Diversity gains in nonprofit news sector: new report
October 24, 2023
Racial and ethnic diversity across the nonprofit news sector increased between 2020 and 2022, according to research from the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN). The INN Index 2023: Report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Nonprofit News Sector, released today, indicates that the racial and ethnic makeup of staff at nonprofit news organizations — while varying from outlet to outlet — largely reflects the U.S. population and is more diverse than the news industry overall. Greater gains in racial and ethnic diversity have been made at the staff level than at the leadership level. Looking at nonprofit news staff through a gender lens, INN saw that women continue to hold about half of positions at nonprofit newsrooms and an even greater percentage of management and executive roles. All news organizations surveyed are members of the INN Network, which now has more than 425 members across North America.
As recent research has highlighted disparities in philanthropic support for organizations led by Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), INN sought to explore how this affected members of the INN Network. INN found that BIPOC-led outlets — particularly startups and those covering state and local issues — reported a higher median amount of foundation funding than white-led counterparts. But among the cohort of national outlets, particularly the older organizations, the reverse is true, with white-led outlets reporting higher levels of funding. (An interpretation of these findings is explored in the revenue analysis section of the DEI Index Report.)
INN identified a disconnect between goals and practice, with more than half of newsrooms setting goals for improving diversity but far fewer creating a plan of action for achieving DEI goals or allocating resources for evaluating progress.
“This research shows promising signs of progress in efforts to increase diversity and also equity and inclusion in nonprofit news organizations, but we believe there is still a great deal to be done,” said Sue Cross, executive director & CEO of INN. “We’re going to need more investment in organizations led by and serving people of color as well as faster adoption of DEI practices by news organizations of all sizes.”
INN’s five recommendations for how funders, news organizations and INN and its peers can continue to advance DEI across the field were also published today.
Some of the key findings from the INN Index 2023 DEI Report:
The racial and ethnic composition of personnel in the nonprofit news sector is largely similar to the U.S. population and, based on available data on the news industry more broadly, is more diverse than other parts of the industry. However, the degree of diversity is stronger at the staff level than at the leadership level in nonprofit newsrooms. More than two-thirds of nonprofit outlets are white-led — roughly four times the number of outlets led by Black, Indigenous, and People of color (BIPOC) individuals.
Across the nonprofit news sector as a whole, personnel became more racially and ethnically diverse between 2020 and 2022. But this progress towards greater diversity was uneven across newsrooms and across levels of the organization: about half of outlets reported an increase in BIPOC representation among their staff and contractors, while 28% reported an increase among executives and managers. At majority-white outlets, which are the primary focus of efforts to push for greater DEI in the news industry, very similar proportions of outlets reported increased diversity at staff and leadership levels.
Women comprise about half of nonprofit news staff and an even higher proportion of executives and managers, surpassing the level of women’s representation in many other peer newsrooms. Newsrooms reported that 1.6% of personnel identify as non-binary or non-conforming, and 0.6% of individuals identify as transgender. The overall gender composition of nonprofit news personnel changed little between 2020 and 2022.
While a little more than half of newsrooms have set goals for improving diversity, far fewer have set goals for improving equity or inclusion, created a plan of action for achieving DEI goals, or allocated resources and staff time for evaluating progress towards those goals. In addition, practices that can potentially impact how a newsroom operates — such as using a pay equity audit to inform changes in the organization, or implementing structural changes that strengthen the formal decision-making authority of staff of color or staff from other underrepresented groups — do not tend to be widespread, implemented by a minority of outlets. When it comes to assessing how communities of color or other historically marginalized or oppressed groups are represented in their coverage, two-thirds of newsrooms had used at least one of the methods listed in the survey, with the most frequently cited methods being asking group members for feedback and conducting a content analysis.
In interviews, INN members emphasized that how these practices are implemented is as important as what is implemented. They flagged questions they are wrestling with as they seek to integrate equity and inclusion in their internal policies and systems, including how to structure employee benefits, how the pay scale values different forms of expertise, and how to ensure transparency and equity in hiring and advancement processes.
Engagement in DEI practices varied across newsrooms, which vary widely in their mission, history, size, and ways of working. White-led outlets were less likely than BIPOC-led outlets to have undertaken many of the DEI practices explored in the survey. Smaller outlets were also less likely to engage in each of the DEI practices, compared to their larger counterparts.
Against a backdrop of recent research highlighting disparities in philanthropic support for BIPOC-led versus white-led organizations, we explored questions around equity in foundation funding for nonprofit newsrooms. The answers were nuanced, requiring careful attention to differences across INN members and historical contextualization. BIPOC-led outlets — particularly state and local outlets and startups — reported a higher median amount of foundation funding than white-led counterparts. But among national outlets, particularly more established organizations, the reverse pattern emerged, with white-led outlets reporting higher levels of funding. The flexibility of funding also varied, with BIPOC-led outlets less likely to receive general operating support from foundations compared to white-led outlets.
In interviews, INN members observed that any shift in foundation funding toward BIPOC-led and/or BIPOC-serving outlets is a relatively recent development traced in large part to funders’ increased focus on DEI since 2020. Moreover, newsrooms flagged the need for funders to bring a stronger equity lens to their grantmaking, acknowledging both historical patterns of oppression and inequity as well as current funder practices that continue to perpetuate inequities, including racial bias in some funders’ decisions about whether and how much funding they are willing to give BIPOC-led outlets vs. white-led outlets.
The data also confirmed that BIPOC-led and BIPOC-serving outlets at the state and local level face challenges fundraising from individual donors. The median amount of individual giving reported by BIPOC-led outlets serving communities of color is less than half of the median among other state and local outlets.
INN’s Index reports are sponsored by the Google News Initiative (GNI).
Index reports are also made possible thanks to INN donors, the Knight Foundation and INN’s general support funders, which include Arnold Ventures, Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, Battery Powered, Democracy Fund, GA News Lab, Hubbard Family Foundation, Inasmuch Foundation, Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, Nan H. Altmayer Charitable Trust, Present Progressive Fund, PCLB Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.