Newsrooms aren’t keeping up with a changing America. Tracie Powell wants to change that

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Credit: Shavar Ross. Some rights reserved.

Editor’s Note: All Digitocracy and Through the Cracks occasionally partner to share blog posts. Founders of both sites are members of the NABJ Digital Journalism Task Force.

The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that America will have no racial majority in a generation.

This is already the case in many neighborhoods, cities and states, but as the nation becomes more diverse, America’s newsrooms have not.

“The percentage of minority journalists has remained between 12 and 14 percent for more than a decade,” according to a summary of the 2014 American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) Newsroom Census. Women have fewer bylines or on-camera appearances than their male counterparts.

Enter Tracie Powell, a news carnivore and media commentator previously of the Poynter Institute and a current Columbia Journalism Review contributor. 

She wants to make “news organizations more diverse, and, therefore, better equipped to serve increasingly diverse audiences with rich, diverse coverage.”

To that end, last year she founded All Digitocracy; last week she launched a Beacon Reader crowdfunding campaign. The idea: Interview 10 innovators – media entrepreneurs, startup founders, social media gurus and executive leadership – to ask them how they built their personal brands and how they got to where they are today. 

Among those slated to be interviewed:

– Shani O. Hilton, News Editor, BuzzFeed News 

– Roland Martin, Host, NewsOne Now

– Simone Oliver, Audience Growth Editor, New York Times

Powell hope is to raise $7,500 or more by Dec. 24 to support the “How’d You Get That (Media) Job?” project.

This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

Johnson: You said on your Beacon campaign page that you work closely with hiring managers. Can you elaborate on that?

Powell: As NABJ Digital Journalism Task Force co-chair, we talk with hiring managers and help identify newsroom talent. I got three job leads just today.

Earlier this week I was on the phone with another major startup that, earlier this year, caught a lot of flak for its lack of diversity. They’ve come a long way in just a few months. No names, but yes, I have personal relationships with hiring managers. 

I also work with Benet Wilson. She’s on the Online News Association Board of Directors and is also Vice Chair of Education for NABJ Digital Task Force.

Between Benet and I, we have a pretty extensive network and relationships with hiring managers.

You might remember that earlier this year she and I co-wrote an article about diversity at digital startups

Johnson: I know you made your crowdfunding campaign and All Digitocracy to reverse a negative trend but what events or trends give you hope?

Powell: Buzzfeed, First Look and maybe Vox give me hope. I consider Buzzfeed, and now First Look, as models for what diverse newsrooms are supposed to look like. 

The two may not yet be perfect (Buzzfeed is probably the best at the moment), but they are years ahead of other startups, and light years ahead of many traditional newsrooms. Shani. O. Hilton and Ben Smith get it.

John [Cook], Glenn [Greewald] and Andy [Carvin] at First Look Media seem to be getting it, a little. They need some diversity in upper management. When I see that happen, then I’ll say that they really do “get it.” For now, let’s just say things are looking a little better over there now.

Johnson: Who else do you want to interview that isn’t on this list?

Powell: I won’t name them all, but suffice it to say, Janelle Rodriguez is now on my list as well as S. Mitra Kalita, Executive Editor of Quartz.

Then Randy Lovely of the Arizona Republic. They just did this phenomenal documentary package on the child immigrants from Latin America and All Digitocracy wrote about that. I was impressed with how much Randy invested in covering that story. And it was a job well done.

Those are just three. We’re budgeted for 10 interviews, but if we raise money, I’ll add more. 

Johnson: Do you see a difference between the challenges people of color and women face?

Powell: I think there is an assumption that white women and people of color, particularly women of color, are on the same page and face the same challenges. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The groups speak past each other, not to, or with, one another. 

That’s another thing All Digitocracy is working on, a whole ‘nother issue altogether. Still, our voices, and numbers, are muted (if they even exist) in most newsrooms. So we ought to figure out a way to work together to fix the problem.

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Khari Johnson
Khari is founder and editor of Through the Cracks: Crowdfunding in Journalism. He also writes about bots and artificial intelligence for VentureBeat. He has built news startups in the U.S. and Europe for the last decade.

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