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What DEI in journalism looks like now: Three case studies explore lessons learned from nonprofit news organizations

November 20, 2023

By Gaby Martinez-Stevenson & Ha Ta

Over the past few years, many companies and institutions have been moving away from simple “checkbox diversity” — a question of demographics — toward practices that focus on equity and inclusion. This newer approach looks at diversity, equity and inclusion not as an initiative within an organization but as a value system implemented throughout the organization.

As a complement to our most recent INN Index Report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Nonprofit News Sector, published in October 2023, INN wanted to explore specific, real life practices nonprofit news organizations are using to build more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces — as well as the lessons learned in implementing these practices.

In order to provide a space for staff — not just top executives — to describe how DEI takes shape at their news organization, we identified three outlets that illustrate the sector’s major challenges and opportunities related to DEI, distributed an organizational survey to all staff and managers, and led focus group discussions with employees. We also decided to keep the identities of the outlets confidential, to allow everyone to speak freely and to maintain focus on the findings.

set of three case studies released today reports out on what INN found at these nonprofit news outlets by exploring questions like:

Through the conversations and surveys, we identified several strategic considerations that other news outlets could explore within their own organizations. These include:

About the research

The case studies were developed using data from INN’s 2023 Index Survey to identify three nonprofit news outlets that illustrate the sector’s major challenges and opportunities related to DEI.

Using the INN Index Data, we identified five common themes of DEI practices across member newsrooms: building trust, community building, recruitment and retention, impact, failures as success. We mapped outlets onto these themes using their responses to questions relating to DEI principles and efforts in the Index.

We decided to look at newsrooms with 10 or more staff members to ensure that we were capturing news outlets with the capacity to show learnings that could be replicated by other news organizations. Furthermore, at this size, we feel that staff are more likely to feel more comfortable talking in their focus group without fear of being easily identifiable. We also capped the staff size at 25 to ensure that every news outlet we spoke to had roughly the same number of staff.

Finally, we picked three news outlets that are varying in their geographic location, their type of reporting, and their assigned theme.

All staff at selected news outlets received a DEI organizational assessment survey that used theory and scales from Washington Race Equity & Justice Initiative’s (REJI) Organizational Assessment as well as resources from Race Forward. The survey focused on the different ways DEI values shape the day-to-day operations and assessed the impact of those policies.

Index was also used to generate questions for focus groups with leadership and staff at the selected outlets; those conversations also fed into the case studies.

These case studies were produced as part of a partnership with the Diversity Pledge Institute (DPI) — a nonprofit dedicated to research, analysis and education related to inclusivity and belonging in journalism.

This piece was originally published on INNsights.

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