Diversity at NPR: “Clearly, there’s a lot more work to do”

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The editorial workforce at NPR comes pretty close to presenting a snapshot of America. For the past three years at NPR, whites have represented about 77 percent of the overall editorial workforce, although their numbers have increased. The other 23 percent self-identified as black, Asian, Hispanic, American Indian or two or more races. Out of 50 newsroom managers, 18 self-identified as representing a non-white racial category, or 36 percent. Taken together, NPR workforce diversity generally reflects the U.S. Census.

“Just as we desire to sound like America in our journalism and in our broadcasting programs, we really think it’s important to think like America in our leaders,” said Michael Oreskes, NPR senior v.p. of news. “I think you can see from the numbers, in some overall way, we aren’t doing badly, but clearly there’s a lot more work to do at several levels.”


One area needing attention is recruitment of Latinos, particularly in supervisory roles, Oreskes said. After American Indians, Hispanics have the smallest representation at NPR, representing about 5 percent of the editorial workforce. The U.S. Census puts Hispanics at about 17.6 percent of the U.S. population.

Both Asians and blacks are represented at 9 percent, although Asian representation and staff numbers has increased over the past three years. Black representation has mostly persisted at the same level, but overall editorial staff numbers have declined.

To create pipelines for leadership, NPR has supported staff members in training opportunities with the American Society of News Editors and Punch Sulzberger Executive Leadership Program at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Oreskes declined to name the structural impediments to nonwhite employees seeking advancement, but said it’s an important area NPR is always seeking out.

Another challenge is broadening the applicant pool, and reaching out across different corners of journalism. Every job opening has a diverse search committee in hopes of engaging more perspectives, and increasing the likelihood of diverse finalists, Oreskes said.

“We keep our eyes open for people around journalism or around broadcasting that have a certain level of leadership and can rise to a higher level of leadership,” Oreskes said.

3 thoughts on “Diversity at NPR: “Clearly, there’s a lot more work to do”

  1. I don’t understand the point of this article. It’s certainly not new news that NPR’s staff wants/needs to be less white and middle class, and I don’t see any strategies or new ideas being put forward here about how to change that.

    In fact, a senior VP is said to have “decline[d] to name the structural impediments to nonwhite
    employees seeking advancement, but said it’s an important area NPR is always seeking out.” Now, granted, the author does not convey the reason Mike Oreskes declined to name any structural impediments, but it does make one wonder — why not name *something*? For example: Racism? History? Complacency? Fear? Failing public education system? Not enough recruitment? Inertia?

    I’m also sort of dismayed by this sentence: “Out of 50 newsroom managers, 18 are diverse, or 36 percent.”

    People are not diverse in themselves. Groups are diverse. As an Asian American woman, I might add “diversity” to a majority-white workplace, but I am not, in myself, a diverse person. Unless you mean in the Whitman sense of “I contain multitudes…” — I’m first generation American, I’m Asian, I’m cis female, I’m queer, I’m college-educated, I’m a dog person, etc. This is lazy language use, and perpetuates white dominance and the myth that hetero/white/male is the standard against which everyone else is to be measured.

    This is the kind of phrasing that can perhaps help reveal common underlying issues with a lot of organizations’ well-meaning drives toward “diversity.” First and foremost, don’t be lazy and say you want “diversity.” If you want more people of color, or more Latino people, or more queer people, or more people from lower-income backgrounds, say that and then design your strategy from there.

    A lot of things I also want to say now have been said already in this great, fiery, eloquent article by writer Anis Gisele: http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/06/questions-for-anti-racist-orgs/

    Everyone who cares about working and living in “diverse” community should read it.

    Jen Chien
    Managing Editor

    • Hi Jen, Thanks for your comments. Re: structural impediments, Oreskes said he did not “want to go into things that people have said,” so I’m reminded to always press for more details. Also, the post has been updated: Out of 50 newsroom managers, 18 self-identified as representing a non-white racial category.

      • Thanks for your response, April! I appreciate the language change — I think these seemingly small shifts can really make a difference in how we shift our thinking around big topics. Let’s all keep talking, thinking, and doing more to combat homogeneity and unexamined bias in our newsrooms and beyond!

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