Originally published: June 16, 2016
WHEN JOHN HENRY JOINED the New York Daily News four decades ago, he worked in a bubble. Women were few in the newsroom, and journalists of color were even fewer. The staff was dominated by an overwhelming majority of white men, and diversity was the least of anyone’s worries.
“It was a period of declining circulation, and I think [the Daily News] was just sort of trying to stem the tide of red ink,” Henry says. As for bringing on new voices or perspectives from outside the white male bubble, he adds, “They probably weren’t doing that much hiring.”
Over a long career at the New York tabloid, Henry saw firsthand how a monolithic newsroom narrowed his newspaper’s editorial purview.
“Every different group brings something new and valuable,” he says. “That’s why it’s so important. And it can also establish rapport with people with a particular background that an outsider can’t.”
Newsrooms have addressed the issue in fits and starts over recent decades, but those efforts have stagnated in the past 10 years. In fact, the portion of newsrooms made up of people of color has actually ticked downward one percentage point during this period, according to the American Society of News Editors, from nearly 14 percent to less than 13 percent.
The lack of long-term change in this regard stems at least in part from media-wide apathy. But it’s a question of resources as well, especially in the face of the industry’s daunting financial prospects. How do you hire a staff that includes people of different races, genders, and experiences?