How to Build a More Diverse Newsroom, for Real

This brief article gathers tips on cross-border collaboration as learned from Editor-in-Chief Tina Lee and the team behind "Unbias the News", a publication striving to make journalism more inclusive and diverse.

This article provides a snapshot from Tina Lee's talk on "Diversify or Be Destroyed: Lessons from the cross-border newsroom at Unbias the News” at the Investigation is Collaboration conference organised by Exposing the Invisible Project on 2-6 August 2021.

by Tyler McBrien

Editors and journalists almost uniformly agree that diversity is important, and for good reason. Different perspectives and lived experiences lead to better stories, more thorough fact-checking, fewer blind spots, and more innovative solutions.  

But as Editor-in-Chief Tina Lee and her team at Hostwriter, an open network that helps journalists to easily collaborate across borders, and its publishing platform Unbias the News have experienced it, most newsrooms and other media organizations are still fortresses of privilege. By and large, they lack meaningful diversity, which needs to include different skillsets, languages and life experience, as well as race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender.

In her efforts to foster cross-border journalistic collaboration, Tina Lee observes the same tired arguments against assembling a more diverse team again and again. Here are just a few of these myths that she constantly debunks:

  • Tragic or traumatic life experiences make you biased. - On the contrary, such experiences enlarge your perspective, making you alive to new ideas and considerations.
  • It’s easier to work with people I know, or people in my immediate network. - While it may seem easier, people in your network are often substantially similar to you, which narrows your story and the range of ideas brought to the table.
  • It takes longer to work with a diverse team, and I’m under deadline. - Someone with a deep local context of the story you’re covering might know shortcuts or more efficient paths to get the information you seek.
  • I can only trust someone with bylines in mainstream/big media. - These bylines only show that others trusted the author, but to make a full assessment you should read the work on your own. Prestige bylines could be a better indicator of access and privilege than of the talent or work ethics one might have.
  • A journalist working in a country with a corrupt government is likely also corrupt. - Often the very opposite is true. Journalists working in such difficult settings need to be more creative and resourceful to achieve the same results.

Once you have worked through these assumptions and prejudices, how do you then foster diverse collaboration? Lee has tips for that too:

  • Base your judgments on the work, not on a CV or resumé. - For the purposes of your investigation, specific local expertise may be far more important than a big-name publication or university.
  • Pay everyone the same (period). - This may be controversial in the field of journalism because the costs of standards of living differ between countries. However, equal pay sets a more even power dynamic and expectation of the same quality work from everyone.
  • Adopt a mentor/mentee approach. - Be honest about what you know and don’t know, and be ready to be flexible about when you’re the mentor and when you’re the mentee.
  • Don’t be a jerk. - Working in journalism is hard enough, and bullying is one of the main reasons people drop out of the media or non-profit field. People produce better work when they feel welcome.
  • Give yourself more time than you think. - For many journalists or editors, internet blackouts, theft of equipment, political upheaval and canceled visas are all reasons to not go on collaborating with someone in that risky situation - until it happens to them. Be empathetic and realistic about the challenges people face across different contexts.

“Reaching outside of your network, working with people you've never met, and making a respectful and inviting collaboration is not a matter of politeness or political correctness, it’s about getting the context and perspectives essential to making your investigation relevant to stakeholders.” (Tina Lee)

*Tina Lee is Editor-in-Chief of Unbias the News, an anti-racist and feminist cross-border newsroom started by journalism network Hostwriter. Originally from the USA, she writes, researches and podcasts about migration, human rights, and the far-right and has previously worked for Human Rights Watch and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.

This article is part of a series of resources and publications produced by Exposing the Invisible during a one-year project (September 2020 - August 2021) supported by the European Commission (DG CONNECT)

European Commission

This text reflects the author’s view and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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