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API launches diversity initiative in Pittsburgh to improve how news organizations serve communities of color

Inclusion Index focuses on creating better relationships with readers and fostering belonging in newsrooms

The American Press Institute has launched an initiative to assess and improve how multiple news organizations in a single area cover communities of color.  The first effort began in June in Pittsburgh, focusing on five newsrooms serving the Steel City. 
In partnership with the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation, the American Press Institute will provide its new Inclusion Index service to a cohort consisting of the Pittsburgh Post-GazetteTribune-ReviewPittsburgh City PaperPublicSource and Pitt News.

The Pittsburgh initiative is funded by the Henry L. Hillman Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. API hopes this effort will serve as a model for how several newsrooms operating in one news and information ecosystem can transform how they cover and connect with populations they may have traditionally underserved.

“Our news partners in Pittsburgh realize that having deeper connections with their communities, especially people of color who may have been neglected in the past, is essential to the public good,” said Michael D. Bolden, CEO and executive director of the American Press Institute. “Simultaneously, they want to better understand and improve diversity and belonging practices in their own newsrooms. This twin mission is a necessity for modern media companies to thrive in the digital age, and API is proud to partner with organizations devoted to making meaningful progress.”   

The API Inclusion Index, by Letrell Deshan Crittenden, Ph.D., API’s director of inclusion and audience growth, reveals inequitable practices on a comprehensive scale via a targeted assessment of seven specific areas where potential deficits can significantly affect communities of color: 
  • a lack of diversity within newsrooms 
  • a lack of inclusivity or belonging among newsroom workers of color 
  • stereotypical coverage of communities of color 
  • a lack of engagement with communities of color 
  • a lack of trust of local newsrooms held by communities of color 
  • a lack of understanding of key community assets essential to communities of color
  • a lack of infrastructure designed to support DEIB efforts inside and outside the newsroom.
API’s approach is uniquely based on research. During the research phase, API interviews community and staff members and assesses story content prior to making recommendations tailored to each newsroom and the community it serves.

API also provides a comprehensive report of its findings, along with a strategic plan on how each newsroom can best remediate any issues they have.  This work will continue throughout the year and culminate with a release of the plans in December. 

“With our effort in Pittsburgh, newsrooms will have the ability to assess how newsrooms serve communities of color on an individual basis, and collectively.  This is not a one-off training.  Our goal is to help each newsroom enact transformative changes that are sustainable.  We will address the needs of each newsroom as it pertains to DEIB, and make sure they are given the skills to address any issues on an ongoing basis. That is the only real way to create change within the news industry,” said Crittenden.

Following the research phase, each of the five newsrooms will meet during cohort sessions to learn about issues related to coverage, community engagement and internal culture.  Following these sessions, each newsroom will be paired with a consultant who will help each newsroom develop a strategic plan for remediating any issues found during API’s research. Each newsroom will release a summary of their plans to the public upon completion.

API is working with the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation, a 50-year-old organization of journalists, communications specialists and students, that supports black journalists and media coverage of minority communities, and the five news organizations: the Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review, which cover news within the Pittsburgh metro region, with an emphasis on Allegheny, Beaver, Westmoreland and parts of Washington, Beaver and Greene counties; the Pittsburgh City Paper, which specifically focuses on the city of Pittsburgh; Pitt News, which is the student newspaper of the University of Pittsburgh; and PublicSource, a nonprofit newsroom serving the Pittsburgh region.

“The best news coverage provides a variety of viewpoints and voices,” said Luis Fabregas, executive editor of the Tribune-Review. “This project will help us elevate that long-standing belief and ensure that we continue to value diversity.”

“Fostering inclusive journalism and a diverse workplace is a core value at PublicSource,” said Halle Stockton, PublicSource’s editor-in-chief. “We need to dedicate our time and resources to that value and never lose sight of its importance. We’re eager to participate in this cohort with our media colleagues to be part of an important and needed movement in the Pittsburgh area.”

“I’m thrilled that Pittsburgh City Paper has been given this opportunity to grow into a stronger media outlet by learning how to better serve our readers, staff, and community,” said Lisa Cunningham, Pittsburgh City Paper’s editor-in-chief. “I believe all media organizations should continuously be a work in progress, and I’m very much looking forward to working with Letrell Crittenden, the Pittsburgh Black Media Foundation, and the other participating outlets so we can make those steps towards improvement.”