Diversity Protests Spur Action at Online Media Startups

Executives at two online outlets say they are moving quickly to diversify their ranks.

The Unity Caucus met Friday at the National Association of Broadcasters building in Washington, D.C.
The Unity Caucus met Friday at the National Association of Broadcasters building in Washington, D.C. Doris Truong/Twitter

Alarm Sounded at Expansion of Young White Male Network

The issue of diversity at Internet journalism startups blew up this week after critical pieces called out the startups on — of course — the Internet, and leaders of two of the leading targets pleaded their commitment to inclusion.

“What people may not understand is that we’ve barely begun our hiring process; we’ll be adding many more staff members in the months ahead,” Eric Bates, executive editor of First Look Media, told Journal-isms by email on Friday. First Look Media is the creation of Pierre Omidyar, the eBay founder, along with Glenn Greenwald, best known as a publisher of WikiLeaks material, and others. “We’re busy vetting a large and diverse pool of candidates we’ve assembled, and we’re always looking to expand it,” Bates continued.

Bates added in a follow-up message, “We’ll be hiring for all kinds of jobs, from research and design to human resources and IT. But what positions we plan to create, and how many, is something we’re still exploring. That’s part of what’s exciting about building an entire media organization from the ground up — we’ve been able to take some time to think about what we do as journalists, and to imagine ways we might be able to do it better.”

Ezra Klein, the former stalwart of the Washington Post’s Wonkblog whose new Vox.com has drawn as much if not more attention as First Look Media, was quoted by Gabriel Arana in the American Prospect Thursday as saying “he is struggling to find racial minorities for the venture.” But Klein told Journal-isms in a message Friday, “The question was phrased in the past tense — it was more of a struggle. Our pipeline is much better now, though I wouldn’t say we’ve been flooded with applicants or anything. More names are always welcome!”

Vox Media, formerly known as Project X, is a digital venture in explanatory journalism. Klein previously told Journal-isms, “I’d love to know your suggestions for the top few young candidates of color we should be talking to. We’re particularly looking right now for science, health, foreign policy, and data journalists, though I’m interested in names beyond these topics, too.

The concern among journalists who are not white or male reached such a crescendo that the board of the National Association of Black Journalists issued “An Open Letter to News Media Startups” on Friday.

“Our excitement has turned to concern as the parade of recent hires hardly reflects a commitment to ensuring that these new newsrooms reflect all the communities they will cover,” the letter said. “While we recognize that the process is still young, NABJ raises the flag now to ensure that diversity is a priority.” It also said, ‘journalists of color are frustrated at feeling shut out of this hiring wave.”

NABJ named Vox Media, First Look Media, The Marshall Project and FiveThirtyEight and said, “We would like to meet with your organizations, both individually and perhaps at a summit, to discuss how we can help each other.

“We invite you to attend our next Board of Directors meeting, scheduled for next month. We also welcome your participation at the NABJ Convention & Career Fair this summer in Boston. Our convention features the largest job fair in the industry, as well as an unmatched scale of networking and professional training.”