Why newsroom diversity matters

A recent article about the lack of diversity in Vanity Fair’s “New Hollywood” issue has received more than 18,000 comments and counting from readers who either lament the lack of women of color on the cover or charge that diversity is a moot issue. Whether or not Vanity Fair should have presented a more diverse group of actresses on its cover, the discussion brings up an important question: How diverse are today’s newsrooms?

During the 90’s and the early 2000’s, there was a widespread effort from many media publications to diversify their staff. In theory, a more diverse staff translates to diverse points of view and a more eclectic group of stories and coverage. For many newsrooms, this push toward diversity eventually gave way to a focus on integrating technology in the newsroom and ultimately to retaining what staff they could due to financial and budgetary concerns. However, a lack of resources does not mean newsrooms shouldn’t make an effort to make sure their staff represents the varying interests of their readers.

Journalism — and life itself — would be boring if everyone was interested in the same things. There’s already somewhat of a homogenization of ideas in journalism. If you are a journalist, you are expected to read The New Yorker and be well-versed in every episode of “The Wire.” You should have read “All the President’s Men” and be intimately familiar with the work of Hunter S. Thompson. The same societal norms extend to the tech world — if you have a computer it should be a Mac, if you have email it should be GMail, and if you have a phone it should be an iPhone or Blackberry.

However, if every reporter or editor has the same interests and thinks alike, the newsroom will unknowingly and collectively produce the same stories and target the same audience, leaving other sections of the readership or viewership underserved and underrepresented.

In theory, a diversity of opinions at Vanity Fair may have translated to a more diverse group of actresses on the magazine’s cover. The issue, however, is not unique to Vanity Fair. Many newsrooms are guilty of overlooking stories or news subjects simply because they aren’t on their radar, not because they intentionally omit these subjects.

Newsrooms should represent the communities they cover and a diverse staff with varying interests and ideas translates into a broader spectrum of stories. This, in turn, better serves the audience. Diversity doesn’t just mean race or gender either, but a variety of factors, including age, socioeconomic background, and more. Diversity for diversity’s sake is wrong and misguided, but diversity in the name of producing better journalism should be applauded and a goal of every newsroom.