How public radio networks should strive for greater diversity

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We asked representatives from the major public radio networks to respond to Stephanie Foo’s Transom commentary about diversity in public radio, which we’ve republished here. Here are their contributions.

Keith Woods

VP for diversity in news and operations, NPR

woods_keith

Woods (Photo: Doby Photography/NPR)

(Woods sent this to executives at NPR member stations after Foo’s commentary appeared on Transom.)

Some comments on This American Life’s Stephanie Foo’s wickedly smart Transom piece.

So many of the issues we’re facing in public radio and in journalism more broadly are tied to the broad diversity challenges we all face. Whether we’re talking about succeeding in the mobile space, attracting new audiences, building tomorrow’s membership or simply honoring the “public” in public radio, we’re also talking about diversity. Age, gender, race and ethnicity, geography, ideology — all those and more need our attention.

It’s not a new issue, but every so often there’s a catalyst that can help push us further toward real solutions. Research is always good. But as Stephanie, Tim, Neenah Ellis and so many more have pointed out, we know a lot already. Nobody has the whole answer, and NPR has fairly publicly struggled with getting more diversity on our air, on our staff and in our audience. From where I sit, the things we need to do, captured in some of what we’re seeing on this list, come down to three areas:

Change who’s on your air and on your site. Have a look at the voices your audience hears. From hosts to reporters to topics to sources, you can make an immediate difference by understanding who’s not there and getting them into your content. We’re doing that. Oregon Public Broadcasting and KUT in Austin and the folks at WBUR have done it. Bring in new voices, and not just when you’re focusing on diversity. Show people in their authentic wholeness, occupying space in every realm of the human experience, not just the diversity space.

Borrow the ideas of projects like Localore’s Finding America to go to new places and find fresh ideas. And here’s a simple resource we’re building at NPR for public radio journalists. Use it as a complement to APM’s Public Insight Network or the Women’s Media Center’s SheSource. Stations can use these or build their own. Pass them on to your leadership team. Just get past the paralysis of the unknown.

Change who’s in your station. Our salaries are low, our racial and ethnic diversity across the system is anemic, and we’re trying to find our way into the digitally promiscuous lives of Millennials. Those are real problems. What are you doing to push against them? Neenah’s ideas for internships and fellowships are perennials. Tim has used that tool to great effect, and Scott Finn at WVPB just brought in his first two fellows. Even earlier in the pipeline is the Next Generation Radio work that Doug Mitchell does on NPR’s behalf, most recently with Capital Public Radio. Try something. If you can’t afford a yearlong fellowship, do a summer; if you can’t do it full-time, do it half time. How many ways can you expose the people you’re seeking to the work you’re doing?

Change who’s in your audience. Partner with community organizations that will help you with geographic, racial/ethnic and age diversity. KPCC has found big success with that. Use social media to plug into communities that might otherwise not know about you. And do things that are of interest to the audience you want. That was one idea behind Morning Edition’s “Changing Lives of Women” series. It’s one benefit of our Code Switch or Alt.Latino. And it’s not all about size and scale. WGLT’s Edward R. Murrow award-winning work on race relations is a great example of a station telling a critical story creatively without a huge staff. Show people that you care about their issues and you’ve got a pathway to a new audience. And that kind of work can be a recruiting tool, as Stephanie Foo pointed out.

Cory Zanin

Chief Operating Officer, Public Radio International

Zanin

Zanin

Over the past five years, PRI has increased its efforts around diversity. Our executive team has six women (including our CEO) and two men. Both Kathy Merritt (VP, Content Strategy and Development) and I are openly gay. Furthermore, PRI’s staff composition has exceeded the state of Minnesota’s ethnic composition for the last five years. As always, diversity is a work in progress. Here are a few points regarding our focus on diversity:

  • Diversity has been and continues to be a top priority for PRI. PRI’s mission is “is to serve audiences as a distinctive content source for information, insights and cultural experiences essential to living in our diverse, interconnected world.” To pursue and present these diverse perspectives, we need a diverse work force — both in our production units and in our management teams. So in that sense, we definitely agree with Foo — diversity brings in a broader range of ideas and those ideas translate to attracting new audiences and to managing a better company. It just makes good business sense.
  • For PRI, diversity means ethnicity and color as well as gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, age, ancestry, disabilities, and veteran status — to name a few. I say this because many times I think we limit our discussions about diversity in public media to only mean people of color. PRI’s goal is to consider diversity from as broad a perspective as possible.
  • We use our recruiting process to attract diverse and qualified candidates. We make sure to cast our net wide when it comes to job postings. That being said, I appreciated Foo’s point about going beyond the ‘usual suspects’ for recruiting. I especially liked the example of Snap Judgement using Craigslist to post job openings. Once we have our final candidates, we ask each person to spend a half day at PRI and meet at least four employees — including some PRI people that will not be working directly with the new hire. We do not make hiring decisions based on one person’s perspective but on multiple perspectives of each candidate.
  • PRI does not believe attracting diverse talent is enough. We agree with Foo — we need to create an environment where all employees feel safe and are able to contribute to PRI’s success. Over the past few years, we have developed core competencies and values that reflect our belief in fostering a respectful environment. One of our eight core competencies is called Managing Difference which is defined as a person’s ability to seek input from others, to maximize contributions of co-workers in all work situations, to encourage openness to diverse perspectives, and to work to maintain an inclusive workplace on a daily basis. One of our three core values is Team Spirit which focuses on seeking what is best for PRI and not yourself and earning the respect of your colleagues. Making the most of PRI’s diversity lies in our ability to incorporate and harness our staff’s different perspectives into our daily work.
  • While we believe we have a good system that attracts and fosters diversity, we know we have a lot more to do. Like many public media entities, we are focused on attracting the millennial generation not only to consume our content, but to engage with our content, PRI and each other. Thus, we need to attract even more diversity into PRI. Over the next few months, we will be incorporating more strategies across the organization to further increase our diversity and support our mission. As I noted above, it remains a top priority for PRI. So in that sense, we couldn’t agree more with Foo on the need to create a roadmap toward more diversity.

Mette McLoughlin

SVP and Chief Human Resources Officer, American Public Media Group

I did read Stephanie’s article — as did most of our team — and agree with her assessment that we need to do more to be public radio that’s truly for everyone. At American Public Media Group, we’re constantly striving to do better in this space. We are exploring different recruitment channels, building our personal relationships and expanding networks as part of our efforts to attract diverse talent. We have been intentional in our efforts to create a more inclusive work environment — one where all feel welcome — as a way to retain our staff.