Since its first edition in 1925, the New Yorker published over 40,000 features. Of those, Black editors have only edited .01% of them. For a century-old magazine, this statistic falls shockingly low. However, this is not a problem isolated to the New Yorker.
According to the Pew Research Center from 2012 to 2018, studies show that newsroom employees are more likely to be white and male than any other demographic. The American Society of News Editors conducted a study in 2012 observing similar results. They estimated that newspaper employees were 88% white and 64% male. The conversation on diversity in journalism has been mainstream discourse for many decades, but it begs the question: Why does it matter?
Authentic diversity in journalism is more important than mere representation for the sake of optics. While it is important to see yourself in the mainstream, it particularly matters to have an unbiased story. Being able to report from a balanced perspective is imperative for maintaining journalistic integrity. Without diversity, newsrooms are left with something experts call an "us and them" reporting style. Under this style, current events are often discussed as if the audience is exclusively white. As a result, many non-white news consumers find themselves isolated from viewing their experiences genuinely.
Journalists drive the dominant social narratives that shape public perception. A tangible example is the Google images search engine. Googling the word "CEO" often brings up pictures of white men. This is not the fault of Google, in particular, but reveals the unconscious bias in flawed algorithms that our society holds when conjuring these images.
The most jarring example of this bias can be found in an August 2017 edition of the New York Times. The two front cover headlines read: "White Nationalist Protest Leads to Deadly Violence" (referring to the murder at the Charlottesville protests) and "Loving and Leaving America" (which was a profile piece on immigrants to the U.S. facing deportation). The piece about the deadly racially-motivated incident was relegated to a six-inch square with no photograph, while the immigration piece took up most of the page––photographs included.
There was a stark difference in language as well. The author described the cruel treatment of migrants at the southern border in great detail with quotes and statistics. Meanwhile, the writer reduced the verbal and physical abuse endured by counter protests at Charlottesville to "taunts" and "skirmishes."
Diversity captures the realness of the news through language. Although, a lack of diversity dilutes the severity and relatability of news reports because many white journalists tend to use language that censors the racial realities of their coverage. In turn, there is a lack of empathy created in public, and nothing gets done.
The hiring process in journalism also needs to change to bring underrepresented voices to the forefront. By keeping newsrooms homogenous, an undercurrent of passive racism, sexism and xenophobia will go unchecked, which is how implicit bias operates. Unconsciously perpetuating antiquated ideas is the core of any bias.
This phenomenon is universal and affects everyone in our society in different ways. Therefore, it is important to analyze where assumptions fall flat and work toward dismantling harmful ideas. Journalism can either actively challenge the status quo or passively continue to protect it. However, one easy way to bring about change is to hire people from different backgrounds.
The power of language cannot be ignored. Those who shape our language into headlines and soundbites have the important responsibility of using as little bias as possible. However, as human beings, nobody is perfect, but everyone has room to grow. For journalists to write their best stories presented from a healthy viewpoint, the newsroom must reflect the nuances in our society's ideals and its people.