There are signs that demographic trends, as well as challenges to the media’s traditional advertising-dependent business model, are leading to a rethink of long-standing newsroom decision-making practices.
Two years ago, the CBC introduced employee resource groups (ERGs) that bring together staff of similar backgrounds (visible minorities, Indigenous peoples, and people with disabilities) to give them a role in shaping the stories it tells.
“ERGs help to inform content development,” said Sandra Porteous, CBC’s director of engagement and inclusion. “They can act as internal ‘focus groups’ that can help our programmers create better, more relevant content.”
The New York Times, weary of losing ad revenue to social media, has stopped relying on advertising to bankroll a print publication. Thus, it no longer has to tailor its output to the largely Caucasian households advertisers want to reach.
In 2017, the Times earned US$1 billion from subscriptions, which accounted for 60 per cent of its revenue. With a diverse, primarily digital subscriber base of 3.8 million, it has gone to lengths to showcase a diversity of perspectives and to cover race in a more comprehensive manner.
Dean Baquet, the first African-American executive editor of the 167-year-old newspaper, has introduced a race coverage team of six journalists, supported by six others, in departments such as national, metro, sports and culture. Accepting ideas from throughout the organization, they conceive and develop stories dealing with race.
Baquet said: “The newsroom I envision will say yes to new stories and new ways to tell them, unfettered by the bureaucracy we have created over generations.”
These may be just tentative steps toward a more collaborative style of decision-making, yet the signs are that there’s no turning back. If anything, newsrooms need to quicken the pace in revolutionizing the way they function.
By 2036, non-Caucasians will make up as much as 70 per cent of the workforce in Toronto and 66 per cent in Vancouver. The “mainstream” in terms of the media’s labour pool and potential customers will be reversed.
A decade before that, millennials will form 75 per cent of the global workforce, noted a report by the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion.
Unlike previous generations, they’ve grown up interacting with all types of people. So for them, diversity and inclusion isn’t just about getting a variety of people into a room; it’s about creating “cognitive diversity,” the Deloitte report said. “It’s about connecting these individuals, forming teams on which everyone has a say, and capitalizing on a variety of perspectives in order to make a stronger business impact.”
More than previous generations, millennials will quit their jobs if they’re unhappy with their work environment. When they form the majority of the labour pool, autocratic newsrooms that stifle employee input could find themselves hamstrung.
“The first step to a cognitively diverse organization in which millennials will thrive is to break down formal hierarchies,” the Deloitte report advised.
If traditional media establishments are to thrive in era in which they don’t have a monopoly on access to the masses, their business model is crumbling and the labour pool looks different than it did in the past, they are going to have to figure out how to share the power to decide what is news and how they cover it.