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The Hard Truth About Media Hiring

For more than 10 years as hiring manager in the information sector, I got tired of seeing the same problem.

It’s not hard to find diverse candidates for entry-level jobs, but when it comes to hiring journalists for more specialized paces and roles that demand high salaries, white men dominate the candidate pool. . Just think of the majority of journalists who cover the Fed, energy, crypto, health policy, politics – to name a few. You get a pretty clear picture.

The hard truth about building a diverse media workforce is that the old approaches don’t work.

I suggest we start by treating diversity like any other business challenge: Define the problem we’re trying to solve. Come up with a plan to solve it. And hold ourselves accountable.

Here’s what we do at Axios: we decided that if we couldn’t find enough diverse candidates for roles specializing in beat reporting, we would develop the talent ourselves.

Just this week we will soon be announcing that we have hired our first cohort of four journalists who will spend a year in a new fellowship, honing their skills to become a health care reporter, a climate reporter, a global reporter and a race/justice reporter*. We cannot promise to hire the scholarship holders at the end. But we offer something newsrooms sorely lack: an intentional opportunity to take it to the next level. Our goal is for them to get several job offers by the end of their stay with us.

Four jobs aren’t going to change the whole picture overnight. Many other newsrooms have launched similar programs, in partnership with HBCUs and other groups. All in all, it’s a promising start to identifying a weakness in our newsrooms, and a small part to helping the industry as a whole.

As journalists come together in person this year at journalism conventions for the first time since the pandemic, now is a good time to resume the conversation on fresh ideas to ensure that our newsrooms represent the communities we cover.

Here are some additional ideas that we, especially information leaders, can do more about:

  • Admit your blind spots. Engage in serious, candid conversations with your newsroom about specific ways to improve instead of being defensive about what hasn’t been done or only pointing to past accomplishments. There is always more work to do. So try to get consensus around a prioritized list of achievable goals.
  • Think broadly about diversity. For some, doing better on “diversity” translates poorly to hiring more black journalists. Your workforce diversity shouldn’t be defined solely by race/ethnicity/gender and LGBTQ representation – although that’s a big part of it. More broadly, it means filling gaps in what the team brings to coverage and admitting where you lack experience or authority. In many newsrooms, this covers communities of color. But not always. For example, on one of our small teams, we recently explained that although we had racial diversity on staff, every team member was a single woman with no children who lives in a big city. It is a problem. The team said they knew they weren’t capturing how to cover issues that affect parents or men, for example. On another team, a bonus for a candidate was that she lived in the rural south and we already had reporters who lived on the east and west coasts and in the Midwest.
  • Stop relying on others (i.e. your “various” reporters) to do the hard work for you. The reality is that many people enter the hiring pool because they are in contact with employees who are already working there. Take stock of your own professional network. A simple exercise: Take a look at your “connections” on LinkedIn. It’s telling to see it through a lens of the actual diversity of your network. This simple exercise is a good way to start understanding the formal and informal ways you already leverage your network when hiring. Now the question is, how do you expand it into new places that will help you and the news organization you run attract the talent you need?
  • Commit to small goals to intentionally reach new people. Here are some ideas: Make a running list of talented journalists who work elsewhere and whom you like to meet. Make it a goal to contact a new person once a week. Got a call or email from a journalist looking to connect? Answer the email or pick up the phone. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Have you wasted 10 minutes of your life? I doubt.
  • Familiarize yourself with a new journalism group. It’s a good time, with the in-person return conventions, to meet new people. I know it’s intimidating, especially since we’re more embarrassed than ever to socialize. But go with a colleague who can do the introductions and help out at the recruiting booth. Attend social events. People will notice you’re there, and one by one, you’ll feel more comfortable and bond.

I see more women and more reporters from news organizations of color in my lifetime, and I look forward to seeing how this will shape newsrooms today and in the future. Change at the top promises to make a difference. But it’s also time to get real goals and set goals that we can actually achieve, even if we start small.

*The Axios Fellowship begins in September 2022. Axios founders Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen, and Roy Schwartz funded the program with their “Smart Brevity” book advance, a book on effective communication, published this fall.

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