6 characteristics of inclusive journalism

“The heartbeat of antiracism is self-reflection, recognition, admission and fundamentally self-critique” — Ibram X. Kendi

Inclusion has become a buzzword and the danger of buzzwords is that the true meaning gets lost and people use it solely to impress others. A solution could be to choose a different term with the risk of it becoming a slogan as well. It seems like a better idea to look into the real meaning of inclusion and make it the most important focus for the future of journalism.

When you Google ‘inclusive journalism’ you’ll find a description like ‘to shed light on voices traditionally left out in news coverage’ in a publication by Verica Rupar of the Auckland University of Technology. Inclusion is mentioned often together with the terms ‘diversity’, ‘equity’, ‘representation’ and more recently also ‘belonging’. There is consensus on the fact that media is still ‘too white’ and that not enough has changed over the years. And there are multiple blogs with tips on how to make your stories and newsroom more inclusive. The problem isn’t a lack of information about the topic.

An important aspect of inclusion is that journalists need to challenge themselves to recognize their own implicit bias and learn to diminish it. This is crucial because it means inclusion doesn’t come from writing the next evaluation report about ‘diversity in the newsroom’. True inclusion needs action and self-reflection and that’s not always comfortable or easy.

Inclusion and mental health: the same root.

This year, the COVID-19 crisis and Black Lives Matters protests remind us of how the perspective of global media is still predominantly male, Western and Eurocentric, based on a culture of whiteness. And 2020 so far confronts us with the increase of mental health issues amongst that same community of journalists. It’s worth questioning if these seemingly disparate topics could well be intertwined.

From my own experience as a white journalist working for almost ten years in a multicultural media organization and following the topic of media diversity for fifteen years now, I believe there are six characteristics to define inclusive journalism. And some of those characteristics are directly related to our mental wellbeing.

1. Long term commitment
Inclusion isn’t solved overnight. With the same approach as organisations strategize the future on other topics, there needs to be a long term strategy for inclusion as well. Long term means not just organizing diversity training or hiring more people of colour, for example. Long term means focusing on the root of the problem and making sure that if you skip a diversity training or if the employee of colour leaves the organization, you’re not worried about not being inclusive anymore.

2. Conscious of unconscious bias
Maybe this one goes without saying, but there isn’t that much conversation about the unconscious bias in media yet. The topic directly related to this is the concept of objectivity in journalism. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness’ (Source: University of California). Which means that when we discuss objectivity, we might not be aware of our own biases and therefore can’t be one hundred per cent objective. A redefinition of the term objectivity or maybe even letting go of the concept should be discussed in journalism.

“Journalism institutions should aim for active objectivity, in which they ‘detach from power, emphasize social/historical/cultural contexts in stories, question explicit and implicit biases, build trust among communities via neighbourhoods not often visited, and invest efforts over time to build relationships with people other than go-to leaders.”
Source: ‘When white reporters cover race’.

3. Community (engagement)
As mentioned in the statement above, building trust among communities is essential to inclusive journalism. In order to build trust, journalists shouldn’t only go to communities when things are going bad. It’s about connecting with people in good times and creating relationships for the long term. Journalists are reluctant to become too friendly because it could weaken the critical attitude towards issues. But we don’t realize that we as people have a natural connection to our own communities already, the ones we grew up in, with the people who look like us. And building communities on a professional level means with all people, not just your own.

4. Enlighten not just inform
‘Journalists must enlighten, not just inform’, writes Lee Siegel for Columbia Journalism Review. His plea for journalism that at its best should ‘lead humanity along a path toward better individual and collective life’ is very much related to the notion of constructive reporting or solution-focused journalism. It makes a lot of sense in the era of overwhelming amounts of (mostly negative) news to focus on possibilities that can bring people further.

5. Decolonization
Decolonizing in journalism includes a fundamental reconsideration of who is reporting, what the subject matter is and how it’s being brought on the news. Parachuting Western reporters into developing countries to report on matters of which they only had a chance to talk about with the taxi driver who brought them from airport to hotel, isn’t the way to go anymore. Decolonization also means considering how the location and identity of an author shaped their perspective and which sources are being used when creating a story. The most important though is to educate ourselves about the colonial past with the purpose of understanding the roots of our Western societies and values.

6. Holistic approach
A holistic approach means looking at the bigger picture. And here is where mental health is part of that image. If we don’t plan for the long term, we immediately create problems (and stress) when a short term decision doesn’t turn out the way we hoped. If we’re not aware of our unconscious bias we will keep reporting on issues without getting to the root cause and so we will be left with an unfinished feeling. If we don’t connect to people we will find ourselves isolated in our jobs. An inclusive newsroom is a healthy newsroom where all journalists feel a sense of belonging. A holistic view on journalism also encapsulates welcoming other disciplines to the profession and a focus on interdisciplinary collaboration.

Inclusion isn’t rocket science but you need someone to hold up a mirror

First and foremost being inclusive is a matter of journalistic practice and ethics. We tend to talk and write a lot about inclusion and diversity but what it comes down to is to do your job well as a journalist. The thing is though, we need an outside perspective in order to know if we’re doing our job well. And for media, that outside perspective comes from the communities that aren’t enough included at the moment. They hold up a mirror and show the media what is missing. We can talk another few decades about diversity and inclusion but if we fail to listen to those underreported voices and if we’re not actively creating space for them in the media eco-system, not a lot will change.

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Exploring the solutions to the lack of inclusion in journalism, focusing on decolonising journalism and discussing whiteness, Eurocentrism and objectivity.