Online News Association Launches Program to Improve D&I in Newsrooms

The Journalism Mentorship Collaborative hopes to attract 100 participants to learn about diversity and inclusion in media, with a fund for innovative mentoring ideas.

To encourage more newsrooms to practice diversity and inclusion, the Online News Association has launched a program to provide guidance—and a few dollars—for their mentoring programs.

The Journalism Mentorship Collaborative, announced by ONA this month and launching in January, is designed to develop a curriculum that will help newsroom leaders better address diversity issues in newsrooms, particularly how to better attract and retain minority journalists. It’s a pressing problem: Minorities account for approximately 37 percent of the U.S. population but only 17 percent of newsroom workers, according to a 2016 report from the American Society of News Editors.

“Years ago we were hearing from our own community that we need to do a better job of diversifying our own events,” said Trevor Knoblich, head of programs and events at ONA, something the association has tried to addressed through a women’s leadership program and other efforts.

We’re trying to ask, ‘What are the best practices in mentoring?’

Rather than just create a mentorship program itself, ONA decided instead to focus on helping newsrooms improve the mentorship programs they already have. The Journalism Mentorship Collaborative, Knoblich said, is designed to build on those efforts by providing mentoring and finding out what’s successful for mentoring programs in general. “We’re trying to ask, ‘What are the best practices in mentoring?’ and I think some of that will be lifted up as we go through the program,” he said. “And the other piece of it is we’re trying to develop some cohort of people that will interact with one another so that they can continue to share best practices, ask each other questions, hold each other accountable, and be a shoulder to lean on.”

To help build understanding of the unique challenges for minorities in newsrooms, the program has created a series of six webinars presented by newsroom diversity experts that will be presented monthly on topics such as “creating professional relationships” and “being an ally.” To widen the pool of participants, the program isn’t restricted to ONA membership. “We are looking for people who are either running a mentorship program or are interested in starting one but who have more than a passing curiosity,” Knoblich said.

Because there isn’t always consensus on what makes for effective mentoring structures, ONA is throwing some money behind looking for ways to improve them. Participants in the program from North America will have an opportunity to apply for funding for innovative mentorship ideas, drawn from a pool of $125,000, as well as access to expert coaching both in-person and virtually.

Thus far, ONA has attracted a handful of members to the collaborative, including representatives from high-profile media outlets such as NPR and The New York Times. ONA hopes to attract 50 to 100 participants in the first year of the program, Knoblich said.

“In the very long view, we are hoping to start moving the needle on both increasing the inclusiveness and representation in newsrooms and also moving people into leadership positions,” he said. “Because we do see mentorship as a step toward moving into a leadership position.”

(nata789/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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