New guide offers interview questions for newsrooms looking to diversify their staff

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In response to the well-documented problem of the lack of diversity within the journalism industry, a new hiring guide seeks to provide means for newsrooms to identify job candidates with different backgrounds.

Produced by the Trusting News Project, guide includes a list of interview questions hiring managers can ask to understand how potential employees would bring their life experiences to their job. The goal is to help newsrooms hire for the ‘dimensions of difference’.

“Who we are as journalists, who we are as human beings affects how we do our journalism,” said Joy Mayer, director of Trusting News. “The way I think about the dimensions of difference brings a very broad reflection on how someone presents themselves at work and how their characteristics and experiences can influence the way they approach their work.”

These differences do not have to be demographic, such as age, race, or sexual orientation. It also doesn’t have to be things that would be on a resume, like languages ​​spoken or skills learned. Instead, they include all forms of visible and invisible diversity—experiences that would be found in a community and that a newsroom wishes to see represented among its staff. Some examples Mayer gives include veteran status, the experience of living in a small town, or having an immigrant family.

The guide points out that journalists tend to be whiter than their communities and more likely to have a college degree. They also tend to be less likely to live in low-income areas or vote Conservative.

Mayer noted that people who share similar characteristics tend to stick together, and newsrooms aren’t immune to that. But while these commonalities can make some journalists more comfortable in a newsroom environment, they can also make people who don’t share these characteristics feel unwelcome.

The guide seeks to approach the problem from a hiring perspective. Trusting News worked with four newsroom partners – WITF, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Civil Beat and Arizona Luminaria – to generate interview questions that encourage candidates to share how their experiences influence their journalism.

Among the 16 questions included in the guide are prompts such as “Tell me about a time you had a debate about journalism with a friend or family member who does NOT work in the media” and “How did you get to know a new community? Are there any types of community engagement that are important to you?”

“We’re not going to ask someone in a job interview, ‘When did your family immigrate here?’ or any number of other things about their personal lives,” Mayer said. “But we can ask questions about how they approach their journalism that would invite them to share those things.”

The guide warns that there are many personal questions that interviewers cannot ask directly and that newsrooms can be held liable for questions deemed to be discriminatory. It also encourages interviewers to recognize and address the power dynamics involved in a job interview so candidates understand that they may refuse to answer certain questions.

“It’s vitally important to create spaces and places where people understand why these questions are being asked and understand that they can choose to answer,” the guide says. “When asked if there is anything from their own experiences that they would like to share, they should know that they will not be penalized if they refuse to answer.”

The ultimate goal is to change newsroom culture, Mayer said. Ideally, newsrooms should have a diverse set of experiences represented among their staff, and those reporters should feel comfortable using those experiences in their work. She said she hopes newsrooms will consider what perspectives they might be missing right now.

“For a newsroom to really use this guide well, it would need to be accompanied by conversations with all staff about why these issues are important and what the purpose is so that as and as people are brought in, they not only feel empowered to speak up, but rewarded for speaking up,” Mayer said.

Trusting News will invite newsrooms who use the guide to report on their experiences. The guide is part of the larger part of the project On the Road to Pluralism Initiativewhich began after the 2020 elections and aims to help local journalists contribute to pluralism rather than polarization among readers.

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