Fair journalism must include diverse voices, now.

Syrian migrants photo courtesy New York Daily News

If we journalists ever needed to hear diverse opinions and new perspectives, it would be now.

Think about the polarity that our society has been subjected to just this last year — racial divides between African-Americans and law enforcement, religious divides between Christian conservatives and Muslims, racial politics over immigration mainly focused on Latinos and now expanded to refugees from the Middle East. Today we face journalistic challenges akin to those of the civil rights era in the Sixties. Who in your newsroom would purport to understand all of the cultural nuance in reporting on these issues?

I believe our business has honestly been working to achieve better newsroom diversity and today we should understand its importance more than ever. Newsroom diversity adds positively to newsroom culture and it is required in order to fairly and truthfully report on these historic issues.

But we are not there yet, so how do we overcome our own inherent bias and, frankly, our own lack of multi-cultural knowledge in order to cover these important stories well. Here are five ideas that might help:

  1. Tune in to your own journalistic skepticism. Lies become truth in the absence of journalistic skepticism. There is a reason Vladimir Lenin and Adolf Hitler both repeated the same idea — “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” Despots and dictators rely upon a lack of fact-checking by independent individuals. Our job as journalists includes being skeptical of anything and everything that is not proven to be true. Ask more questions, encourage dissenters to speak up, insist on backup material — yes, this may take a little more time but we know that speed is the enemy of truth.
  2. Find many diverse voices. How much context and perspective can be learned from the white men we regularly hear from? You needn’t search for new perspectives alone. Your newsroom will benefit if you create a task force to find diverse community members to advise and be represented in your reporting. Keep in mind, I said “many” diverse voices. Journalists are rightfully criticized when we find a single diverse voice and declare them to be the voice of an entire culture. Diversity exists inside every cultural group, keep asking for more.
  3. Lead your community’s civic dialogue. It is no longer enough to simply report what is happening, journalists must return to their roots as the source of reasoned, civil debate. Allowing the loudest voices to have the biggest megaphone will never illuminate or educate. Our job is to bring many perspectives beyond simply “I agree,” and “I disagree” — report on history, add context, focus on solutions. “Solution stories can change the tone of public discourse, making it less divisive and more constructive,” according to the Solutions Journalism Network, Reporting on race.
  4. Review your own coverage. How are minorities portrayed in your content? What words do you use when reporting on culture, color, religion and economic status? How often do you see diverse accountants, CEO’s, doctors and lawyers? You might find your newsroom is not as good at it as you think. Being aware will help you be fair.
  5. Sponsor community forums with diverse facilitators. Our communities deserve a fair hearing of all perspectives, who could be better equipped to provide that than those trained to be fair and comprehensive

It’s not too late, in fact it’s never too late to begin looking critically at how our coverage of issues has failed to include those most affected. None of this is easy, it takes a concentrated effort, but journalistic fairness demands it and the communities we serve deserve it.

Note: Now is the time to use up your 2015 training budget and begin scheduling for 2016. Contact me to develop a specific, comprehensive and affordable training program for your newsroom.

— Kevin

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