After hiring diverse talent, pubmedia’s challenge is ‘what happens after that’

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Two public media leaders called on managers in the system to be more intentional about hiring and retaining diverse talent.

“It’s really, really incumbent upon leaders of newsrooms right now to understand that there is a mandate for change, that the world has said something to us and we have an opportunity in front of us right now,” Vinnee Tong, managing editor of news at KQED in San Francisco, said during a webinar Tuesday.

Tong was speaking with Doug Mitchell, founder and project manager of NPR’s Next Generation Radio, in a conversation moderated by Abby Goldstein, executive director of the Public Radio Program Directors Association.

Tong said one of the first questions hiring managers need to ask themselves is whether diversity and inclusion is a priority.

Tong

“If it is a priority, then there’s really quite a bit of work to be done,” Tong said.

In KQED’s newsroom, Tong said, she and others have worked to build a hiring system that’s “an attempt to create defenses against systemic racism,” she said. Recruiting, for instance, “is a continuous job.”

The defenses include using the same interview questions for all candidates and ranking candidates based on the skills you’re prioritizing for the job.

“If you’re favoring one candidate and it turns out this other person has a higher numerical score based on the priorities you yourself have set, that is a checkpoint for you to think about why are you favoring that other candidate,” Tong said.

One problem in public radio with retaining employees of color lies with associate producer jobs, Tong said. “If you cannot offer people employment to support themselves at that level, they are going to leave,” she said.

“It’s a hole we have built — not intentional, not malicious intent — but by design, that is a hole in our system,” Tong said. Those roles are the place in the process of promotion “that I think we can have our eye on more closely,” she said.

Next Generation Radio, a training program to build audio and digital skills among young, diverse talent, makes information about its graduates public. “We’re not hiding anybody,” Mitchell said. “They’re there. So what we really need is managers to do a lot of the work themselves instead of relying on me to do it for them.”

Mitchell

In response to a question about whether it matters if participants in the program work and stay in public media, Mitchell said, “It matters because we need them. We’re spending a lot of time, effort and money putting people into positions so they can be attractive to people who are doing the hiring.”

“It’s a matter of what happens after that,” Mitchell went on to say. “And that’s where the responsibility becomes the CEO’s, the GM. … This is your responsibility. They are now your responsibility.”

But he said the “biggest challenge is once you get in, what happens after that? I’ve certainly taken plenty of coaching calls over the last three months about all of this.”

In response to a question about staffers leaving public radio because they felt that they were not valued and lacked a voice, Mitchell said that organizations need to “take what they’ve got to say very seriously.”

“If things weren’t right for them, rather than question their credibility and try to reduce them, we should actually take what they have to say, look internally and figure out, why did that end up happening?” he said. “How did that end up happening? And not necessarily point fingers because that’s going on, too. But is there a structural problem within our newsroom, within our station, within our licensing structure? How the CEO was chosen?”

The “Building Resilience” webinar series is being convened by Current and partners PRPD, Greater Public and Public Media Journalists Association with support from the Wyncote Foundation.

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