Newsroom leadership should embrace criticism about diversity, equity and inclusion
By Emma Carew Grovum
Editor and Publisher
When staff appeals for change, be responsive ..................................... One of the biggest demands coming from inside newsrooms around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is for leaders to take ownership of the harm they’ve committed or overseen. They also need to hold themselves accountable for future strategies and behaviors, and their newsrooms teams are asking them to. A list of demands or a strongly worded feedback letter may be a tough pill to swallow, but there are concrete steps any leader can take to address and acknowledge the work by staff on these topics. The goal is to make your newsroom a safer place for journalists from historically marginalized backgrounds, so they can do their best and most authentic work. If members of your newsroom appeal to you in this way, remember that’s it’s probably not directed at you personally. So, remove emotions from your reactions when you first ingest their criticism. Second, try to hold space for the trauma and pain that went into a document like this. If your newsroom staff feels strongly enough to band together and collaborate on a list of recommendations, they didn’t come to this process lightly. If folks have offered their trauma for your education, understand and respect from where that came. Next, listen and digest. If your staff has come to you with a list of demands or a series of recommendations, it’s time for you to dig deep and do some reflection about what you are learning. As you read and react to the document, take note of who you need to follow-up with and who you need to speak with to gain more context. It’s incredibly important for you as a leader to take ownership for direct harm that you’ve caused, as well as indirect harm that you knew about, were complicit in or otherwise oversaw. This is often the hardest part. We know our organizations aren’t perfect, but we’re often proud of the small wins we’ve achieved or the progress we are making. These letters and lists can remind leadership teams that although those wins look good on paper, they may not ultimately be moving the needle for folks on the ground. You might hold a town hall or an all-hands meeting. You might send an email to the staff or do both. But building trust is so important at this early stage, so being transparent and open are key. Then, prioritize and assign owners to the new initiatives and ideas. Once you’ve had a chance to truly sit with the recommendations and ideas brought by your staff, it’s time to apply what you’ve heard to how you’re going to move forward. Hopefully your staff has given you some guidance about what is most important to them in the short- and long-term. But we can’t make change alone, so it’s important that you activate the other leaders on your team when it comes to executing and implementing next steps and new ideas. By the time you respond to staff, which again, should be held publicly and with plenty of time for questions, you should be ready to announce a few things, such as: • The creation of a DEI Slack or Teams channel where shared progress can be reported and celebrated on a weekly or biweekly basis; • The creation of a DEI working committee, including representatives from the leadership team and staff; • Immediate initiatives and who will own each one; and • A way for staff to give feedback and be heard on the proposed next steps. Finally, none of these efforts really add up to much if you aren’t transparent and open about accountability. For each new initiative you assign and decide to move forward with, make sure everyone is clear about: what success looks like; what metrics you will use to measure progress; and how often you will be reporting this progress to the staff. One of the biggest gifts you can give to your staff during these difficult times is a way to access power dynamics differently. Remember to put your ego and hurt feelings aside during this process. It isn’t about you. It’s about how to best serve, protect and develop journalists of color, and others from historically marginalized backgrounds, within your organization. You’re fortunate enough to have co-collaborators raising their hands from the staff. Partner with them, share power with them, and work together to build that more inclusive tomorrow for your entire organization.