Conservatives are already taking aim at some parts of it, but Buzzfeed’s Diversity Effort Is a Good First Start
As a journalist of color for nearly 30 years, I have spent the vast majority of my career as “the only” in most of my newsrooms. Because of that, I have worked hard to promote diversity in newsrooms, especially new online media sites that have popped up in the past 10 years.
So I was heartened when I saw BuzzFeed Editor Ben Smith’s manifesto on what his publication will do to have a more diverse editorial team. And unlike other media companies, Smith also released numbers on the makeup of BuzzFeed’s workforce by gender and race.
While it’s no surprise that his newsroom is predominantly white, I am heartened that women make up a little more than half of BuzzFeed’s staff. The numbers on journalists of color aren’t as good, but Smith acknowledged this and wrote about what he’s doing to make it better.
I read all the right things: Understand the beat or field you’re hiring in; insist on a diverse pool of serious candidates; look for opportunities to make hires that will increase the diversity of our readership; tap networks beyond your own; and create our own pipelines.
BuzzFeed is starting to tackle the first one by sponsoring a year-long investigative reporting fellowship in partnership with Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism; some conservatives are already taking shots at the effort before it gets off the ground. But investigative journalism is one of those beats where you don’t see a lot of color, so it’s good that this fellowship will help open a door for qualified journalists.
I see the second one as journalism’s version of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which requires teams looking for new coaches to interview qualified minority coaches for the top and senior-level jobs. I’m glad that Buzzfeed has decided to cast the net wider to find qualified diverse candidates and give them a chance with an interview.
With number three, although it spoke about Latinos, I have seen a marked change in BuzzFeed content that appeals to African-Americans. At this year’s Asian American Journalists Association convention in Washington, D.C., I attended a workshop that featured BuzzFeed Executive Editor of News, Shani O. Hilton. I asked her about this, and she said it was a direct result of her company hiring journalists of colors.
Number four is especially important to me, because how can you find the qualified journalists of color if you stick to your own homogenous networks? I was happy to see Smith attend this year’s National Association of Black Journalists convention in Boston this summer. And BuzzFeed worked with NABJ’s Digital Journalism Task Force to host a reception for them to meet some of our stars. Smith also mentored potential and current middle managers of color, while Hilton moderated a panel discussion on digital media entrepreneurship. As noted before, Hilton attended the AAJA convention. As journalists of color, we have wide networks of fantastic people doing great things in the digital space, and we’re always happy to share.
Finally, it’s great that BuzzFeed wants to also create its own pipelines through fellowships and internships. And I hope that they will reach out not only to NABJ and AAJA, but also the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the South Asian Journalists Association, the Online News Association’s Diversity Committee and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Diversity Committee. I also urge BuzzFeed and other media companies looking for qualified diverse candidates to look at a project near and dear to my heart: the Journalism Diversity Project, a curated and growing list of diverse people doing great things in the digital space (read my story on it here). And shameless plug – if you think you should be on the list, nominate yourself here.
While this is a great start for BuzzFeed — and something more newsrooms should be doing — the proof is in the pudding. I’d love to come back a year from now and see not only the numbers for journalists of color, but see what efforts are being made to ensure that those hired by BuzzFeed also have a chance to grow and move up to management-level positions.
Benét J. Wilson is the co-editor-in-chief of AirwaysNews.com. She is also the Air Travel Expert for About.com and a long-time an aviation/travel journalist. She has written for publications and blogs including CrankyFlier.com, ACI-NA Centerlines, Aviation International News, Airport World, the Airline Passenger Experience magazine. and the Runway Girl Network. She is currently a board member for the Online News Association and Vice Chair, Education, for the National Association of Black Journalists’ Digital Journalism Task Force.