After getting called out for its lack of diversity, First Look is a lot less white and male. Here’s how they did it
Earlier this week when Andy Carvin unveiled reported.ly, not only did we get a glimpse at the innovative way First Look plans to cover news, but we also saw a highly diverse news team.
“As a global news project, we wanted to start with a team that was both geographically and linguistically diverse,” said Carvin who announced the breaking news venture on Monday. “So we have team members who speak Italian, Greek, French, Vietnamese, Irish and Spanish, for example. We’re also exploring bringing on freelancers who can help us with languages like Arabic, Russian, Mandarin, etc. I’m also glad it happened to work out that our team is 50% female, 50% male. Two of the six of us come from recent immigrant families – Vietnam and El Salvador. One staffer, Kim Bui, is active in the Asian American Journalists Association, and another, Wendy Carrillo, is in the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. It may not be a 100% perfect example of diversity, but I think we’ve brought together a strong team.”
Not only did First Look receive blistering criticism for its lack of diversity when it launched in February, but the company has undergone a series of setbacks in recent weeks with the well-publicized implosion of Racket, a digital media magazine that was shut down before it ever got off the ground. The increase in diversity at the startup, backed by billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omiydar, is welcome news, and it’s not just limited to reported.ly.
Not quite a year old now, both First Look has made gains when it comes to being less white and male.
“When we first launched, we were under intense pressure to get started because of the type of reporting we were doing on Snowden,” said First Look President John Temple referring to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who, last year, began leaking thousands of pages of classified documents to lawyer and journalist Glenn Greenwald.
Temple said First Look always intended to be one of the most diverse digital startups of its size, but faced challenges on the diversity front because the company had to ramp up so quickly. “We’ve always felt that it was important to have a diverse workforce. Now we have more free time to work on diversity,” he said. “We’ve always known that we were not going to be able to produce strong journalism if we didn’t have diversity. We want to support diverse voices and perspectives.”
Temple credits a strong recruiting team that includes people both inside and outside of the company. The team, he said, includes both women and men, two minorities and two Caucasians. “They all have different experiences,” he added.
The recruiting team looks for people who are open-minded, committed to engaging with the audience, possess a high energy level and are curious, Temple said. Potential job candidates must also have a desire to develop a deep expertise in a subject or skill. “We want people who have a very open view of the world,” he continued. “We want people who are really smart and know what they’re doing, but who are not dismissive of others and not open to other ideas or perspectives.” In other words, no know-it-alls, Temple said.
The Intercept, launched by journalists Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill under First Look’s banner, will soon welcome its new editor-in-chief Betsy Reed. Currently executive editor of The Nation, Reed will replace John Cook, who last month decided to go back to his old employer. Not only will a woman soon appear at the top of the news site’s masthead, but one look at the staff directory shows that Greenwald and company have been busy over the past six months.
There are now eight women on The Intercept’s staff of 24. They include: Liliana Segura, named one of the top 50 Latinos on Twitter in 2012, who is the Intercept’s senior editor, and Natasha Vargas-Cooper, a reporter based in Los Angeles. Juan Thompson, who covers politics and technology, recently joined at least four other men of color on staff. They include: Murtaza Hussain, whose work involves human rights and foreign policy; Morgan Marquis-Boire, a regular contributor and The Intercept’s director of security; and Andrew Jerrell Jones, who covers sports and culture.
There are currently no African American women at The Intercept or reported.ly; and the management ranks could definitely use more diversity. That’s something the company is working on as it continues to settle in and find its stride, said Jones who is based in New York City.
Jones had freelanced for Ebony and a few other publications when he met Greenwald through DailyKos and other liberal online circles. Greenwald ultimately contacted him on Twitter about working for The Intercept, Jones said.
For months, the only African American reporter at The Intercept, Jones is now one of two. He says this is not enough, adding that he feels comfortable letting this be known in the office.
“We don’t want to be like old media in that we do believe, and emphasize, that every voice does matter,” Jones said.
Greenwald, who previously called the publication’s lack of diversity “our biggest disappointment and our biggest failure,” now touts The Intercept’s progress.
“From the start, our stated goal was to be more diverse than any other media organization of similar size and reach. We were very candid about the fact that we failed in that goal at launch, for a set of complicated reasons having to do with our limited focus at launch, and the fact that several candidates didn’t pan out. That was very disappointing,” he said. “But we intensified our efforts to reach this goal, and while we are not there yet, we have definitely made great progress. Having a diverse staff is not hard. It’s just a matter of making it a genuine, as opposed to cursory, institutional priority. It’s made us not only more diverse, but better and more interesting on every level.
Greenwald said he never wanted to hire journalists from all the traditional media outlets because, “that’s not what we want to be.”
When asked how he’s gone about identifying diverse newsroom talent, Greenwald said it hasn’t been all that difficult. “There are a lot of extremely talented journalists of color, both young journalists more or less getting started in their careers, and more experienced journalists,” he added. “As soon as you expand the scope of your search, having a diverse staff is actually not hard.”
Carvin echoed Greenwald, saying he reached out to his networks and groups like the National Association of Black Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association and NAHJ, asking that they pass along job descriptions to their respective members and suggest potential hires.
“It was really important to me that we didn’t just hire a bunch of white guys. No offense to white guys, of course,” said Carvin, adding that First Look got a bad rap several months ago regarding its diversity record. “The pool of candidates who applied were very internationally diverse; perhaps a bit less so from the U.S., but not by too much. I’m a strong believer that if news organizations are going to serve the needs of diverse communities, you need your team to represent as many of those communities as possible. Each member of our team brings their own life experiences, cultural background and areas of expertise, and I’m convinced that will be a big factor in our long-term success.”
His advice to other hiring managers looking to make their newsrooms, and news coverage, more diverse?
“I think it’s important for hiring managers to ask a simple question: How can a more diverse staff make your organization stronger and achieve its mission? If you take a cynical approach and basically look to check off certain boxes by making “diversity hires,” you’ll miss the opportunity to bring aboard people who can sincerely complement each other,” Carvin continued. “Also, don’t stick within your usual network of connections. Reach out to associations that represent a range of ethnic and cultural groups in your industry. Not only can they connect you with talented people, they can also help you think more holistically about what you can accomplish with a more diverse team.”