We’re striving to be a more diverse newsroom
But we recognize more work needs to be done
There was a time when it was difficult to find people from diverse communities working in many newsrooms across this country, including The Oklahoman. One or maybe two staffers would be of a different race or ethnicity.
For generations, when people of color were featured on front pages, it typically was in the context of sports or criminal activity.
Now, newsrooms intentionally are working to change that, adopting hiring practices and pursuing coverage that more accurately and fairly reflect their communities’ demographics.
A year ago, USA TODAY and Gannett’s 260 news organizations, including The Oklahoman, made a commitment to achieve gender, racial and ethnic parity by 2025. The 2020 census results show the U.S. is increasingly multiracial. In Oklahoma County, for example, the mixed-race population grew by more than 170% over the past 10 years. And Oklahoma already has the nation’s largest concentration of Indigenous tribes, representing 39 sovereignties.
Representation matters –– it helps us bridge divides and better understand each other. And The Oklahoman has taken steps toward becoming a more inclusive organization, in staffing and news coverage.
Our coverage of the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre earlier this year unveiled the dangers of noninclusive journalism. What we found was that media at the time, including our own newspaper, provided skewed and inaccurate coverage of the deadly episode and perpetuated harmful myths about who was to blame. The very fact that it was for so long called a “riot” mischaracterized the role of the Black community and the white mobs who tore through their neighborhoods.
Even today, failure to have diverse perspectives in our newsrooms can shade how we cover or understand movements like Black Lives Matter and police reform efforts. And in a time of COVID-19, it’s as important as ever to be seen as a trusted source in all communities. The impact of the McGirt Supreme Court decision regarding Native American lands in our state is another issue that has demonstrated the need to be a trusted source of information for all.
At The Oklahoman and across the USA TODAY Network, of which we are a part, we are today publishing reports that show the results of our efforts to hire more people of color in reporting, photography and key leadership roles. We published our first newsroom census a year ago.
We’re proud to say we’ve made progress at The Oklahoman. In the past year, we took measures to build a staff that looks more like the community. We partnered with the national Native American Journalists Association to create yearlong fellowships for early career Native American journalists. Our goal is to grow the pipeline of Native American journalists in Oklahoma and across the country.
Also joining our team were a Native American videographer, a mixed-race reporter, an Hispanic journalist and a
Black reporter. Another reporter also was hired to cover Native affairs in Oklahoma and throughout the Sunbelt region, which includes Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. And a member of the Hispanic community was hired to work on community engagement.
We also partnered with Telemundo in a series of in-depth stories examining the challenges faced by Hispanic and immigrant victims and survivors of domestic violence. The series is being aired and published this week in English and Spanish.
We recognize that we have a lot of work to do on how we cover underserved communities and challenge reporters to expand their source lists for all topics so their storytelling can be more inclusive.
Perhaps our boldest efforts yet toward inclusion came in July with the transformation of our opinion pages as a platform for community engagement. Now voices from every community and corner of the state share commentary on matters that are important to them in Viewpoints.
And our work continues. An inhouse committee is working to make diversity, equity, inclusion and awareness the pillars of the newsroom’s culture in sourcing, storytelling, hiring practices and community engagement. The committee also will serve as a check on ourselves to ensure we’re doing what we say we will do.
Newsrooms for too long talked about the need to become more diverse but failed to hold themselves accountable when they didn’t. We welcome your help, and thoughts, in making sure we don’t repeat those mistakes.
Ray Rivera is executive editor of The Oklahoman and regional editor for the USA TODAY Network’s Sunbelt region. Clytie Bunyan is managing editor for diversity, community engagement and opinion at The Oklahoman.