From the editor: Here’s our newsroom diversity pledge
Rockland/Westchester Journal News
Here in the Lower Hudson Valley, we have watched as the reckoning over race and inequality has dominated the national conversation. And many of us have been complacent, seeing ourselves as already woke anti-racists.
But inherent inequality has been a fact of life here from the start: European settlers eradicated the native population, slave-owners settled our valley and generations upon generations drew municipal and school-district lines, enacted discriminatory laws, enforced exclusionary zoning policies and created a crazy quilt of cities, towns and villages segregated by race and income.
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As a region, we are diverse and growing more so. Black residents comprise 13% of our counties’ population and Hispanics 21%, according to census data. But get granular and you will find that our communities remain highly segregated, especially in Westchester. One-half our municipalities have less than 3% Black residents. Many have Hispanic populations below 7%.
How have we, as a news organization, reflected these realities?
Poorly, and we own that.
As longtime readers know, before we were The Journal News, we published under multiple mastheads. Our larger cities, including Yonkers and Mount Vernon, had their own dailies with robust staffs, as did Rockland. For decades, The Journal News and its predecessors focused its reporting through the lens of what the news meant to white readers, for generations the majority population in New York’s northern suburbs. The staff, as was the case in our industry, was almost exclusively white. Even as the suburbs grew more diverse in the mid-1900s, our pages largely ignored Black residents, unless they were involved in crimes — more often as perpetrators than as victims.
In the later decades of the 20th century, communities in Westchester and Rockland began to grapple with segregation issues, but our coverage was mostly targeted at the white readership.
By 2000, the digital shift began to disrupt our industry. We consolidated and laid off editors, reporters and photographers, losing many journalists of color, a trend that continued following the Great Recession of 2008.
We continued to hire, but we did not make diversity a priority in our staffing or in our reporting.
As more media competed for the same advertising dollars, we honed on audiences most valuable to advertisers, which pulled focus and resources from issues of importance to our urban communities of color, especially those that border the Bronx.
At the same time, our industry learned that crime paid — as digital readers clicked in droves on that coverage. It came to be, and this is shameful, that if a story had a Yonkers or Mount Vernon dateline, it was likely about crime or corruption. Readers complained. White readers said they didn’t recognize their suburban lives in our print pages or on lohud.com. Black and Latino readers said our reports perpetuated racist stereotypes. They were both right.
We were wrong to focus on clicks. We no longer do so. We eliminated coverage of low-level crimes, police mugshots and photos of drug-arrest sweeps. We diversified and dignified our reporting on urban areas. We focus now on being relevant and essential to the communities we serve. That led us to take a hard look at who was engaging with us — and who was not.
We found, and this is true for our industry, that people of color were not engaging with us, in part because they did not see their lives fully and thoughtfully reflected in our stories, and that they do not see themselves fairly represented in our journalists.
We did not develop the trust and sourcing needed to help us truly understand, report and elevate the concerns of their communities.
We’ve been reordering our priorities and our coverage to make it more diverse and inclusive. The coronavirus — which illuminated the inequities born by our essential workers, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color — and the social unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd has deepened our commitment to do better for all our audience.
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Here’s some of what we’ve done:
And here’s what we pledge to do:
As we navigate the crises of the pandemic and the national reckoning on racial equity, all of us in the newsroom are committed to correcting our approach to covering our diverse communities. We know there will be bumps along the way — and we want you to alert us with your concerns and questions. Thank you.
Mary Dolan is the executive editor.
This content was originally published here.