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Exploring diversity, equity and inclusion within the nonprofit news sector

January 23, 2023

By Susanna Dilliplane and Emily Roseman

The INN Index is our annual census of more than 400 news organizations that are members of the Institute for Nonprofit News. Since 2018, members have completed the survey in a commitment to collective transparency and contribution to the nonprofit news sector. Their participation in the Index generates knowledge, benchmarking data and support for the rapidly growing field.

This year’s Index stands out: the survey is INN’s second deep dive into diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

BenitoLink, a local news outlet serving San Benito County, gathers for a team meeting. From left to right: Noe Magaña (co-editor and content manager), Leslie David (executive director and co-editor), Leila Sadeghian (events intern), Alex Esquivel (marketing coordinator, sales). Photo by BenitoLink photography intern Jonathan Crowther.

In the spirit of transparency, we want to share our process for this survey (including where we struggled) and our hopes for what this research can contribute to the field. We’re also sharing our early thoughts and process because we want to hear from the journalism and philanthropy communities. Which of the research goals described below are most interesting or important to you? How can and should INN share out these findings, or create spaces to discuss these findings? More on that below.

What we hope to learn about DEI in the nonprofit news sector

INN’s 2023 deep dive into DEI is centered around four main research and learning goals.

1. Understanding the demographic composition of nonprofit news staff, leadership and board members, and how these demographics have changed over time.

One of our major research goals is documenting the racial, ethnic and gender composition of our sector’s staff, executives and managers, and boards. This gets at the “D” (diversity) in DEI. It is the most frequently asked question by many of our member news organizations, funders and partners. We will be examining the diversity of INN membership as a whole, as well as disaggregating the data to explore diversity among different types of organizations. Where possible, we will compare this year’s data with prior years to see whether and how the composition of newsrooms has changed over time.

2. Capturing internal practices that aim to advance diversity, equity and/or inclusion within nonprofit newsrooms.

What efforts are newsrooms making to advance DEI — for example, through changes in operations, ways of working or investment of resources? How do newsrooms assess whether they are becoming more diverse, more equitable or more inclusive? What are the primary challenges they face in their efforts to improve DEI — and are there specific capacity-building resources that could help address those challenges? Through a combination of closed-ended and open-ended questions, we aim to deepen our understanding of DEI practices in the nonprofit news sector and offer insights into where the sector should invest moving forward.

3. Exploring how INN’s membership serves the information needs of communities of color and other groups historically and intentionally excluded by mainstream media.

Previous Index surveys have asked about target audiences, including a question about whether outlets have a primary mission to serve communities of color. This year, in response to feedback about the limitations of that question wording, we sharpened the definitional clarity of the question. Respondents are now asked: Does your organization focus primarily on serving the information needs of communities of color? By “focus primarily,” we mean that people of color comprise a majority of your audience and your organization spends a majority of its funding, resources, and staff time on stories for people of color. For those who answer “yes,” we ask a follow-up question exploring the input and feedback methods they use to ensure they are serving the information needs of these communities.

We ask a similar question to identify members who primarily serve other groups that have historically been marginalized or underserved, including the LGBTQIA+ community, low-income communities, people experiencing homelessness or housing instability, and incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people, among others.

Responses to these questions will allow us to better understand the prevalence and growth of nonprofit journalism dedicated to serving underserved or excluded groups. We will also be able to explore any distinct patterns in staffing or leadership demographics, practices, challenges and opportunities among these news organizations.

4. Examining revenue patterns with a DEI lens.

One exciting part about this year’s survey is our team’s ability to cross-tabulate many of the survey questions discussed above with Index questions about revenue. For example, we will explore how the amount of funding and the type of funding (e.g., restricted vs. unrestricted) from foundations and major donors compares between news outlets led by and primarily serving people of color vs. news outlets not led by or serving people of color. This speaks to a salient question we hear from various stakeholders who want to better understand how funding is distributed. This survey aims to contribute useful evidence to help inform sector discussions about equity in funding and inform INN’s investment and programming to better support organizations serving the information needs of communities of color.

How we’re approaching this research

A lot has happened since INN’s last DEI report published in 2020. We knew that there would be exciting new questions to explore, as well as some difficult challenges to grapple with.

As a first step in our process, we synthesized what we were hearing from our members, partners, funders and INN colleagues regarding the information they need to work towards a more diverse, equitable and inclusive nonprofit news sector. This is how we landed on the four research goals described above.

We also assembled a group of advisors to provide guidance and feedback on our survey scope, language, process and (down the line) our analysis and reporting. We thank many individuals for their invaluable contributions to the process so far, including Steve Dubb, Sanjay Jolly, Gabe Schnedier, Mc Nelly Torres and Sisi Wei. We also drew insights from the DEI measurement and research efforts of others in the journalism industry and nonprofit sector, including ChalkbeatProPublicaSouthern California Public Radio, Carla Murphy’s Leavers Survey, the Building Movement Project’s Race to Lead survey, and Funders for LGBTQ Issues, among many others.

Here is this year’s Index survey instrument.

Our challenges so far

We are excited about where we landed with the survey, and we can’t wait to begin analyzing the data once all the responses are in. But we also want to be transparent about some of the challenges we encountered as we developed the survey.

How INN will use and share the Index findings

INN will publish its 2023 DEI Index report in summer 2023. This report is the primary way we’ll share findings from the survey with INN’s member news outlets, partners and the sector’s funders. INN also presents findings at industry events, including our own INN Days, and often hosts briefings for our member newsrooms, funders and partners by request.

Academics, funders and partners often request slices of anonymized and aggregated Index data for their own grant portfolio analysis or research. Only de-identified Index data is shared externally outside of INN, unless the member newsroom gives their consent to INN to share identifiable data with their funder or partner organization.

Individual news outlet responses are frequently used internally within INN to track members’ work and progress and to identify members for different opportunities (including NewsMatch bonus funds, our Emerging Leaders program and other trainings and cohorts). Individual responses are also used by the research team to identify case study topics and other write-up subjects, allowing for more practical and specific examples of diversity, equity and inclusion work.

Share your questions and ideas

If you’ve made it this far, we know you are one of our key stakeholders. So we want to know more about what you and your team needs. Which of the research goals described above are most interesting or important to you? How can and should INN share out these findings, or hold space to discuss these findings? Do you have any questions about the survey? Please let us know by sending a note to INN’s research director, Emily Roseman, at

This piece was first published on INNsights.

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