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The Twitter accounts taking on journalism’s straight, white, cis male problem
The industry needs diversity now more than ever.
As the last couple of weeks have proven, the state of journalism is uncertain and ever-changing. More than a thousand journalists were laid off at BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Vice, and Into. And this was following layoffs at Mic, Refinery29, and other digital spaces late last year. As some have pointed out, many of the reporters let go at BuzzFeed and beyond were people of color and queer folks.
What this constant downsizing means for the future of journalism is grim—and it’s even grimmer for journalists with marginalized identities. Even before the layoffs—which happened at 36 percent of the largest newspapers across the United States and 23 percent of the highest-traffic online news outlets—newsrooms were predominantly white and male. According to a 2017 Women’s Media Center report, 62 percent of bylines are from men; meanwhile, Black women made up just 2.5 percent of journalism professionals, ASNE reported in 2016.
While the “browning” of America continues, and people in the United States continue to define gender and sexuality in their own terms, those reporting the news don’t reflect the people they cover. Media professionals have become fed up with the trying to make change within the system, so they’re taking action one tweet at time to make the industry more inclusive.
Writers of Color is probably the most popular of these diversity-missioned Twitter accounts and has more than 36,000 followers to date. It shares job opportunities, calls for freelance pitches, and offers commentary on the journalism industry. Since the mass layoffs, its mission, like those of similar accounts, feels more vital than ever. (Those running the account declined to be interviewed by the Daily Dot at this time.)
“Writers of Color has been really wonderful because they post literally hundreds of jobs,” Adriana Gomez-Weston, a freelance writer and the voice behind the Cinema Soloist, told the Daily Dot. “They show a lot of jobs that you probably won’t see on their regular websites or looking on regular jobs boards…A lot of [other] websites, I noticed, they post ‘pitch us,’ but they don’t have a direct email and a lot of those submission things are like black holes.” But with Writers of Color posts, she says, users get editors’ email addresses and what it is exactly they’re looking for.
Another Twitter account making a difference is Culture Dish, which aims to create more diversity in science writing. Apoorva Mandavilli and Nidhi Subbaraman co-founded the account in May 2014 after meeting on Twitter, then in person, about Madavilli’s 2013 essay on “being the only Indian science writer at the national science writers conference.”
“We wanted to have some way to communicate with other science writers about jobs and other opportunities, but also someplace to talk about the issues we all face,” Mandavilli told the Daily Dot. “Since we were both on Twitter, and most other journalists are too, a Twitter account made sense.”
At first, it was just the pair running Culture Dish’s Twitter. “Now, there are so many people who are working on supporting science writers from under-represented groups,” Subbaraman told the Daily Dot. “It’s a multi-layered project. There’s so much more funding for it.”
For Shraddha Chakradhar, who now runs the Culture Dish account with Ashley Smart, the lack of diversity in science journalism is a part of journalism’s wider inclusion problem, citing high barriers to entry like how expensive it is to live in big cities, where science journalism internships are usually located. In order to try to make science journalism more accessible, Culture Dish tweets about internships, jobs, grants, and the NASW’s student fellowship. This is especially pertinent since recent layoffs at BuzzFeed and HuffPost have also resulted in job loss within the community of science and health writers.
Greater inclusion in journalism isn’t just necessary at the writing level, though. Every day, editors make decisions about who’s story gets to be heard and what angles to take; they are also the ones hiring journalists and flagging stories for sensitivities. To help diversify these gatekeepers in the editing field, Karen Yin started Editors of Color in September 2017.
Yin said she had the idea for the account after an editing conference where she was one of a few non-white attendees and only met two other Asian-American editors there. The next year, and the year after that, fellow editors of colors gathered together at the conference. Soon, Yin made a private forum, then the Twitter and sister accounts across other social platforms. Similar to other diversity in journalism Twitter accounts, Editors of Color now includes a public, searchable database with information about media professionals available to work.
“By building a home for editors of color online, I hope to signal, ‘We’re here, we exist’—a message for members of our community as well as for those in need of our expertise,” Yin said.
Yin, like Chakradhar and Smart, isn’t sure what the direct impact her account has had on actual hiring practices and jobs attained. But according to the Columbia Journalism Review, “Latino and non-whites made up 12 percent of newspaper editorial staff in 2000, and by 2016 that figure had edged up only slightly, to 17 percent.” Meanwhile, the U.S. population is at 38 percent Latino or non-white, more than double the percentage found in newsrooms.
That’s not to say loud, constant calls for diversity and inclusion don’t make publications take notice. In its “Race” issue in April, National Geographic did something revelatory: It owned its past wrongs. It discussed how the organization has covered people of color in the United States and internationally, with historian John Edwin Mason finding decades of racist coverage on the magazine’s part. At the helm of the magazine for its Race issue was editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg; by her account, she is the first woman and first Jewish person in her position, after both women and Jews faced discrimination at National Geographic.
There are many women, people of color, and queer folks in media who will tell you their absence, or their being kept in low-wrung positions, has hindered the telling of diverse, unbiased stories. This bias, and the mistakes it causes, extends to photojournalism, too. Just last year, the Hill and the New York Times misidentified famous Black women like Condeleeza Rice and Angela Bassett in photos. Additionally, when Linda Brown, known for the legal case Brown v. Board of Education, died, media outlets like the Chicago Tribune, NBC News, and the Mercury News accompanied their coverage with a photo of an unidentified Black woman, Poynter reported.
To combat the lack of diversity in photojournalism, the Women Photograph is an initiative with contact information on hundreds of women, non-binary, and transgender visual storytellers. Its website database is the main outlet, but its Twitter account is a part of how the organization shares opportunities and promotes photojournalists. On Twitter, founder and director Daniella Zalcman also keeps track of hiring and publishing data.
Unsurprisingly, in an industry that increasingly relies on photo agency subscriptions and free social media photos, layoffs have affected photojournalists, too. “Budget tightening always affects newsroom inclusivity dramatically,” Zalcman told the Daily Dot. “We’re having a lot of conversations right now about gender and racial diversity in journalism, but the thing we don’t discuss as much, which is inextricably tied up in the industry’s lack of diversity, is hiring people from a range of socio-economic backgrounds.”
She says there’s already a huge financial barrier to even entering photojournalism. “Getting your foot in the door often involves buying thousands of dollars of gear, working unpaid internships, or paying for networking or developmental opportunities. Budget tightening only worsens those pressures—and we need to change that,” she says.
If there’s any upside to the recent layoffs, it’s the hope that it will bring attention to these barriers and inequalities, as more and more digital publications move to unionize. In the meantime, diversity-promoting Twitter accounts will be here, making sure qualified people of color and queer folks are aware of available opportunities. As marginalized people already know too well, chipping away at centuries of gatekeeping is as much about time and persistence as it is about putting yourself on the line and taking matters into your own hands.
Correction: The Culture Dish account didn’t directly lead to the creation of the diversity committee.