Illustration: Black Illustrations |

Illustration: Black Illustrations |

Leaders of color could be the future of local news — as long as we can convince them to stay

Journalists of color need internal and external support to accelerate their pace of growth and development.

We need more journalists of color in leadership, especially in local news.

It’s that simple.

As newsrooms struggle to identify with, connect to, and ultimately convert audiences of color, a key way we can make change is by putting more journalists of color into decision-making roles.

But, what I hear and see across the industry is that newsrooms are not even getting a chance to put their best internal candidates into these roles, in part because white executives often don’t see them as leaders “yet.”

Whether it’s trading the heartland for the city, or a national publication swooping in with money that can’t be matched by a local shop, we’re seeing plenty of talented journalists of color leaving local news behind.

But what if those journalists believed they were the future of their local newsrooms? What if they knew that there was a pathway for their growth and development, one that resulted in better pay and a more senior role? I believe if we set talented journalists of color up with a vision of leadership earlier, we can be more successful at retaining them in local markets.

So that’s my RJI Fellowship project I am introducing today: creating a playbook for local newsrooms to build talent and development pathways in order to better retain journalists of color.

Over the coming months, I will be researching and publishing ways for local newsrooms to better identify and support journalists of color with leadership experience or potential. Part of my theory is that we need mentorship AND sponsorship in order to accelerate the growth of these folks. Another part of my theory is that building strong peer cohorts is key to lasting success.

To that end, I have two asks:

First: would you do a research interview with me?

I’d love to speak with managers, directors, and executives from local news organizations (newspapers, public radio stations, magazines, TV, online-onlies, anyone! Ideally your shop has between 20 and 200 employees, at least some of whom self-identify as being BIPOC. Others are welcome to reach out, but I’ll be prioritizing folks within these parameters). Tell me I’m wrong, tell me what you’re seeing and trying. Tell me what’s worked and what hasn’t, either as a journalist of color trying to climb the ladder in a newsroom like this, or as a manager (or both!).

You can sign up for a call with me here.

Second: nominate a talented journalist of color for me to coach and build a cohort around

I strongly believe that finding your peers is key to success as leaders. I’m looking to identify 5-6 journalists of color working in local news organizations to pilot a small group coaching project together.

In order to qualify as a host newsroom, you must:

  • Already have at least one person of color in leadership — it’s important that the coaching candidate not be the first or only person of color on your leadership team or track. 
  • Be willing to promote your chosen candidate within 12-18 months to a mid-level manager or leadership role
  • Assign an internal executive-level sponsor to the chosen candidate
  • Identify and facilitate an intro to an external mentor for the chosen candidate based on their career goals 
  • Work with the candidate’s direct manager to create regular stretch goals and assignments for this person
  • Be ready to invest further in this candidate by sending them to an industry leadership workshop, such as Poynter programs, AAJA’s ELP program etc, which range from levels of investment. You’ve got to be ready to say yes. 

An ideal coaching candidate is one who:

  • Has 5-10 years of professional experience as a journalist
  • Has worked at your newsroom for about 1-5 years
  • You could see this person as a future Executive Editor, Managing Editor, News Director, Executive Producer, etc. 
  • Has demonstrated some interest or passion for leadership and culture-building
  • Does great work currently and is on a pathway to internal promotion within 12-18 months

Coaching candidates must be available for biweekly coaching calls on Friday afternoons starting in October and running through April.

Please submit your nominations here by August 27, 2021, midnight PST.

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