opinion

I am not your brown reporter

Helen Ubiñas, STAFF COLUMNIST

Updated: Friday, August 11, 2017, 1:52 PM

Much has changed in newsrooms since the 1930s — but a lack of diversity persists.

I am not your brown reporter.

On behalf of exasperated journalists of color everywhere, I offer an open letter to anyone thinking about asking us to join yet another conversation, to speak at another event, to attend another conference about diversity and diversifying newsrooms.

Years, decades, after my first conversation about exactly this, we are still just talking about it.

Don’t. We’re done.

We are tired – sick and tired of having these conversations about the need to reflect the communities we purport to cover, only to walk past conference rooms full of white, usually male, editors.

We are done overhearing conversations about coverage of black and brown communities, often without one editor of color. Or exactly one.

We are done talking to younger journalists of color who feel isolated and under-appreciated, convincing them that things will get better, that this time the industry is paying more than lip service to diversity and inclusion. At this point, I’m just lying when I say that.

"ASNE set a new deadline of 2025, but America’s newsrooms are on track to fail that deadline, too." https://t.co/X9J8dWc6LJ

— Leah Binkovitz (@leahbink) August 2, 2017

I’ve lost count of all the conversations I’ve been called to have — just this year — as if we haven’t already talked this issue to within an inch of its death. As if there is something new to discover other than the one thing so many newsrooms can’t seem to do: hire more reporters and columnists and editors of color, and keep more reporters and columnists and editors of color. Because it’s the right thing to do. Because if we don’t, the rumors of our death have not been exaggerated enough.

I’m done being burdened by the obligation, the responsibility, the time-consuming expectations that most of my white peers don’t have to think about. No one is calling them away from their jobs to join these conversations. Why not? Shouldn’t diversity be a priority for everyone who loves journalism, who wants to make it better?

I applaud the increase in young people in newsrooms and women in managerial positions. But hiring and promoting mostly white millennials and white women is merely a step – and more than a few steps short of where we need to be. We need millennials of color. We need editors of color. We need a pipeline full of candidates on every level. That would be a true reflection of the communities we claim we want to cover – communities, incidentally, where we have our best shot at growing the audiences we so desperately need to survive.

Why does #newsroom diversity matter? With POC as the majority of our country by 2044, that's our future audiences, says @sarah4nabj #NABJ17 https://t.co/VO6RzfR8g3

— JSK Fellowships (@JSKstanford) August 10, 2017

If this strikes you as angry or bitter, it’s because you’ve clearly been lucky enough not to have been called and recalled to tables to represent your race or your gender. It’s because you’re not obligated or burdened with the unappreciated and unacknowledged emotional labor that comes with this. It’s because you have the luxury and privilege of not having to be angry and bitter and tired.

Lately, I’ve noticed that talk of newsroom diversity is ratcheting up again, and with it an odd expectation of acknowledgment and appreciation for these long-overdue efforts. Because apparently talking and thinking about diversity is the new diversity.

Pay more attention to what newsrooms are doing about diversity as opposed to what they're saying or promising. https://t.co/7hHDAFzn4E

— Helen Ubiñas (@NotesFromHeL) May 24, 2017

So stop. Just stop. You want me or anyone else called to the table to believe that, this time, the talk of diversity is real? Stop talking about it and actually do something.

Something that sticks.

The NYT newsroom, where preaching diversity can be easier than following it. My column. https://t.co/JoNJpQdbYC

— Liz Spayd (@spaydl) December 17, 2016

We’re good at starting this conversation. And we’ve repeatedly proven that we’re no good at making sure it makes a lasting impact.

Now’s as good a time as any. The Asian American Journalists Association conference was held in Philadelphia last month. Student journalists there wrote a sobering piece on the lack of diversity in newspapers titled “Missed Deadline: The delayed promise of newsroom diversity.”

The National Association of Black Journalists conference is wrapping up in New Orleans this weekend. There is, as always, talk of renewed efforts to change.

Good, and good luck. I’ll be watching.

Plenty of journalists of color are done hearing about how much everyone cares about diversity and inclusion. We want a little less conversation and a lot more action.

Until then, I am done with the charade.

I am not your brown reporter.

Helen Ubiñas, STAFF COLUMNIST

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