6 characteristics of Inclusive Journalism

Sanne Breimer
10 min readNov 8, 2020


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



The Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 reignited the call for newsroom representation, a debate that has been going on for several decades already. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism did research (update 2023) among one hundred major online and offline news outlets in five different markets across four continents. 23% of the 81 top editors across the 100 brands covered in the research (with countries like the UK, Brazil, Germany, the US, and South Africa) are people of colour, despite the fact that, on average, 44% of the general population across these countries are people of colour. And behold the gap in representation between media and audience.
With a predominantly white newsroom comes a Western-centric, Euro — and US-centric view of the world, and often a foreign correspondence model known as ‘parachute journalism’, where reporters are placed into an area to tell stories of which they have little knowledge or experience. The consequence drawn from that fact is described by Kevin D. Grant for Nieman Lab:

“The final story is then likely to present a distorted picture back to the community being covered, potentially inflaming existing fault lines within the community, while amplifying stereotypes and misconceptions to a larger audience.”

Similarly, if journalists observe the world through a white gaze, the stories will likely present the thoughts and ideas of a white audience, and that in itself creates a problem for the future of journalism. Media and journalism have an immense influence on how we perceive the world. But what if the gatekeepers’ coverage is biased and only one single story is presented? Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talked about the danger of a single story in her TED Talk in July 2009.

“The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.

The need for better representation in the media is broadly understood (the why) but the way towards a solution isn’t always easy (the how).


Inclusive Journalism is often described as ‘shedding light on voices traditionally left out in news coverage’ (Verica Rupar, Auckland University of Technology) and is mentioned in one breath with the terms ‘diversity’, ‘equity’, ‘representation’ and more recently also ‘belonging’. The following characterizations are based on the different ways these terms get described:

  • Diversity is the full range of human and organizational differences and similarities. It is either there or not.
  • Inclusion is the practice that needs to be done to make people feel they belong. Inclusion is a choice to change behaviour and make an effort to foster a sense of empowerment. It is a commitment.
  • Equity is the process of ensuring that processes and programs are impartial. It is the foundation.
  • Belonging is the outcome, a feeling that can not be enforced.

Some well-respected people in the representation-in-media space reject the word ‘inclusion’ for good reasons. Inclusion literally means ‘the act of being included’ which then also implies that there is someone who owns the space and holds a position to grant others access. The Oxford Dictionary describes inclusion as ‘being included within a group or structure’. Both meanings assume an existing reality or system which focuses on including people from outside. And because the current structure lacks representation, people take the initiative to set up their own businesses, not waiting for the structure to finally admit them.

Wendi Thomas is one of them and she explains in a panel at the International Journalism Festival why she founded MLK50, a nonprofit newsroom in Memphis, the United States, reporting from the intersection of poverty, power, and policy:

“I didn’t want to have the same conversations with white men anymore, ever in my life.”

Inclusive Journalism focuses on what can be done from within the structure to bring about change. It focuses on the people in powerful positions who want to learn more about representation and who are looking for concrete tools to use in their work. It is about a viewpoint from within the establishment, from people who already changed the way they think and act, who were confronted with their blind spots and prejudices, and who are now seeing things differently.

  • They improved their listening skills;
  • They learned how to embrace (instead of resist) change;
  • They learned how to cultivate a beginner’s mind and self-reflect;

And most importantly,

  • They learned to bring their learnings into practice, and take action.

Often, people who grow up in the norm are vulnerable once they discover the norm can be violent. And they don’t want to be like that anymore.

The goal of Inclusive Journalism is not to continue the decades-long conversations about the lack of media diversity with the focus on solutions coming solely from outside. This strategy leads to conclusions such as ‘We want to change but we can’t find diverse employees’ or ‘We want to hire diverse employees but we care more about the quality of people’.
Inclusive Journalism’s starting point is to work with what is there already. Without making the necessary changes from the inside, all attempts to change will most likely fail.


An important shift in my own development came once I studied decoloniality at the Maria Lugones Summerschool in 2021. The experience of working in a multicultural media organization for ten years, combined with studying yoga, holistic lifestyle coaching, and practising meditation throughout the years on the side, all came together in the concept of decoloniality. Our colonial past has had an impact on the world until this day. Making Europe the centre of the world, shaping the idea of progress as a linear process, and oppressing or erasing other cultures and ways of knowing. Decoloniality is not about going back to a time that has never existed, it is about revaluing what we have neglected. Re-indigenization can be seen as an alternative term because in decoloniality the emphasis lies on indigenous knowledge and a healthy relationship between human beings and nature.


Inclusive journalism isn’t a new way of journalism. Just like there are gazillions of styles of yoga, there are also different types of journalism and inclusive journalism isn’t one of them. Regardless of the style of journalism we are practising, be it investigative journalism, solutions or constructive journalism, broadcast journalism, sports journalism, entertainment journalism, column writing, and so on and so forth, when we focus on inclusion we are alert for the specific characteristics that are needed to report in a just and ethical way, and we feel confident to adapt the characteristics in order to create better stories and enjoy our work more fully. All journalism should be inclusive.

The 6 characteristics:

1. Long-term commitment

Often in journalism, we focus on short-term success. The daily news cycle hardly gives us time to reflect on our stories or on ourselves, and instead wants us to immediately produce the next report, program, or article. And because of the pressure on performance, the seasonal contracts, and the lack of long-term strategies, we tend to keep doing things in the same way over and over again. This is how our brain works, in stressful times it falls back to what it is used to doing. In order to work inclusively we need to break this habit pattern and change our behavior.
The real change of behaviour takes place when we involve the mind and body. Organizing another diversity training or just reading more about the topic of inclusion to understand it on a mental level, isn’t enough. Change is done by praxis, by doing. Small, repetitive actions over a longer period of time will lead to significant change.


  • create a long-term (1, 2 or 5 years) strategy on representation and paint a picture of an inclusive future (in 10 or 20 years);
  • organize monthly, bimonthly or quarterly meetings in which the content gets evaluated along the lines of representation.

2. Self-awareness (Conscious of unconscious bias)

Working inclusively can only be done when we become aware of our biases and prejudices. Everyone has them. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Self-awareness means getting to know ourselves and being aware of our position in this society along the lines of race, class, gender, ability, education, etc. Positionality directly relates to the concept of objectivity in journalism. As journalists, we tend to position ourselves outside of this world, as objective and neutral observers. We can strive to be as objective as possible, but it’s impossible to report completely neutral.
The goal of creating self-awareness is eventually to become better informed in our decisions and therefore more effective in what we are doing. Self-reflection is a skill that anyone who is willing to sit and observe the inner landscape can learn.


  • collect data about the region your newsroom is covering and look at what knowledge is missing in your newsroom;
  • draw a picture of your own position in society in the context of intersectionality (gender, race, class, education, caste, religion, weight, disability, physical appearance, ethnicity, etc.) and look at possible blind spots.

3. Community (engagement)

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. Listening is a key aspect of community building. Journalists are sometimes reluctant to become too friendly with communities out of fear that it could weaken their critical attitude towards issues. But we as journalists 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.
It will become easier to connect to the different communities in society if your newsroom is a reflection of society. If this isn’t the case yet, we need to make sure to diversify our network of sources and cherish the knowledge of the older generation colleagues. Mentoring can be a good tool to strengthen our skills and complement each other.


  • practice deep listening skills;
  • visit communities and places, invest in on-the-groud presence and reporting.

4. Enlighten not just inform

Enlightenment is often understood in a spiritual context where Buddhas find enlightenment after lifelong meditation. In Asia, the word is more common than in the West and it means to give (someone) great knowledge and understanding about a subject or situation.
Why is this important for inclusion? Well, the 2023 Digital News Report by Reuters Institute shows growing news fatigue among news consumers which is partly related to the negativity of the news. By solely focusing on problems without showing the root causes or — when the root causes are clear — without mentioning what is being done already to respond to the problem, journalism is only partly doing its job.
Besides that, once we dive deeper into a story more people will have a position in our stories, not as victims but as credible voices.
The data we use to show the evidence of reporting can contribute to more honesty and less bias. Experience shows how beneficial it is for our well-being to apply a constructive way of storytelling. It makes us feel less depleted and emphasizes the reason why we choose journalism in the first place, to tell stories that might cause a change.


  • investigative journalism when a community doesn’t know about the problem yet;
  • Solutions Journalism when the problem is known and the responses to the problem can be investigated.

5. Decoloniality

We live in a time where the awareness and knowledge about the colonial past is growing and journalists can actively contribute by giving context to how colonial power structures still work through to this day. Colonialism has pushed local cultures and languages aside in favour of the dominant Western perspective. And within countries, the colonial structures put an emphasis on city life over rural life. It created a system of capitalism of which we now see the limitations, and in which other countries are seeking similar power over marginalized and indigenous people. How is the colonial narrative still in play in our world today and what can we do to delink from it?
Decoloniality in journalism includes a fundamental reconsideration of who is reporting (positionality), how the location and identity of an author shaped their perspective and which sources are being used when creating a story. It looks critically at the belief in the universality of knowledge and opens up space for non-Western knowledge, practices, and well-being. Parachuting reporters into countries to report on matters of which they hardly know anything about isn’t the way to go anymore.


  • Create a wordlist of colonial languages and alternatives. Words matter, language matters, what can your newsroom do to not reproduce bias?
  • Look at the colonial history of the region you’re reporting on. Who are the people that have been oppressed? What cultures and languages have been forgotten?

6. Holistic approach

In a holistic approach, we work with what is there already. Instead of looking at what is missing, and what is needed to improve reporting, we look at ourselves first. And here is where mental health comes in.

  • 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 self-aware and understand 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 in the community we will find ourselves isolated in our jobs.
  • If we’re not aware of the colonial past or the dark sides of our current lives, we won’t be able to go forward in a different way.

A holistic view of journalism asks us to connect the dots. It also encapsulates welcoming other disciplines to the profession and a focus on interdisciplinary collaboration. In the West, we are used to finding solutions to problems by isolating the problem. The Oxford English Dictionary defines holistic as “characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.”
Think of how the people most affected by climate change are also the ones living in the Majority World — who will be the climate refugees of the future. They are here because we were there.


  • Make a list of what you think you are missing to do good reporting and then write down how it can be solved with what is there already;
  • Create a bigger picture in your stories and connect the dots between the different beats.

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Sanne Breimer

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