NPR Ombudsman: Staff Diversity Stats a ‘Disappointing Showing’

NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen discusses the numbers

NPR ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen was blunt in her assessment of NPR’s latest stats on staff diversity in the newsroom. “There’s simply no way around it,” she wrote. “If the goal is to increase diversity in the newsroom, last year’s was a disappointing showing.”

As of Oct. 31, 2016, the newsroom staff of 350 was 75.4 percent white, a percentage a shave lower than the previous year when that percentage was 77.6. To place it within its respective order in the news universe, as Jensen does, it has NPR besting The New York Times in newsroom diversity, as well as the overall and print-only average in ASNE’s annual survey of newsrooms, but behind a lot of other publications:

Up against some of the major newspapers that comprise NPR’s peer group of news outlets, NPR is behind The Washington Post (31 percent diverse) and The Los Angeles Times (34 percent). At 25 percent diverse, NPR is just above The New York Times newsroom, which is about 22 percent diverse.

All of those organizations have numbers better than the American Society of News Editors overall, with a low 16.92 percent minority, in ASNE’s parlance, averaged from the 737 organizations that responded to ANSE’s annual survey. Digital newsrooms fared better than print dailies, 23.26 percent vs. 16.65 minority.

NPR breaks down the numbers further according to race and ethnicity, as Jensen details: “Asians made up 8.3 percent of the staff, followed by blacks or African-Americans (8.0 percent), Hispanics or Latinos (5.4 percent), those who identified as two or more races or ethnic identities (2.6 percent) and American Indian (0.3 percent).” The publication also provides a gender breakdown, which this year was 44.9 percent male and 55.1 percent female.

Jensen interviewed a number of staffers about their reaction, and the conversation continued over the weekend on social media.

ProPublica responded on social media as well, linking out to its own newsroom’s diversity statistics, which it had published in March.

It was an exchange illustrative of how public disclosures of diversity statistics can encourage conversations around newsroom diversity, exactly the kinds of discussions that many newsrooms are avoiding, according to an article from Farai Chideya that Jensen had linked to. In the course of reporting and research on the racial and gender compositions of news teams covering the 2016 elections, Chideya found that many newsrooms were reluctant to disclose that information:

Arguably, 2016 was the most racially contentious and gender-fraught election of the modern era. This election required extraordinary things of journalists. Sometimes we lived up to the challenge; but in many other ways, we missed the mark. When it comes to the diversity of our political reporting teams, it seems we can’t even find out what the mark is, because despite our proclaimed love affair with data, we won’t disclose our own.

And the response rates to ASNE’s annual survey aren’t great, either. Of the 1,734 newsrooms ASNE reached out to for its 2016 survey, 737 responded, a response rate of 42.5 percent.