Nonprofit Partnership Highlights Importance of Diversity in Journalism

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July 7, 2016; IJnet.org

As NPQ’s nonprofit news coverage has discussed before, an absence of diversity and diverse voices in journalism brings with it some real detriments. A writer of color will respond to a fatal shooting of a black man differently than a reporter who does not carry their same burden. With my Muslim background, my commentary on stories of anti-Muslim bias will differ inherently from a writer who has not been profiled or discriminated against. For journalism to be ingenious, groundbreaking, and accurate, we need a plethora of voices. Recognizing the value of diverse perspectives, the Fund for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) and the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University are partnering to distribute a grant from the Ford Foundation to support female journalists and journalists of color.

“Journalism in the U.S. has made some progress on diversity in newsrooms. But that progress has lagged well behind this nation’s demographic change,” said FIJ president Ricardo Sandoval Palos in a press release. “This imbalance is acute in the specialized field of investigative journalism. For decades, FIJ’s strength has been identifying and supporting stories that might not otherwise get done. So this generous grant from Ford is a great start: It allows us to work with journalists from underrepresented communities who’ve lacked access to investigative resources.”

Under the terms of the grant, journalists who fit the criteria will be required to investigate systematic social justice issues in the span of a year. They will receive up to $9,000 in grant money for the costs that can be incurred in the pursuit of a story, including travel expenses and document fees. As part of project, the journalists will also receive fellowships at the Schuster Institute, which will then also provide mentoring, editorial guidance, paid research assistants, among other benefits.

The project is one of a few other initiatives that have invested in diversity in journalism. A few months ago, the MacArthur Foundation announced $25 million in grants to nonprofit journalism organizations, including $1.25 million to the Global Press Institute recruiting, training, and staffing local women working from 21 foreign news desks. Another $500,000 was given to Round Earth Media to partner U.S. journalists with journalists internationally.

Such grants are particularly important because the American Society of News Editors has documented a long-term decline in the number of minorities in journalism, from a “high” of 13.73 percent in 2006 to a 12.76 percent last year. It doesn’t help that the journalism workforce itself has been shrinking steadily for the past decade. Given that newsrooms may not be providing the spaces minority journalists need, outside initiatives and grants can help fill the void in diverse coverage from diverse voices.

Yet, as Columbia Journalism Review wrote last month, there are steps that newsrooms can take, in addition to project such as this one between the FIJ and the Schuster Institute. Along with such independent projects that actively pursue diverse journalists and support their work, newsrooms should consider actively thinking about stories that attract minority readers (such as diversity-oriented sites, like Fusion) as well as strategies to retain writers of color. While diversity-oriented journalism projects are still not receiving nearly as much money as they need compared to other initiatives, such grants should continue to be prioritized to help orient the rest of the journalism workforce.—Shafaq Hasan

The writer was employed by the Schuster Institute of Investigative Journalism as a research assistant as an undergraduate at Brandeis University from 2011- 2014.