By Gaby Martinez-Stevenson
News Outlet B is a nonprofit news organization based in the Northeast. They have five leadership team members and eight staff members. Thirty-one percent of the organization identifies as White, and 54% are women.
This case study was developed using the following: (1) information from INN’s 2023 Index data, (2) a DEI organizational assessment survey — given to the organization after it was selected as a case study — that used theory and scales from Washington Race Equity & Justice Initiative’s (REJI) Organizational Assessment as well as resources from Race Forward and (3) focus groups with leadership and staff.
The INN 2023 Index data was used to select the news outlets for these case studies as well as to help form the focus group questions.
The DEI organizational assessment was sent to all staff and leadership at the news outlet. This survey was completed after the focus group. The survey focused on the different ways DEI values shape day-to-day operations and assessed the impact of those policies.
We held two focus groups in May 2023, one for leadership and the second for staff. Each focus group lasted about 1.5 hours. Eighty percent of leadership and 100% of staff members participated in the focus groups. The organizational assessment survey had a 100% response rate.
These case studies were developed as a means to understand how news outlets navigate and use diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) values within their organization. The goal is to move beyond survey data to establish a baseline understanding — through lessons learned — of a more intentional approach to DEI.
The following summarizes News Outlet B’s experience with DEI — specifically in relation to community building and recruitment. News Outlet B provided a unique perspective because DEI values are key to their day-to-day operations, and the organization is working to understand how to scale while still maintaining the DEI structures that they have created.
News Outlet B explained their approach to news stories relied on the belief that journalism at its core is diversity work. While this has shaped their policies, they also explored the need to hire outside experts to help them build the necessary processes and tools to scale with their value system. The following highlights the key learnings experienced by News Outlet B.
News Outlet B has acknowledged the need to move beyond checking boxes and is in the process of trying to determine how to scale their organization while still maintaining their DEI values. According to their leadership team, much of their DEI work is reflecting on the communities they serve, expanding the diversity of their staff and being intentional about how their work is approached. They stated a need to move beyond traditional news outlet structures and develop a system that allows them to not only serve their communities but also ensure a safe environment for their employees — something that they think can only happen if it is built into their decision making processes.
What we are having to confront is two giant conglomerate complexes like journalism and nonprofit work, which both have their own ways of making people who are marginalized feel: less than, disempowered, othered, like they don’t belong, like they’re exceptional for being here, etc. When I think of DEI, it’s trying to come up with a rubric to help eliminate or combat that sentiment, and to instead … allow people to have the power and take advantage of the power that they have to feel supported, to feel sustained, to feel relaxed and comfortable in their work environment and like they can be themselves.Leadership Team Member
This sentiment was reflected among the staff who felt strongly that their work as journalists and DEI values should be intertwined. The organizational survey data reinforced this. While there didn’t seem to be a clear understanding across the organization if the outlet offered or engaged in more traditional DEI activities such as trainings, a majority believed their organization is aligned with DEI values. For example, 70% of respondents said that the outlet has implemented or firmly established mechanisms to address issues raised regarding racial or other equity-related barriers. Seventy-seven percent believed that their leadership reflects the diversity of their staff. And, 85% believed that their news outlet has policies and practices that prioritize their communities and ensure that their reporting does not harm them.
While News Outlet B’s approach to DEI does move beyond checkbox diversity, both leadership and staff acknowledged that there were still areas that could be improved as well as a need to establish more formal mechanisms within their organization. For example, both staff and leadership remarked that they felt safe bringing up difficult topics like salary discrepancies or mental health needs. But leadership also acknowledged that these situations are often dealt with a “gut check,” which hasn’t been a problem because they are a small group, but as they scale, they need to implement more established policies and processes to ensure that their DEI values grow with them.
Leadership explained that they are working to:
It is also important to note leadership acknowledged that simply having these resources is not enough. There needs to be constant engagement with and review of these policies to ensure that there is a consistent understanding across the outlet. One leadership team member stated that they did not believe most of their staff could explain the core tenets in the DEI section in the employee manual because there was no current expectation to routinely review or discuss it and that this was an area they needed to work on. (According to their survey data, 69% of the news outlet was aware of a specific DEI policy or mission statement.)
The content that we’re producing on the site is really reflective of the communities … [but] I worry that … we’re resting on our laurels a little bit, because I think it’s really easy to lose that over a few hires … And then all of a sudden, the organization is very different. So I feel it’s important for us to maybe be, ‘Okay, how do we get here? And how do we make sure that we stay this way, as we grow?’Leadership Team Member
🢂 Embed DEI values into the structure of your organization.
🢂 Ensure that as your organization grows your value system grows with you.
🢂 Move beyond individual responses to employee needs and establish standardized policies.
🢂 Rely on experts. By acknowledging that DEI work is a devoted field of practice, News Outlet B understands the need to rely on the guidance of experts when developing policies and procedures.
🢂 A key success identified by both staff and leadership was the diversity across the organization and how it’s reflective of the communities they serve. Through their lived experiences, reporters are better able to connect with community members and gain trust.
Both leadership and staff of News Outlet B shared examples of initial successes for various DEI practices, including community building and recruitment.
News Outlet B prides itself on the diversity of its staff and content. This diversity, they believe, has helped them build internal trust, which is an important component of DEI values. Staff members overwhelmingly agreed that the commitment to diversity at both the leadership and staff level was important to them and was a main reason that they joined the organization. Seventy-seven percent believe that their news outlet takes steps to reduce racial inequities internally and 84% believe their news outlet dedicates the resources necessary for addressing DEI disparities and achieving equity. Moreover, one staff member reflected on his job search stating, “I grew up in a totally 100% Black country. I remember before coming to the United States, it was something of a concern to me, because I used to watch police violence, the Black Lives Matter movement, and we listen[ed] to podcasts about risks in the United States. So when it came to choosing the news organization … I insisted that diversity was part of it. … We have a clear understanding of the people we’re covering, because we’re covering people similar to us.” This underscores the connection between having a positive internal community within your organization and your ability to connect and engage with the external community.
News Outlet B emphasized the importance — across leadership and staff — of the need to reflect the diversity of the communities they report on, especially because of the topics it covers. Many of the journalists that work at News Outlet B come from the communities they are covering, which means that the internal and external communities are closely aligned, the lines somewhat blurred. This allows the organization to understand the different needs across different audiences, which helps with story selection. This is an important distinction because often internal and external communities are approached as two separate entities. With News Outlet B, they are considered one in the same.
To understand the different communities it needs to serve, News Outlet B engaged in an audience research project. This research relied on census data to identify the different communities and in-depth interviews with people from each identified audience. Through this research, they were able to determine the various needs across the different communities and acknowledge that the way an audience engages with news stories can vary. This has helped News Outlet B engage more authentically with its audiences and led to the development of resources for specific communities. For example, one subset of their audience relied heavily on WhatsApp for community news. Rather than trying to force the audience to consume their information on a different platform, News Outlet B began growing its community on WhatsApp and now has more than 5,000 active participants. They were able to grow through word of mouth as well as the trust building that the reporters have engaged in with their audience. One staff member described this process as a constantly flowing circle where their audience is able to ask questions and provide feedback on the news and resources provided — a dynamic that allows News Outlet B to pivot if something isn’t working.
To adhere to their established value system, News Outlet B has a very specific way in which they approach recruiting. As one team leader acknowledged, “There’s a big issue in journalism, where people will just hire their friends … but we are committed to doing really broad open searches and have been really thoughtful about it.” Their approach to recruiting includes:
According to leadership, this approach is the reason that they have been able to build and maintain a diverse team while adhering to the ethos of the organization. A leadership team member emphasized that they look beyond traditional measures of success — like having internships on your resume or an extensive portfolio of clips — in their assessment of candidates. News Outlet B instead looks at the lived experiences of candidates, their potential for learning and enthusiasm, and experience that is adjacent to journalism that would help the prospective employee engage with the audience in meaningful ways.
🢂 Be intentional in hiring across leadership and staff — ensure that diversity exists across positions.
🢂 Approach internal and external community as one in the same — apply the same values and strategies to both.
🢂 Rely on research and your audience to determine what stories are important to your community.
🢂 Seek out feedback from your audience and use that feedback to grow your beats.
🢂 Be intentional and consistent in your hiring practices — avoid hiring friends.
Despite the progress News Outlet B has made in growing the understanding and application of DEI values, there was acknowledgement that there was still room for growth — especially as they start to scale. Through their experiences growing their organization around DEI values, they learned the following lessons.
News Outlet B emphasized their success in maintaining their value system and approaching the work the way they do is not something that can be easily replicated across the industry. One staff member believed that they had been successful because of their small size and wasn’t sure that the same system would be possible in a larger organization. Another staff member added that legacy media specifically would struggle in replicating this model due to the problematic history that exists in that space: Building something from the ground up leaves more room for progressive frameworks versus having to reform a century-old system. Therefore, it is important to understand the existing dynamics and structures of your organization before implementing a DEI framework.
An important piece of navigating a culturally diverse team is understanding that the strategies that work for a traditionally White team with similar college experiences will not work with a diverse team. A manager of a diverse team needs to be aware of the cultural competency of their employees, differences in work styles and the traditional framings that may make journalists feel excluded within the organization. This requires flexibility, being open to learning about different work approaches and providing each team member with a management style that makes them successful.
While News Outlet B has made great progress in ensuring that it adheres to a DEI value system both internally and externally, it also acknowledges the need to attach their activities to more concrete metrics. There remains a need for continual evaluation — a critical piece to ensure that your activities are having the impact you intend them to have. This includes establishing an internal review system where employees across the organization can participate in performance reviews, implementing source trackers and tracking the reach of stories. This also involves regularly reviewing the employee handbook to ensure that the entire group has a consistent understanding of the values and policies of the organization.Back to top