Journalism and Diversity: An Interview with Emma Carew Grovum

Photo credit: Alan Cleaver. Image retrieved from Flickr and shared under a Creative Commons license. Click for more information.
Photo credit: Alan Cleaver. Image retrieved from Flickr and shared under a Creative Commons license. Click for more information.

Journalism – including science journalism – has a long way to go in terms of increasing diversity. A 2013 article in Columbia Journalism Review reported that minorities make up less than 12.5 percent of newsroom staff – and only around 10 percent of newsroom supervisors.

Earlier this year, I learned about the Journalism Diversity Project (JDP), which aims to boost newsroom diversity. To learn more about the project, I reached out to Emma Carew Grovum, one of the co-founders of JDP and director of digital content development for Foreign Policy.

Communication Breakdown: Before asking about the Journalism Diversity Project, can you tell me a little about yourself? What’s your journalism background?

Emma Carew Grovum: I moved to Washington after college for an internship at the Washington Post, then stayed for an internship at the Chronicle of Higher Education. My first job was at the Chronicle’s sister publication, the Chronicle of Philanthropy working on their data team. I moved back to Minneapolis for a job as a local reporter at the Star Tribune, and after about six months I transitioned to a position with the digital team. Since then, I’ve been a homepage producer and social media editor, oversaw digital at a small cooking magazine, went back to the Chronicle’s data team, and now oversee the web and editorial products at Foreign Policy.

CB: The JDP site notes that the project was originally launched in 2011. What was the impetus for the project?

Emma Carew Grovum. (Photo courtesy of Emma Carew Grovum.)
Emma Carew Grovum. (Photo courtesy of Emma Carew Grovum.)

Carew Grovum: It started with a blog post by Retha Hill on PBS MediaShift, which led to a Twitter chat, about why there weren’t enough journalists of color being included at new media conferences. During the Twitter chat, people kept saying that they couldn’t “find qualified minorities,” which really struck a chord with me. I remember thinking, if I, only two years out of school, could easily rattle off a dozen names of great journalists of color who should be asked to speak on panels, what was everyone else doing wrong?

CB: What was your role in the project at that time? Who else was involved?

Carew Grovum: I waited a while to see if anything would materialize, but nothing did. So I reached out to a handful of my mentors and friends to see if they wanted to get the ball rolling. The group of co­founders included myself, Juana Summers, Benet Wilson, Sharon Chan, Michelle Johnson, Doug Mitchell and Robert Hernandez. We launched as a Google Form, which Robert later gave a home to on the URL

CB: Did the project receive any seed funding at that time?

Carew Grovum: No, we’ve never sought or received funding for this project.

CB: What were the goals for the JDP at that time?

Carew Grovum: At the time, we were just trying to get folks listed. Some we added ourselves because they were our friends, mentors, mentees, colleagues. Some we crowdsourced from others. We eventually got the list up to about 135 names.

CB: But what was the goal of listing them? To create an easily searchable database for editors who are looking for reporters? Something else?

Carew Grovum: The goal was to solve the problem when hiring editors and conference planners gave the excuse of, “I can’t find any qualified minorities.” We’d be able to point to the project and say, “We’ve found plenty. Here’s a list to get you started.”

One of the toughest things has been to balance growing the list quickly while also keeping the bar high. All of our names are on this project as being founders and curators of the list. It’s not quite a personal recommendation for every name on the list, but we do spend time discussing and vetting each person individually. There’s no checklist and anyone with a certain score “makes” the list. The list isn’t meant to be a comprehensive directory of journalists of color – that’s something the UNITY umbrella groups should be doing. It’s meant to be a means of highlighting top-notch folks who we, ourselves, would want in our newsrooms and at our conferences.

CB: How does a lack of diversity hurt journalism?

Carew Grovum: A lack of diversity in the rank­-and-­file members of a newsroom hurts coverage. It means that newsrooms are missing stories and sources because there aren’t enough voices at the table. In terms of management and leadership, it means that future strategies and decisions of our industry are being made with a limited view. We’re asking our sources and our communities to offer up their stories, bring us into their lives. But, in many newsrooms and many communities, we’re telling the same stories over and over again.

CB: How can increasing diversity in the newsroom make a difference in public conversations about, and perceptions of, race and ethnicity?

Carew Grovum: For one, it can make a difference in attracting and maintaining talent. Minority, by the very definition, means there are a finite number of journalists of color. Few of us want to be hired into a newsroom where we’d be seen as a “token” hire and left to work as an “only lonely.”

But obviously, more journalists of color, just like more women journalists, just like more LGBT journalists in a newsroom means you’re more likely to accurately reflect the community you serve. It means you’re willing to consider a story from multiple angles, and it means you’re challenging different “normals.” Recent Gallup research shows that our audiences are increasingly distrustful of the media. Diversity, more voices and balance are all good steps toward rebuilding that trust.

CB: Do you think that newsroom diversity, or the lack thereof, influences our national dialogue on policy issues that are not clearly tied to race?

Carew Grovum: Of course – diversity in a newsroom means more than just people of color. Is it bad to have an all-white newsroom? Definitely. But it creates just as many limitations to have, for example, an all-Ivy League educated staff, an entirely heterosexual staff or an entire staff born prior to 1985. These limitations can affect how a newsroom covers education and the achievement gap, jobs and labor, finance and businesses, immigration, health care, and so on. It’s also worth pointing out that it’s not just straight news teams that would benefit from more diversity – editorial boards (which, in many places are shrinking dramatically in size) and columnists and critics are also missing key voices.

CB: The JDP was relaunched in 2014. What had happened to the 2011 iteration, and why did it need to be revitalized?

Carew Grovum: We’ve archived the original Google spreadsheet. We decided to relaunch and try to make the project a really valuable tool for recruiters and event planners. The next step is to try and build up the community around the folks on the list. We’re launching a listserv as a first step. What it meant to be a digital journalist rockstar in 2011 means something totally different in 2015. This means there are people who we listed originally who aren’t on the updated list.

CB: What are the current goals for the JDP, and have they changed since 2011?

Carew Grovum: Our main mission remains the same: identify as many amazing journalists of color changing journalism in the digital space, and elevating them: helping them get hired, promoted, invited to teach workshops, speak on panels, and give keynotes. The conversation about the future of journalism hasn’t slowed at all in the past four years, but thankfully, we’re increasingly seeing more and more faces of color contributing to that conversation. The “usual suspects” aren’t being solely relied upon as token panelists.

CB: What is the format for the new site, and how do you want folks to use it?

Carew Grovum: The new site engages with the folks on the list in a more active way. They each create and update their own profiles on the site. They choose how much detail to share and how often they’d like that information changed. But we aren’t a recruiting service or a placement bureau. We vet everyone on the list and make it public. Editors and event planners are encouraged to spend time looking through the list, and reach out to the people they’d like to hire or work with. We don’t make those connections for them.

CB: How can reporters sign up to be part of the project?

Carew Grovum: We have a system for nominations. [Note: the system is described on the JDP site.] The group of curators takes a look through the list periodically and we discuss each journalist.

Often they are not traditional beat reporters – and this is a big change from the original parameters of the list in 2011. The journalists we’re looking for now are the ones having a significant and measurable impact on the digital strategy and success for their organization. They’re social media editors, data journalists, digital designers, interactives editors, developers, user experience designers, mobile specialists, content strategists, and folks in leadership with these kinds of backgrounds. We definitely have reporters on the list, but they’re folks who have a demonstrated track record in this area.

CB: Are there particular areas within journalism that the JDP is focusing on? For example, anecdotally, the lack of diversity seems to be particularly pronounced in health and science journalism. Is that an area that you’re paying particular attention to?

Carew Grovum: No, we’re focused on the digital skillset. What kind of publication, how large the staff, or how narrow the scope of coverage isn’t a factor.


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