Design a sustaining culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, & belonging
The field of journalism has historically been fraught with racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice and discrimination, both within the ranks of news organizations and in the communities these organizations serve. We can’t live up to our goal of building trust within the communities we cover without simultaneously creating a work environment where our colleagues feel comfortable, accepted, and safe. Fostering a staff culture that prioritizes diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) is the only way we can begin to dismantle journalism’s legacy of inequity.
At Chalkbeat, a newsroom dedicated to covering the education of our nation’s children, we are committed to DEIB efforts, for the sake of both our journalism and our organizational culture. When we looked at our newsroom and recognized that we weren’t sufficiently reflective of the communities we serve, we sought to change that. This work is not always easy — it can be uncomfortable, challenging, and painful — but we’ve found that investing in DEIB is not only our responsibility, but also a practical way to retain employees, develop a well-respected brand, and deepen our journalistic impact.
Newsroom leadership is very often well-meaning when attempting to create time and space for DEIB efforts within their organizations; however, this work can become a performative, check-the-box exercise, and values don’t actually get put into practice in a meaningful way. The reason? Leadership teams don’t fully understand how transformational this work must be. It often requires reevaluating some of the most enduring traditions in the journalism industry, such as a culture that values overworking to the point of burnout and the idea that journalists must ignore the reality of their lived experiences to strive for strictly objective reporting. This work requires investing real time and resources, embedding DEIB values into the fabric of the newsroom, and committing to DEIB efforts as an ongoing process.
We acknowledged the broad scope of our organization’s DEIB work.
This included the creation of a public-facing statement on DEIB. The statement explains why we value this work, the efforts we’ve undertaken thus far, and our plans to continue advancing our goals (including strengthening our journalism, creating an inclusive culture, and increasing visibility and awareness).
We also made the conscious decision to add “belonging” to the DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) initialism. While inclusion refers to having a seat at the table, belonging refers to the feeling that you deserve to be there. We want to foster a culture where we’re not just offering our employees a seat at the table, but ensuring they feel heard, respected, and valued.
At Chalkbeat, we’ve focused the majority of our DEIB efforts on antiracism. This felt particularly mission-aligned, given that the communities we serve are majority non-white. That said, as we continue to invest in DEIB efforts, we hope to think more about ways to extend our commitment to other historically marginalized groups, such as women, the LGBTQ+ community, those who suffer from mental illness, and those who are disabled.
We embedded DEIB into the journalism itself.
Newsroom leadership must make the decision to have staff prioritize DEIB initiatives during the workday. We’ve incorporated DEIB efforts into our newsroom in several ways. We deployed a working group to audit our “How I Teach” and “First Person” features (where we profile teachers and publish reader-written pieces) to learn more about the voices we’re amplifying. Chalkbeat also updated its internal style guide to help ensure we’re writing respectfully and inclusively (and we published a piece emphasizing why precision in the language we use in Chalkbeat stories matters). We prioritized engaging diverse voices in our journalism by increasing spot surveys and callouts around topical issues, hosting Listening Tours in 2018 and 2019, and experimenting with new forms of outreach. Read more about our approach in “Earn the trust of a diverse audience by investing in relationships.”
We prioritized creating an internal organizational culture based on DEIB principles.
We’ve focused on inclusion in the workplace through efforts such as launching a buddy program to welcome new hires and creating a mentorship program to support early-career employees. We launched Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to provide peer support; our current ERG offerings include groups designed for Black employees, Latinx employees, Asian/Pacific Islander employees, LGBTQ+ employees, employees interested in mental health, and non-BIPOC employees committed to antiracism. Our Black and Latinx ERGs have sponsored all-staff conversations with internal and external journalists, and our mental health ERG spearheaded the implementation of a new policy allowing staff to take mental health days (separate from their existing bank of PTO) twice per year.
At Chalkbeat, we’ve prioritized diversifying our staff to reflect the communities we cover. In 2016, our staff was 26% people of color; as of early 2022, people of color made up 43% of our team (and we’re currently striving toward a staff made up of at least 50% BIPOC individuals). Women of color represent four out of seven members of Chalkbeat’s all-female leadership team. We also set a goal to diversify our board leadership and welcomed three new board members in 2020; Chalkbeat’s board is now made up of 50% people of color.
We tackled the work collaboratively.
Typically, DEIB working groups are bottom-up efforts staffed entirely by an organization’s few non-white employees. At Chalkbeat, we had executive-level support from the onset and highly encouraged broad participation. That means the working group is large (almost half the staff) and includes a diverse cohort of staff representing different generations, gender identities, sexual orientations, and racial backgrounds; it was important to us to ensure that this work is not the sole responsibility of people of color. The group is also composed of individuals from all levels of Chalkbeat, from entry-level staff to senior leaders (such as our Publisher, Chief Strategy Officer, and Chief Revenue Officer), who’ve volunteered to participate. The group meets regularly to discuss issues related to DEIB and has also split into smaller sub-groups to focus on specific projects. Projects have included examining Chalkbeat’s hiring practices, selecting outside experts to host all-staff trainings, and researching the creation of an anonymous employee feedback portal.
We substantiated our commitment by allocating financial resources.
In 2019, we launched a search for a Chief People Officer (CPO), a non-traditional move for a journalism organization, but one that recognizes and reflects the central role that people, culture, and DEIB efforts play in our work. Jennifer Bramble joined us in early 2020 as Chalkbeat’s first CPO, and our DEIB work has truly taken off under her leadership.
We’ve also allocated financial resources to further educate our staff. Our newsroom staff participated in the Maynard Institute’s Fault Lines diversity training session to combat systemic racism in journalism, and we invited an external consultant to conduct staff training on unconscious bias and allyship.
When we launched Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), we provided stipends to the employees who volunteered to facilitate these groups, in an effort to counter the norm of DEIB work as additional unpaid labor.
We created methods to hold ourselves accountable.
We track our progress toward key DEIB-related goals with a publicly available dashboard. The dashboard serves as a reminder that DEIB efforts are ongoing, and it’s important both to celebrate successes and accomplishments while still striving to improve in the future.
In 2020, we publicly committed ourselves as an organization to antiracism; this included adding antiracism to our list of our core values, a decision intended to cement this work as an essential piece of Chalkbeat’s mission.
One of the most effective tools we use to determine the success of our DEIB efforts is our annual all-team survey. This organizational assessment asks employees to provide anonymous feedback across several facets of their experience at Chalkbeat, including belief that Chalkbeat is committed to DEIB, overall satisfaction at work, support of Chalkbeat’s mission, relationship with supervisors, etc. One specific way we can track our success within the realm of DEIB is by calculating our net promoter score based on responses to the question, “I would recommend Chalkbeat as a great place to work.” Measuring the likelihood of staff to recommend Chalkbeat as an employer is indicative of employees’ satisfaction.
- Set a high bar.
If DEIB is important to your newsroom, you must intentionally build DEIB efforts into your values and organizational goals to hold yourself accountable.
- Do it collaboratively, but with executive backing.
Seek cross-organizational input and feedback from staff who express interest in taking on this work. Ensure your DEIB efforts are targeted at staff of all levels, from entry-level employees to executives. Do not assume or expect that staff from marginalized backgrounds will be responsible for DEIB work (and do not, in particular, assume staff of color will be primarily responsible for racial equity efforts).
- Lead by example.
Be willing to have hard conversations, make mistakes, and learn.
What is the Local News Field Guide?
The Local News Field Guide is a resource for journalists and news entrepreneurs tackling the ever-changing landscape of news. The guide is written by staff members of Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization that provides essential local education reporting.
The Local News Field Guide is supported by Chalkbeat's partnership with the Google News Initiative (GNI).