Race and Ethnicity Is Top Diversity Issue for Education Journalists

By Mark Walsh — July 17, 2017 3 min read
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Education journalists rank racial and ethnic diversity as the highest priority among a range of diversity goals for their profession, according to a survey released Monday by the Education Writers Association.

Nearly half of the 170 survey respondents ranked racial/ethnic diversity as the top priority, while 27 percent chose economic class diversity and 13 percent picked language diversity. The other diversity choices receiving lower rankings were gender, generational, physical ability, and sexual orientation.

When survey respondents were asked to rank categories of inclusion in order of importance to education journalism, two choices topped the list: hiring members of underrepresented groups, and training education journalists to cover underrepresented communities and their issues. (Each approach was ranked first by 36 percent of respondents.)

The next highest-ranked categories of inclusion were “creating pipelines and pathways for promotion for underrepresented groups” and “targeting and creating support systems and programs (e.g., mentorship, scholarships) for groups that have traditionally lacked access to the profession.”

Caroline W. Hendrie, EWA’s executive director, said the inclusion findings were interesting because “we have had internal discussions on the [EWA] board about what the focus of our work really should be: to try to train all journalists to cover education in a culturally sensitive way, or try to promote greater diversity and inclusion on staffs and in newsrooms.”

“What we are hearing from our members is that both are important,” Hendrie said.

Education Journalism More Diverse

The survey was offered over the Internet to EWA’s more than 1,400 journalist members. When it comes to the diversity of the profession, the new survey shows that 77 percent of respondents were white and 73 percent were female.

That tracks the results of a more formal study released by EWA last year, which showed that 78 percent of education journalists were white and 71 percent were female. Still, education journalism was more diverse than U.S. newsrooms generally, which are 91 percent white and only 38 percent female.

The new survey also asked about the sexual orientation of education journalists, with 82 percent of respondents identifying as heterosexual or straight, while 15 percent identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer. (The rest answered “questioning” or not sure, or declined to answer. There is no comparable data for U.S. newsrooms generally, the survey organizers said.)

When it comes to diversity overall, “we’re ahead of the industry,” said Francisco Vara-Orta, a data specialist and staff writer with Education Week and a board member of EWA. “We are already an inclusive environment, and we can be an example for others.”

The survey also asked which cultural competencies are most important for journalists to possess in order to effectively cover education. Just over 50 percent of respondents ranked “racial/ethnic” as the most important cultural competency while 32 percent ranked economic class as most important. The other competencies listed were gender, geographic, linguistic differences, physical ability, religious, and sexual orientation.

Dakarai Aarons, the vice president for strategic communications of the Data Quality Campaign and another board member of EWA, said the survey provides a baseline on diversity issues.

“Our nation’s public schools are no longer majority white, and that has implications for coverage of education,” Aarons said.

Both Aarons and Vara-Orta are among the members of EWA’s diversity and inclusion task force, whose goal is to advise the EWA board and staff on ways they can advance demographic diversity and inclusion among the association’s members and in education journalism more broadly.

Other members of the task force are: Daarel Burnette II of Education Week; Julie Chang of the Austin American-Statesman; Nichole Dobo of the Hechinger Report; Steve Drummond of NPR; Nic Garcia of Chalkbeat; Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times Magazine; Samantha Hernandez of the Green Bay Press-Gazette; and Sonali Kohli of the Los Angeles Times.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.