Transparency can have a prophylactic effect

Farai Chideya set out to explore:

…who reported the 2016 election, and whether political teams’ race and gender diversity had any impact on newsrooms.

That’s an important question and Chideya certainly has the qualifications and support ( fellow at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy) to pursue it.

One problem. For reasons best known to themselves, numerous media organizations refuse to provide diversity date. (full stop)


But the most important data point for this project—numbers from newsrooms on their 2016 political team staffing—has been the hardest to collect because very few managers or business-side staff are willing to disclose their data. One company admitted off the record that they were not responding to diversity requests, period. The Wall Street Journal provided the statement that it “declined to provide specific personnel information.” An organization sent numbers for its corporate parent company, whose size is approximately a thousand times the size of the entire news team, let alone the political team. Another news manager promised verbally to cooperate with the inquiry, but upon repeated follow up completely ghosted.

Concealment wasn’t the uniform response as Chideya makes clear but useful responses were so few and far. Enough so to provoke her post.

She captures my sentiments writing:


If we journalists can’t turn as unsparing a gaze on ourselves as we do on others, it speaks poorly for us and the credibility of our profession. If the press lauds itself for demanding transparency from government but cannot achieve transparency in its newsrooms, that is cowardice. If we say we can cover all of America with representatives of only a few types of communities, we may win battles but lose the war to keep news relevant to a broad segment of Americans. This is as strong a business argument as a moral argument.

If you need additional motivation, be aware that Chideya is proceeding in the face of non-cooperation and when her study is published, there will be a list of who has been naughty and nice.

Here’s how to self-report:


Whether or not you are a news organization I’ve already contacted, please email me at Farai_Chideya@hks.harvard.edu

For the purposes of the reporting, I’m looking for a race/gender count of 2016-cycle political staffers—full-time or at least 25-hour-per-week contract workers (but not freelancers paid by the story). People come and go during the election season, but these should be people who spent at least six months covering the election between September 2015 and November 2016.

If you want to add to the data you disclose, you can include separate counts for freelancers; or for staff who worked on politics less than six months of the cycle, but those should be broken out separately.

Want bonus points? Produce an org chart showing how your staff diversity played out across the ranks of reporters and editors. Feel free to annotate for self-reported class background or other metrics if you want, too. But race and gender are the minimum.

We’d like on-the-record numbers and interviews from people who we can use as sources in the report: managers, corporate communications staff, anyone authorized to speak on behalf of the newsroom. Please indicate if you are speaking on the record and in what role.

Because we are not getting this information, in many cases, we also welcome interviews and information on background. That is, if you are a staffer and can provide information, please do, and tell us who you are and that you don’t want to be quoted or cited. We’ll take what you provide to us into account as we do our research, but obviously it can’t be the final word. You could also offer quotes about the topic on the record, and your assessment of staff diversity on background.

As we conclude the report, we will release information on who has provided information, and who it was requested from who did not.

Self-reporting beats being on the naughty list and/or your diversity information extracted by a ham-handed hacker who damages your systems as well.

Who knew? Transparency can have a prophylactic effect.

See Chideya’s full post at: One question that turns courageous journalists into cowards

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