Archive for the ‘diversity’ Category

This continues my series on professional networking.

One of the most offensive, discriminatory terms of the professional world is “the old boy network.”

I’ve blogged all week about the value of building and using a professional network to advance your career. But I need to acknowledge a sinister factor: The old boy network has long been a tool of racism and sexism, often unintentionally but still emphatically helping white men’s journalism careers to the detriment of women and journalists of color.

In Wednesday’s post, when I listed people whose connections have helped lead to jobs during my career, I certainly noticed that most were white men. To some extent that’s going to be true for most journalists, because white men are still disproportionately powerful, and the situation was more disproportionate in the 1970s, when my career started.

Some discrimination is intentional and inherently evil. But I think this aspect of discrimination is rooted in the fact that we all have natural affinities for people with shared experiences, and most people’s default settings will be to connect with people who share our own demographic experiences.

But diversity is important for the news business (beyond the fact that discrimination is wrong). If we are going to matter to diverse communities, we need diverse staffs and leaders. So journalists seeking to have successful careers, hire successful staffs and improve the news business need to make the effort to diversify our personal networks. And the truth is, as journalists we have extensive shared experiences on which we can build strong affinities, if we’re just honest enough to acknowledge those natural demographic affinities and let the professional experiences rule our default settings.

Effective networking that is diligent in preventing discrimination — except by such factors as experience, skills and work ethic — can be as effective in increasing diversity as the old boy network was in blocking it.

I’ve been aware of, and sometimes heavily involved in, efforts to diversify most organizations where I’ve worked. I encourage (and practice) efforts to diversify networks, and I know of women and people of color in leadership positions who have used their network connections to alert diverse candidates to opportunities and recommend them for jobs, somewhat offsetting the bias of the old-boy network (in which the word white was unspoken but very real). (more…)


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Diversity should always be an important consideration in planning journalism events.

Currently and historically, most news media have failed to reflect the diversity of our country’s population or of the communities and segments of society they cover. And most news staffs don’t reflect the diversity of the people they cover. Those facts are directly related, despite earnest efforts of white guys like me to bring diversity into our own coverage efforts.

Even if a conference isn’t focused on diversity as a primary topic (and more conferences should be), journalism event planners should take diversity into account in inviting speakers, panelists, participants and topics. I can’t think of a conference that wouldn’t be strengthened by diversity in race, ethnicity, gender and age. Sometimes other diversity factors, such as sexual orientation or identification, disabilities, religion, political outlook, geography and job could matter in some events. But some of those (as well as some of the demographic factors) might be difficult to know about some potential speakers, unless they publicly state them.

A recent event underscored to me how important perspective is when experiencing and assessing diversity efforts.

Kim Fox and I were speakers recently at the Future of Student Media Summit at Ohio University. I thought it was an outstanding event, better than most of the 150-plus that I’ve attended as a speaker or participant. Fox sharply criticized the event for its lack of diversity, saying, “As a black female college professor I was immediately struck and frustrated by the lineup of speakers for the summit – predominantly white males.”

I’m going to get around to some suggestions for increasing diversity in the speakers and content of journalism events. At the very end of this long post, I will explain some of my personal history of diversity efforts. But first I want to address differing perspectives and how they play into efforts to improve diversity and perceptions of how diverse an event is.

Fox and I are of different genders and races. I was one of those white males that she correctly observed predominated. I counted (guessing ethnicity in some cases) people on the conference speakers page, and 28 of us were white males, compared to 12 women and/or racial or ethnic minorities. I know of one white male who had to cancel, but other speakers may have canceled of whom I am not aware.

Both of the keynote speakers were white men, including me. The other general sessions both featured white men as well. The only female speaking except in breakout sessions was OU student Alisa Warren, who interviewed a featured speaker, Online News Association President Josh Hatch. I would guess from her appearance and some of her tweets that Warren is likely biracial.

I don’t recall guessing and counting the ethnicity of people at a conference before, but my impression is that the OU students who planned this event did better in achieving diversity than most media events I have attended (I’ll guess better than 60 to 70 percent), but not as well as the best. That’s more a measure of how poorly most media conferences achieve diversity than of how well these students did.

Fox faults the conference planners for an all-male panel she attended, where someone in the audience asked why there wasn’t a woman on the panel. I didn’t attend that panel (the conference had six time slots with about four breakout sessions each time). As Fox noted, the question might have been prompted by Scott Gilmore’ s post, Why I will no longer speak on all-male panels, which encouraged asking the question.

Of course, unless you ask during the planning, you’re not immediately aware of the diversity of a panel when you’re asked to serve on one. You may not know yet who the other panelists are because you are the first person asked. You may know that women and/or minorities are among the people being invited, but learn later that they didn’t accept or had to back out. I’m scheduled to be on a panel this summer that, at this point, includes a woman. If she has to change plans, when will I find out (I’m not the panel organizer)? And how could I answer that question if she’s replaced by a man?

I did attend a session that featured all women at the Future of Student Media Summit: OU student Emma Ockerman, editor-in-chief of the Post, moderating a discussion of revenue innovations at college newspapers by Danielle Ferguson, editor-in-chief of the Iowa State Daily, and Victoria Checa, advertising manager of the Diamondback at the University of Maryland. It was an excellent session and I’ve already mentioned some of their ideas to my colleagues at LSU as things we might want to try.

Checa illustrates a challenge event planners have in seeking to achieve diversity among their speakers and panelists: You don’t always know how well you’re doing. She does not speak with a foreign accent, but that’s true of many, if not most, children of immigrants. She doesn’t have one of those common Spanish last names ending in z that help you identify someone as a likely Latina. But I would surmise from her dark hair and her name that she is a Latina. The website Mooseroots says 86 percent of the people with that surname are Hispanic and 6 percent are Asian. Should event organizers have presumed she was Hispanic in assessing the diversity of their speakers? Should they have asked her? Can they know whether she’s married to a Latino and took his name?

My Spanish teacher in college was a Mexico native who spoke with an accent and “looked” Hispanic, but her married name was Harris. If you were planning speakers for a conference and didn’t know her, if someone recommended her as a speaker, you likely would presume from her name that she didn’t add to the ethnic diversity of the speakers.

I emailed a draft of this post to Checa and she clarified her ethnicity: “My father is Nicaraguan and Peruvian and my mother is Nicaraguan and French, so the French part makes it a bit more difficult to tell.” She also described the conference as “incredible.”

Having attended an all-female breakout, and not the all-male one, I didn’t see the lack of diversity as clearly as Fox did. And I should acknowledge the obvious: My gender and race probably affected whether and how I would notice the lack of diversity.

I did notice that the group who went to dinner for the speakers Saturday night was all-white-male, a mix of out-of-town speakers and hosts from OU. It wasn’t a huge group, about 10 of us. I see by my email invitation that multiple women and people of color were invited. I presume and hope travel schedules or dinner plans with other friends were the factors that kept others from joining us, not that they didn’t feel welcome.

From my different perspective, the students planning the OU event produced an excellent event on many counts. They probably did better on diversity than Fox gave them credit for, but they should aspire to do better, and I support Fox in pointing out this shortcoming. Students need and want to learn, and diversity is an important lesson for students and professionals to learn and relearn.

Planning Just the Facts

I recently helped plan a much smaller event, Just the Facts, an American Press Institute fact-checking boot camp hosted March 12 by LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication.

We had 10 speakers at the event, including a panel moderator and a fellow organizer and I who presented some short 5-minute sessions before each of the major sessions. I don’t know what type of event is a greater challenge in terms of achieving diversity. A smaller, more tightly focused event such as Just the Facts, where all speakers need a particular specialty, forces you to use a narrower pool of potential speakers, but a single speaker can notably change the demographic balance of the event. For a larger event such as the Future of Student Media Summit, where the topics covered are broader, the pool of potential speakers much larger, but you also need to recruit more minority and female speakers to achieve true diversity.

This might be a place to point out a central fact in the challenges of achieving diversity at these events: This can be difficult because of the deplorable diversity record of the news business, particularly in print and digital. Until the late 1990s, Federal Communication Commission rules required stronger diversity efforts in broadcasting than the newspaper business ever achieved.

As Fox correctly noted, the news profession has women and journalists of color with expertise in the topics covered at any conference. But white men with similar expertise usually outnumber them notably, or are more prominent, due to the industry’s historic and current failure to diversify, either because of intentional discrimination or the “unconscious bias” that Fox cited. So sometimes planning an event requires some conscious effort to identify and invite the women and journalists of color whose expertise will provide valuable contributions to the conference. And, if the topic(s) of your conference are areas where the lack of diversity in experience and opportunity is particularly egregious, those few experts might have more demands on their schedules and be more likely to turn you down.

I don’t mention any of this to excuse the lack of diversity at any event, just to note that planning an event with diverse speakers and topics requires a conscious attention to achieve diversity, just as planning a fun, instructional or thought-provoking even requires attention to those matters.

In our initial planning for Just the Facts, we were thinking the daylong program would have four sessions. We had five ideas, each of them a topic or an organization we were interested in hearing from: someone from PolitiFact, someone from Snopes, someone from “The Daily Show,” a session on fact-checking information from social media and a politics panel of people from Louisiana.

We decided we would definitely have the politics panel; that group would not involve travel arrangements or expenses. We would invite people from PolitiFact, Snopes and “The Daily Show.” At that point, I had no idea about the race or gender of the people we might get from any of those organizations. If we were able to get someone from each of them, I’d do a short segment on social media verification (we opened each of the longer sessions with a “fast fact” presented by API’s Jane Elizabeth or me). If one of those three organizations didn’t have someone who could help, I was confident that I’d be able to recruit someone good to lead a full session on social media verification. My list of potential speakers for that session included multiple women and people of color.

I expected at least one of the organizations wouldn’t be able to provide a speaker for our date. Planning an event involves some rejections from people who are busy or have schedule conflicts. I turned down or backed out of more than a dozen events last year because of my treatment for lymphoma, causing those event planners to turn to Plan B (or C or D, since I’m not necessarily always Plan A). If I had been a woman or a journalist of color, I would have fouled up the diversity planning of those organizers, especially when I accepted an invitation, then canceled because of changes in my treatment schedule.

Our goal all along was to recruit speakers for a strong program, but diversity was a factor in my mind from the start. I hoped for some diversity in the people from the three organizations we were targeting, and figured we’d have more opportunity to achieve diversity in the panel and the social-media speaker, if needed.

The fact-checker at “The Daily Show” is a white male, Adam Chodikoff, who accepted our invitation and was an excellent lunch speaker, presenting funny debunking clips from the show and then describing the research that went into each.

After PolitiFact Editor Angie Holan, a white female, turned us down because of a schedule conflict, we invited Gardner Selby, a white male who’s editor of Politifact Texas. Selby was an excellent lead-off speaker, but Holan’s schedule affected the gender diversity of our event.

We had the reverse happen with Snopes. Founder David Mikkelson, a white male, initially accepted, then decided that he’d better send someone else because he would be returning from a trip to India, and either might be too tired to speak well or travel delays could cause him to miss our program altogether. He suggested Brooke Binkowski, a white female editor at Snopes, who was both humorous and instructional. (Mikkelson did actually come and sit in the audience, but Binkowski was the speaker.)

Being fairly new to Louisiana, I sought suggestions of others in the Manship School and Louisiana media for potential politics panelists. The initial suggestions I received were all male (and presumably white, but I didn’t know them all). I noted the gender issue and sought and received two more suggestions. One well-qualified woman didn’t respond to my emails (with a special legislative session, followed quickly by the regular session, our event came at a busy time for Louisiana political journalists). However, Marsha Shuler, a veteran political journalist, accepted and joined two LSU political communication professors, Ray Pingree and Bob Mann, and Charles Maldonado of the Lens as panelists. Another LSU prof, Martin Johnson moderated.

When Steve Myers of the Lens suggested Maldonado as a panelist, I presumed he was a Latino. Mooseroots says 93 percent of the people named Maldonado are Hispanic. He may be, but I didn’t ask him (I’m sending him a draft of this post and will update if he responds). But, if you didn’t note Maldonado’s Latin-sounding name, he didn’t look notably different ethnically from the other panelists.

He explained his ethnicity by email after I sent him a draft of this post: “My father is from Venezuela and has dark skin and black hair. You’ve noticed that I got my mother’s looks, though. Her maiden name is Johnson and she’s from Detroit.”

Some facts of diversity today are that Hispanics range in color from light-skinned to dark-skinned, that lots of white people have dark hair and that children or grandchildren of immigrants often have little or no accent, that progress in achieving diversity results in more biracial and inter-ethnic parents, whose offspring don’t “look” like a particular ethnicity.

It’s probably progress in diversity that some people are getting hard to label, I should note. Maybe one day labels won’t matter. But diversity does still matter, so you should seek to achieve it, even if that means some guessing.

In hiring, it’s sometimes easier to identify the ethnicity of a person than when you’re looking for a professional to invite to join a conference panel. An applicant’s resumé might list membership in an ethnic group such as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, or a scholarship that mentions ethnicity. In planning a panel, you might need more research and still might not find out.

And, if you ask about someone’s ethnicity, you’re almost telling that person, if he or she is the guessed ethnicity, that you’re inviting because of ethnicity rather than expertise, a potentially insulting experience of apparent tokenism. Or, if the person says no, he or she is white just like me, should you disinvite? Of course not. I’ve never asked the ethnicity of a person I’m considering for an event or a job.

So how did we do on diversity for Just the Facts? Of the 10 speakers and panelists, three were women and one of the men was Hispanic. Numerically, it was better than the Future of Student Media Summit. But you should strive for more diversity.

Advice on achieving diversity in events and hiring

I have more experience in hiring than in planning events. My advice on pursuing diversity applies to both, though some tips might apply more to one experience than to the other:

Build a diverse network. You might gravitate more naturally to people who share your own demographic traits. You’re likely to share tastes in music, sports, food and other aspects of culture and more likely to feel naturally comfortable together. So then, when you call on your network for help in planning a conference or hiring, you’re likely to get recommendations from people in similar narrow demographic circles. And frankly, if you’re a white man my age, many of the people sharing your demographics have accepted buyouts now and are out of journalism. And if they’re still in journalism, much of their network has accepted buyouts. Whatever your own demographics, you should always be working on diversifying your network.

From a career of cultivating a diverse network, I have lots of people who are younger than me and a different gender, race or ethnicity, whom I can ask for suggestions to speak at a conference (and many of them would make great speakers themselves). At both TBD and Thunderdome, my colleagues represented wide diversity by nearly any respect (except that all had strong digital and journalism experience). I can post an inquiry about conference speakers or a job opening to either former workplace’s Facebook group and be confident that I’m reaching a diverse crowd and that some of them are sharing my request with other diverse crowds.

Insist on quality and qualifications. As Fox correctly noted in her post, female journalists and journalists of color can match white men in virtually any qualification you seek. They may not be as plentiful as qualified white men, but the ones who have succeeded are every bit as qualified.

In fact, you might upgrade the quality of your speakers (or staff) when you find the qualified woman or minority candidate. An unpleasant but undeniable fact of the white-male-dominated workplace is that women and journalists of color sometimes need to be better than the white men they compete with to succeed. So when you find the qualified ones, you can almost be certain that they’ll be outstanding.

Give someone a break. I have years of experience now training journalists and speaking at conferences. But I had never spoken at a conference when the North Dakota Newspaper Association asked me to lead some workshops at its 1998 state conference. They gave me a break. I did pretty well, and now I’ve trained or taught for more than 400 newsrooms, universities, associations, seminars and so on.

If you find a good potential speaker who knows the subject well but hasn’t spoken before, you might consider a little coaching in presentation skills (I’d be happy to help). You might start someone out on a panel rather than leading a solo workshop or being a keynote speaker. You might set up the appearance as a conversation, with a more-experienced speaker interviewing the novice speaker in front of the conference crowd.

Get some help. I was once playing a lead role in recruitment of candidates for a top-editor vacancy. My initial field of candidates was all-male (after some women I thought might be good candidates said they weren’t interested). I told some female colleagues of my dilemma. They approved of my diversity efforts and absolved me of blame (which felt nice, but didn’t diversify my pool of candidates). But one of them did later steer a good female candidate to me, and my continued efforts turned up another strong candidate. Eventually the three finalists were a white man, a woman and a man of color. All three interviewed well and we had a tough decision. The publisher chose the man of color, who excelled in the position.

Your network includes some people whose networks might be more diverse than yours. Ask them for help. Just as the “old-boy network” perpetuated the white-male-dominated conferences and newsrooms, the old-girl network and networks of journalists of color can help diversify. Publicize your opportunities within formal groups organized around demographic minorities, as well as within the individual networks of friends who don’t share your own demographics.

Diversify the planning. I was the only male planning Just the Facts. Jane Elizabeth of API approached me about collaborating with LSU. I sought volunteers to help me plan and two female colleagues volunteered. Perhaps I could have achieved more diversity in the speakers if I had recruited a colleague of color to help plan the event as well.

Keep trying. If achieving diversity were easy, it wouldn’t be an issue now, with all the commitment to diversity that journalism organizations have voiced through the decades. We are overcoming decades worth of discrimination that have made our profession less attractive to some of the groups of people we’re discriminating against. Some potentially good journalists pursue other fields, and others leave our field in frustration. Do the best you can with this conference or this hire. Learn from your successes and failures with this one and try even harder the next time.

No excuses. When I called Fox’s post to the OU student who planned the workshop, he didn’t make excuses. He acknowledged the criticism and seemed committed to learn from the experience. You’re not going to reach perfection with any hire or any conference, whether you’re talking about diversity, quality of programming, logistical matters or whatever. Making excuses not only compounds whatever errors you made, it keeps you from learning and doing better next time.

Welcome accountability. It had to sting when the students who had worked so hard planning the Future of Student Media Summit read Fox’s criticism. But journalists hold people accountable, and we need to be able to take accountability when it’s turned on us. I guarantee the next events any of these students plan, whether at OU or in their professional careers, will be better because of the sting of being held accountable for this event’s lack of diversity.

My personal history with diversity

I know I’m not the person to judge either my intentions and commitment to diversity or my results. Whether this post seemed defensive, reflective or insightful, or a combination, some background might be helpful (even though it’s already too long).

With friends, colleagues and family, diversity has been a factor in my life since childhood. My parents raised me during the 1950s and ’60s with a strong appreciation for the diversity of this nation. Dad was an Air Force chaplain, and diversity was strong in the military in those days. The Air Force was an all-volunteer service then that probably had a disproportionate share of racial and ethnic minorities who saw it as an opportunity to get training, education and professional experience while serving their country. I remember my parents frequently entertaining people of color in our home and us visiting the homes of people of color. When we were in Japan (6th and 7th grades for me), the friends my parents were probably closest to were an interracial couple, a Japanese pastor married to a white American.

I should note that gender diversity wasn’t nearly as strong, but I think I learned enough egalitarianism to expand my view to include gender. And early in my adulthood, after Dad died, Mom enrolled in seminary and became a minister, helping diversify a heavily male field and presenting an example of diversity for her children.

As we’ve grown, my family has become diverse as well. My brother and his biological children have adopted children from Korea, Vietnam, Guatemala, Haiti, India and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as African American and biracial children from the United States.

As a student editor at TCU, I hired (I was told) the first female sports editor of our student newspaper, the Daily Skiff. In more than 50 hires in my professional career where I took the lead in recruiting, made the final decision or both, 45 percent have been women and 18 percent have been journalists of color.

As a reporter and writing coach at the Omaha World-Herald in the early 2000s, I attended a SuperVision diversity training program at the Freedom Forum. I followed up by interviewing current and former staff members of color at the World-Herald and giving the executive editor a report on their experiences and some recommendations for improving diversity in the newsroom. I also led a Reality Checks audit of our content and how well it reflected the diversity of the community.

Twice I led sessions for seminars the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education presented for journalists of color.

I blogged in 2013 about the importance of making diversity a priority in newsroom leadership. That year I also spoke (as the only white male) on a panel on diversity at the Online News Association with Dori Maynard and Jessica Valenti.

I don’t say all this to boast, though it’s clear I think I have a pretty good track record on diversity issues. I just review what I regard as achievements to make this point: You can think you’re doing pretty well and still fall short of ideal when planning a conference or fail to notice or speak up about diversity issues when speaking at or attending a conference.

Diversity issues, like journalism ethics or accuracy, aren’t something you master. They are a continuing challenge that you address with each story, each hire, each event. And then you address them again. And again.

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Page one, Omaha World-Herald, June 15, 1997I wrote this story in June 1997 for the Omaha World-Herald. At the time, President Bill Clinton was trying to focus the nation’s attention on addressing its racial divide, through a program called “One America in the 21st Century: The President’s Initiative on Race.”

We can argue here how much Clinton’s own sexual scandal and impeachment sidetracked any progress he might have made, and how much the election of Barack Obama 11 years later (and re-election four more years after that) advanced race relations and heightened the racial divide. But, as racially tinged police relations explode in city after city, and commentary about race is as polarized as ever, the racial divide is again our nation’s most pressing issue.

I present this story as a model for any journalist examining today’s racial divide. I think it was an excellent story at the time, though it had little impact. I hope you might have more impact with an updated approach, and perhaps a broader digital reach or a bigger microphone today.

This was a long story (actually, a package of multiple stories), made longer by my updating notes. If you’re considering a deeper examination of the racial divide, I hope it will be worth your time to work your way through it.

I will present the story as we published it in 1997, interspersed with recommendations today for data reporting, engagement, interactivity and updating to address how the issues have changed (if they have). The paragraphs from the Omaha World-Herald will be presented in plain text. My notes will be introduced in bold as a “Buttry note” of some kind, with the note following in light italics, either a few words or a few paragraphs.

I have posted the 1997 graphics with the relevant parts of the story. Doing it today, interactive data visualization would be an essential part of the story. At the end of this post, you can see how it was displayed 18 years ago. Sources were cited in a large block of type included with the graphic package.

From Birth to Death, Racial Gap Persists

Originally published June 15, 1997, Sunday, Pg. 1A, Omaha World-Herald



Starting before birth, a black child faces longer odds against survival and success than a white child. (more…)

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A Pew Research Center study of three U.S. media markets has lots of interesting fodder and lessons for journalists and newsrooms.

In Local News in a Digital Age, Pew studied local news coverage and consumption more thoroughly than any local news study I’ve seen. I encourage reading the full 160-page report, which provided detailed studies of the news environments in Denver, Macon, Ga., and Sioux City, Iowa.

The study includes a survey of people in each community, asking extensive questions about their community involvement and news consumption, as well as a detailed study local news providers, including all the content during one week (last July) and a computer analysis of Facebook and Twitter content and engagement with local news providers.

I’ll present my thoughts on the Pew study in three sections:

  1. What the study says about media and lessons we can draw from it.
  2. My evaluation of this study (or opportunities for future studies). I was sharply critical of Pew’s 2010 study of Baltimore’s local news market, so I think I should address what I see as strengths and weaknesses of this study. This project leaves plenty of opportunities for further study of local media, but I find it far more thorough and credible than the 2010 study, which was so biased I said it was useless.
  3. My Denver and Sioux City experiences (neither of them a big conflict, but both worth disclosing).

Findings & lessons from the Pew study

Pew’s story up high presents the obligatory disclaimer:

These cities are not meant to be representative of the United States as a whole, but rather serve as detailed case studies of local news in three specific, unique areas in the U.S.

Yeah, but …

Pew did the study because the data from these three specific, unique areas would have value to others in the media. And I see several areas where the study reveals or confirms facts that will be helpful beyond the communities studied: (more…)

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Dori Maynard

Dori Maynard

I was on a diversity panel with Dori Maynard a couple years ago, and opened by saying it was like being on a watchdog journalism panel with I.F. Stone. I said if Dori and I happened to disagree during the discussion, people should follow what Dori said because she would be right.

We lost Dori to lung cancer yesterday, and I am heartbroken.

Dori was the conscience of journalism. She was a wonderful combination of fierce, gentle, patient and persistent, and an absolutely outstanding teacher. She constantly reminded and taught us that diversity is more than a social issue, it is a journalism value, a matter of accuracy. We need to reflect the diversity of our communities in our coverage to cover the community accurately, Dori would say. And reflecting the diversity of our communities in our staffs would help us achieve the goal of accurate, diverse coverage of the community.

Whatever your excuse for failing to achieve diversity goals — and journalists and newsrooms always have excuses about diversity, because we nearly always fall short — Dori had an answer. Not a combative answer that called bullshit (though you knew she was calling bullshit), but an answer that explained why and how you needed to do more. An answer that made you want to do more. And an offer to help you do more.

I can’t think of anyone in journalism who more consistently called on our profession to do better and be better and helped us do better and be better. (more…)

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Matt DeRienzo

Matt DeRienzo

If you’re interested in transforming your news operation, you should contact Matt DeRienzo right away.

In my time at Digital First Media, I never saw an editor who was more imaginative or determined in facing the challenges of digital transformation. If you’re looking for a leader for a digital news operation or a newspaper that’s moving too slowly in becoming digital-first, Matt should be at the top of your list.

I wanted to capitalize “Digital-First” in the headline and paragraph above, because no editor working for a newspaper fits that description more than Matt does. But since he’s leaving the company that still uses that name, I guess I’ll use lower case.

For all his digital skill and passion, Matt is a journalist first. He led DFM’s Connecticut newsrooms through excellent coverage of the Sandy Hook tragedy, innovated in coverage of politics, led reporting on a small town’s bullying of rape survivors and many more journalism achievements.

Matt also understands the business challenges facing journalism in this time of transition. He was publisher of the Register Citizen and saw the business value of the Newsroom Cafe that helped his operation return to profitability while increasing community engagement.

Where other people make excuses, Matt gets things done. When I first visited DFM’s Connecticut newsrooms in June 2011, a few months before Matt became editor, the whiteness of the staffs was really noticeable, an unfortunate situation especially in a community with as diverse a population as New Haven. As with other newsrooms around DFM and throughout the newspaper business, the Connecticut news staffs have shrunk since 2011. But, by making diversity and quality dual priorities, Matt used the vacancies he did have to increase both the diversity and the excellence of the staff.

When a couple staff members plagiarized on his watch, Matt responded not just forcefully, by firing the offenders, but creatively, by asking me to develop a quiz and training to help prevent future problems.

Matt didn’t just demand more of his staff, he developed a plan to provide training and incentives to meet the demands. (That the training incentives weren’t entirely successful doesn’t diminish the creativity of the approach; to succeed at innovation, you need to be willing to risk and fail, and Matt fears neither risk nor failure. And the plan did succeed in providing more training for the staff.)

I worked closest with Matt in Project Unbolt, the effort to “unbolt” DFM newsrooms’ culture and workflow from the print factory that dominates most newsrooms, however much they’ve tried to develop digital skills. Matt enthusiastically volunteered to be a pilot newsroom as soon as I proposed the project. He embraced the concept and led his newsrooms in pursuing the transformation. I’m not sure you ever reach the finish line in such a race, but I didn’t see any newsroom pushing farther or faster than Matt’s.

I don’t know what lies next for Matt. But I know his departure is a huge loss for DFM. And his arrival will be a huge gain wherever his next stop will be.



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Nieman Reports coverMy gender has been an undeniable advantage for most of my journalism career.

I think I deserved every job or promotion and I think I’ve performed well in each job. But I know that I got more breaks and opportunities than deserving female colleagues. And male colleagues with less achievement and potential also got more breaks.

Nieman Reports has published a strong and detailed examination of gender issues in journalism. I encourage you to read it for a more thorough look at the issues and obstacles than you’ll find here. This is just a personal perspective, prompted by the Nieman report: Gender has been a significant – sometimes huge – obstacle for female journalists throughout my journalism career. While it has improved over the long haul, it hasn’t been steady improvement and I wouldn’t argue with anyone who said women have lost ground lately.

I’ve worked with a lot of male journalists who rose to upper-level management positions, or even to the top, who weren’t as talented or as accomplished as females who left the business in frustration or never made it to the upper levels.

For this post, I’m not going to name names or news organizations. I don’t want to offend or argue with former male colleagues I think have based decisions in large or tiny part on gender, intentionally or without thinking. I don’t want to embarrass any women by discussing their career disappointments or other matters. And I certainly won’t violate the things female colleagues have told me in confidence.

But here are some observations about gender in the newsrooms where I’ve worked, either as a full-time journalist or visiting as a trainer or corporate editor: (more…)

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Ethics codes should guide journalists in the world where we live and work, not the world where we wish we worked.

At a discussion at the Excellence in Journalism conference last August, several members of the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee indicated they thought the SPJ Code of Ethics just needed “tweaking,” if it needed anything.

Here’s a surprise: They decided just to tweak it.

The code needs an overhaul and it got a touch-up.

Journalism is changing and journalists make ethical decisions in unfamiliar situations. Journalism ethics codes need to provide helpful guidance for journalists. The SPJ Code of Ethics, last revised in 1996, is perhaps the most-cited code and for many years was the most helpful. Now it’s terribly outdated and needs to reflect the world where journalists work.

The first draft at an update feels more like an effort to resist change than an effort to guide journalists in a time of change. (more…)

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This continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.

A busy editor might be tempted to dismiss diversity as a buzzword or a lofty goal you don’t have time for. You need to regard it as a matter of journalistic integrity and business survival.

Accuracy is the core of journalistic integrity, and your news will more accurately reflect the events and issues of your community as your staff better reflects your community. And your news organization will have a more prosperous future if your content appeals to the entire community, not just the aging white audience you probably have now. Your content will have broader appeal if your staff brings broader experiences and perspectives to news coverage.

The top editor needs to say the right things about diversity, but actions always trump words, so what you do is far more important than anything you say.

So here’s some advice from a middle-aged white guy for recruiting, hiring and retaining a diverse staff and for making sure that your content reflects the diversity of your community: (more…)

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