of time to put into an unpaid position and ensure reporters are getting the support they need to grow and learn,” one respondent said.
Since this is the Emerald’s first diversity census, it’s also not very easy to gauge movements toward or away from a more representative newsroom when examining previous years. My hope as I graduate this spring is that these censuses continue annually so the Emerald can continue working on these issues. A more representative newsroom means more accurate and truthful reporting — a goal that every journalist needs to have.