NLA is hiring staff, holding DEI Roundtable with partners to improve outreach, participation rate

By Myriam Maquez, News Leaders Association

The News Leaders Association (NLA) has been busy this summer reaching out to NLA members, partners and supporters to look for ways to streamline the News Leaders Association’s diversity survey to improve the participation rate after several years of disappointing results. We truly appreciate the 303 print and all-digital newsrooms of all sizes that participated in NLA’s 2021 Transformative Transparency Project survey. Overall, 12,781 journalists were included in that count.

Unfortunately, after conducting a data integrity analysis in late May through mid June, we found various problems with the demographic information (collected from August to October 2021), rendering the current survey results incomplete, and, thus, an inaccurate picture of our industry. The analysis offers a teachable moment that we have embraced with zeal. I want to share what we are doing to remove the data collection barriers and get a true picture of our industry in 2023.

As Meredith D. Clark, Ph.D., Research Director for the 2021 NLA Newsroom Diversity, noted in her draft report to NLA in late March, “The 2021 survey doesn’t represent a realistic snapshot of diversity in the U.S. There is both over- and under-representation based on where newsrooms are physically located, staff size and publications’ tenure – from legacy media to newer shops. Instead, the 2021 survey underscores the challenges ahead.”

With our members and partners’ help, though, the challenges are not insurmountable. Our 2021 survey was an ambitious endeavor based on insights collected the past two years from news media and human resources professionals and with the input of 14 journalists representing a cross-section of social identities and professional experiences. Beyond seeking demographic breakdowns on race and ethnicity, as we have done for decades, the 2021 survey also sought to count various other demographic aspects important to journalism’s mission of inclusivity and transparency: gender identity, disability status, the military background of journalists or their families and the demographic breakdown of freelance/contract employees, among other survey categories. These are all salient issues facing our nation and our nation’s newsrooms, but most news organizations do not collect much of that data as yet and many expressed concerns about their employees’ privacy in seeking those answers.

NLA’s expanded categories also sought to acknowledge the broad diversity within Asian communities, and recognized the U.S. Census distinction between race and ethnicity, adding the ability to specify Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) and including the racial background under the ethnicity category for Hispanic/Latino/Latina/Latinx journalists. Most of our participating newsrooms, however, do not collect any of that data, and most use EEOC categories for their organization’s DEI records. The EEOC counts Hispanics/Latino/Latina/Latinx without taking into account the races that make up that ethnicity.

Despite the efforts of the NLA diversity team to reach out to digital and print newsrooms nationwide and promote the survey, our response rate was about 10 percent. Outdated contact information due to personnel shifts and robust spam filters also contributed to the poor response rate.

While NLA staff was diving deep into the survey’s data collection challenges this spring and summer, we partnered with the Colorado News Collaborative to conduct a pilot diversity survey, launched in April, for the 150 or so digital, print and broadcast (television and radio) newsrooms that are part of the CoLab. With the CoLab staff handling outreach to their members, we received feedback from various newsrooms of different sizes and media types on the complexity of the questions and the challenges of collecting the data. More than two months after launch, the participation rate was barely 10 percent. We are now working with the CoLab on a revised newsroom survey that focuses on race and ethnicity as a launch point. The streamlined survey will be sent to Colorado newsrooms in the next few weeks.

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