GBH in Boston is extending its commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility through a new journalism initiative.
The Equity and Justice unit, announced last month, will cover social and demographic changes in the Boston area. Led by GBH News Executive Editor Lee Hill, the team of six journalists will join the unit through a combination of internal appointments and external hires. The Barr Foundation provided a three year $750,000 grant that funds the startup of a new six-person reporting team.
“Part of the agreement with Barr is that at the end of three years, GBH as an organization would have the capacity and intention to support this work in perpetuity so that it’s not just a three year project,” Hill said. “So the Barr gift is really seed money.”
The grant helps GBH “institutionalize and operationalize equity in our reporting, to make it not a place where we visit but where we live,” he added.
Several changes underway in Boston make this the perfect time to launch the Equity and Justice Unit, Hill said. He pointed to Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s push to pay reparations for slavery and economic exclusion of Black people within the region. In response to this, GBH News will launch a seven-part podcast, What Is Owed?, that takes a deep dive on the topic. One episode will compare reparations work in Evanston, Ill., near Chicago, as well as reparations discussions in Ghana and among Native American communities. Reported by Saraya Wintersmith, the podcast releases next month.
“Boston is in this interesting moment where leadership here has become intentional around trying to heal itself from a very well-known, well-publicized history of racial trauma in this city,” Hill said. “Racism, structural racism … going back to the bussing issue which was 50 years ago this year.”
The Equity and Justice unit will look at both problems and solutions and shine a light on community actors who are working to make the region better, Hill said. And it will build on the newsroom’s efforts to cover topics like affordable housing and inequities in public contracts more thoroughly.
The reporting unit’s work is also an extension of a broader initiative within GBH to improve its workplace culture and create more content for and about audiences of color. In 2020, the station started a collaboration with James Hills, a Black entrepreneur, to host his community solutions program Java with Jimmy live at GBH’s Boston Public Library studio. The station also partnered with El Planeta to produce Salud, a limited-run Spanish-language podcast that has delivered two seasons since 2022.
To examine and address internal workplace issues, GBH hired Yemisi Oloruntola-Coates as chief inclusion and equity officer in 2021. Last year, GBH News joined a pilot program led by the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. Through the six month program, the newsroom worked with DEI consultants to rethink its beat structure and lay the groundwork for building a newsroom that more closely mirrors Boston’s demographics.
“The relationship with Maynard helped further codify our vision for doing this work,” Hill said. “We were thinking of this before Maynard, but it just became clear from the past year that we spent working on our culture and working on how to better infuse DEIA principles into our journalism that we’re on the right track.”
Staff for the Equity and Justice Unit will include a senior editor who will report directly to Hill; a reporter; digital producer/reporter; multimedia production assistant; community editor; and community producer.
Hill emphasized that all journalists at the station will lend their expertise to equity and justice reporting.
GBH News working groups
Apart from the Equity and Justice Unit, GBH News is also expanding its source tracking work, which began in 2022. Currently, the newsroom tracks its sources’ race and ethnicity, gender identity, age range, the city or town they’re from as well as their areas of expertise. “We’ve accumulated close to 2,000 new sources and many of them are sources of color,” Hill said. The newsroom will begin analyzing its data soon to identify remaining gaps in the diversity of sources quoted in coverage.
Working groups of GBH News staff who provide feedback on DEIA efforts informed creation of the Equity and Justice Unit, Hill said. Their advice helped solidify Hill’s belief that responsibility for covering DEIA-related topics should not rest solely with the Equity and Justice Unit. The entire newsroom will share in that work.
The 58 participants in GBH News’ working groups comprise roughly half of the newsroom. The five working groups focus on “communication and belonging,” “professional development and mentoring,” “DEIA in journalism,” “consciousness raising” and “diversity hiring and retention.”
“The good thing about the working groups is that it kind of helps everybody take agency and feel invested in our success as a newsroom,” Hill said. He credited Maynard with helping GBH expand the working groups.
During the Maynard program last year, GBH News adopted a goal for the newsroom staff to directly reflect the demographics of Boston by 2027. U.S. Census data from July 2022 estimated that Boston’s population is nearly 50% white, 23% Black, nearly 20% Hispanic and nearly 10% Asian.
GBH’s newsroom was 82.5% white and 17.4% people of color in 2020, according to data provided by the station. As of 2023, racial demographics of the news staff had changed to 77.6% white and 21.6% people of color.
“We’ve made some significant progress in the past year with hiring people of color,” Hill said. “We’re working with our HR department — they’re a critical stakeholder in this — to make sure that when there’s an opportunity for a new role, we’re aggressively pursuing diverse candidates, so that our candidate pools are diverse. It’s not our intention nor will we exclude people based on their ethnicity, but we also know that we have goals around making our newsroom more representative. So we are keeping that in mind as we’re hiring.”
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify that staff for the Equity and Justice Unit will be hired through internal appointments and external recruitment.