Monday, November 14, 2005

Diverse newsrooms for a global economy

In the past few months I've met with around 300 journalists from a few dozen B2B magazines at around a half dozen publishers in several different cities.
And this is what I've seen:
White people.
Lots of them.
On occasion I've seen some Asian faces...perhaps as much as 1 or 2 percent of the editorial staff at some companies. I think I've met one editor with a South Asian name. I've run into two or three folks from the former Soviet Union (although they too were white.) I've met a few folks with Spanish-sounding last names. I don't think I've met anyone with a background from the Middle East other than some Israelis.
And, believe it or not, I've only seen two black people.
Now for the record, I'm a white guy. I am, in fact, a member of the most common demographic in publishing --I'm a middle-aged white guy.
So when someone like me winds up consistently shocked by the lack of diversity in B2B newsrooms, then we can probably assume that the situation is pretty severe.
Look -- I don't care what your politics are. And you shouldn't care about mine. Diversity should be your goal for business reasons as much as for political or ethical reasons. I've said before that given our increasingly global economy, business-to-business publishers need to hire journalists who speak languages other than English. I've suggested that ambitious journalists may want to expand their language skills. But even putting language skills aside, B2B publishers should be aiming for a more diverse workforce. Because -- and trust me on this -- it has become positively creepy to visit your newsrooms.
When I look out on a sea of all-white faces, the question that comes to mind is this:
What racist imbecile is doing the hiring here?
Now of course I realize that question is unfair. And of course I realize that there are thousands of factors other than racism that can create a monochromatic newsroom.
But that is the question that pops into my head.
And I would suggest that you should begin to wonder how often that same question enters the head of your customers, sources and advertisers.
Today's Wall Street Journal has a very interesting piece on the "business imperative" of diversity.
And if you're in New York this week, check out the Magazine Publishers of America's discussion of the multicultural audience.

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8 comments:

Phil Hall said...

But this begs the question: what is the B2B industry doing, as a whole, to encourage diversity? Is there any outreach (job fairs, internships, scholarships) to the nation's historically black colleges, or the institutions within the American Indian College Fund, or other groups representing the non-white college population?

Thanks!

Phil Hall
Editor
PR News

Paul Conley said...

Hi Phil,
Good question. And I don't have the answer.
I know that ABM has a committee that addresses human-resources issues. But I'm unaware of any specific diversity efforts. (NOTE: ABM is hosting its "Top Management" meeting this week in Chicago. There is a session about the global marketplace -- "International Licensing and Partnering." But nothing specific is planned on diversity or recruiting as far as I know.
There are a number of organizations dedicated to fostering diversity in U.S. newsrooms. Some of them are listed here on the ASBPE site:
http://www.asbpe.org/resources/links_associations.htm
(search the page for the words diverse or diversity.)
But none of those groups are B2B specific.
On the other hand, it's worth noting that Trade, Association and Business Publications International (TABPI) is a global association for B2B journalists and publishers. And its very existence serves as a means to promote a more global and diverse industry.

Sue P said...

We considered diversity when we last had a position open (we were all white, middle-agish women at the time). The closest we could get was a younger white guy. There was zip ethnic diversity among the candidates.

Part of the problem is that our office is located in a mostly white suburban/rural area, for sure, but since you're seeing this everywhere, it makes me wonder if journalism, especially B2B journalism, for some reason doesn't appeal to a more diverse population. Any idea what the demographics coming out of J schools are these days?

Paul Conley said...

Hi Sue,
It can be understandably tough to build a diverse newsroom if you're based in a less-than-diverse part of the country.
But here in New York, which is probably the most diverse city on earth, I see the same problem.
Furthermore, the lack of diversity seems to be much more of a problem in the editorial department than in tech, advertising, etc.
I haven't seen any info recently on the demographics of j-schools. But it's a good question. I'll see what I can find.

Phil Hall said...

How about telecommuting? Why can't the writers/editors work from distant locations? Come on, it is the 21st century -- we need to think very differently.

Phil Hall
Editor
PR News

Paul Conley said...

Hi Phil,
That's a very good point.
I'm a big fan of telecommuting for many reasons. I work from home most days, and I'd like to see more people do so.
But lots of publishers hate the idea. They like their staff to work in a physical newsroom. And there are certainly advantages to that.
But if I had to choose between having my staff work in the same room or having a diverse staff, I'd choose to hire people from around the globe and have them telecommute.

Phil Hall said...

Hey Paul

Maybe it is time for the rigid publishing world to make some changes: considering telecommuting rather than having everyone under one roof, getting excited over a grad from Howard University instead of Harvard University, making an effort to not only reflect diversity in the workplace, but also in coverage (you'd be surprised how many black-owned businesses I've interviewed expressed surprise when I rang them for input in stories!).

Paul, let's keep this subject alive. Publishing needs more progressive input on this.

Phil Hall
Editor
PR News

Paul Conley said...

Hi Phil,
I'm willing to try and keep this conversation going. And I'll do what I can to generate some activity among recruiters, trade associations, etc. Thanks for your support!