Pushing for newsroom culture change - the year with OpenNews
by Dan Sinker and Erika Owens
(This is the fourth of a series of monthly newsletters to stakeholders providing an overview of what OpenNews has been working on and showcasing folks in the community.)
At OpenNews we rounded out 2017 with a whirlwind December, a month that in a lot of ways felt like the culmination of our work (and year) to date. We spent the two days of SRCCON:WORK with 125 leaders in the journalism tech community talking about how we can make our news organizations more caring, collaborative, functional places to work. We’re so grateful to the participants at SRCCON:WORK for building that space together with us. The conversations we heard there reinforce the themes we’ve heard throughout 2017, and reinforce where we need to focus in the new year: supporting emerging leaders, in particular journalists of color, in creating lasting change in their newsrooms.
Session facilitators at SRCCON:WORK were 80% women and 33% people of color, a similar demographic mix as the conference overall. While we have always done the work to have deep representation at our conferences clearly there is something more going on here, with who the work of culture change falls to, who is most impacted when that work is ignored, who is most committed to making organizations healthier, more inclusive places to work and better able to cover their communities.
Attendees have told us that they’re bringing many strategies and lessons learned at SRCCON:WORK back to their newsrooms, but none more important perhaps than this one: “despite the fact that we’re in high-intensity stressful news situations, we should never lose sight of the fact that our colleagues and ourselves are all people. Kindness and human decency should never be sacrificed in support of a deadline.”
These themes from SRCCON:WORK were also part of this year’s expanded News Nerd Survey, made possible by Google News Lab and assembled with input from an advisory group of community members. In this survey results, again, diversity was the #1 thing the news nerd community said that it needs now. We asked additional questions this year to delve into how to support folks in meeting that goal, gathering details about inclusive policies, experiences of harassment and microagressions, and skill building. We’ve got a whole bunch of data to dig into and you can explore it too:
- Our findings from the survey
- Data visualization and analysis from Polygraph and the Google News Lab
- Analysis of salary data from Soo Oh
This data from the News Nerd Survey and the feedback from SRCCON:WORK will continue to guide our work in 2018. We have a long list of folks we’re reaching out to next year to talk more about this data and see how it can help other organizations like ours, and individuals pushing for change in their newsrooms. We’d love to chat more with you about any of this as well.
Year in review
Our work this December was the culmination of an exciting—albeit busy—year of transition, listening, and growth. Some highlights:
- We began the year by spinning out as an independent organization. Even though we left Mozilla, we brought our whole community with us to deepen our community support and organizing work this year. Mozilla incubated our work for six years, and we’re now well settled into our new home with our fiscal sponsor Community Partners. As part of this transition, we also released, yep, more research!
- Our publication Source started off the year with a new look, with help from Ethan Marcotte, and expanded offerings, from more guides that gather thematic resources to a series of columns that tackled issues including management advice and security.
- We took our work on the road to the NICAR conference! As the largest event in this community, we love it as a chance to reach a wider network. We took 25 community members to NICAR on scholarship, organized a meetup for the Lonely Coders Club, released the results from the first News Nerd Survey, and released a field guide to open sourcing in the newsroom, while also co-organizing a track of facilitated conversations. Whew.
- We also organized a couple of events of our own this spring: We held a retreat to reflect on our Knight-Mozilla Fellowship program and gather feedback about the future of the program (it remains on hiatus, but we’ll have more to share in the new year). And, in response to the growing need for better security practices for journalists, we organized a security convening to gather resources for the accidental security trainers in many newsrooms. Source featured a week of security themed pieces.
- In August, our fourth SRCCON was a big hit and the discussions on newsroom culture and the needs of journalists of color were at the forefront and influenced much of our work for the rest of the year. We also held our first in-person advisory board meeting, helping to build relationships between the folks who have supported the development of our work in a big way.
- In November, we held a leadership convening on allies in media creation that grew out of a session at SRCCON and linked with several talks and sessions at SRCCON:WORK. That group of emerging leaders, largely journalists of color, has begun #myhopefornews and is continuing to develop plans for how to increase the visibility of journalists of color at conferences in 2018 and support them in pushing for change in their newsroom.
- Through our scholarship program, over the course of the year, we helped 121 journalists attend community events, both our own conferences and other journalism events around the world. 73% of scholarship recipients were women and 58% were people of color, part of our efforts to break down barriers to access to the event spaces where so much networking and decisionmaking happens.
- We’ve closed out the year sharing the responses of 756 news nerds in our survey and strengthening our connections and fortifying our resolve to push for change through SRCCON:WORK.
Looking ahead to 2018
2017 has not been easy for journalism. With the recent exposure of the toxic culture in many newsrooms emerging alongside the continued attacks on the profession from powers large and small, it’s clear that things need to change. The community of emerging leaders that OpenNews supports is ready to drive that transformation.
This community knows our news organizations need to be more inclusive places where journalists of color have real power to direct and decide about coverage; they know that our news organizations need to formally invest in the bridge roles that help translate between teams and the informal training and support networks that keep teams connected; and they know that we must recognize these often invisible structures that currently power the real innovation, experimentation, and technical progress newsrooms.
In an industry long searching for answers externally it’s more clear than ever that solutions lie within: this community has the interest and the skills to lead our organizations to create more diverse, responsive, trustworthy journalism.
At OpenNews, we close our year with gratitude. To the journalists of color who have been leading this work already, to the networks of journalists at smaller organizations and in the in-between roles our industry is still struggling to understand and support. We’re grateful to get to work with these folks, and with you, to evolve journalism together. Thank you.