How Is the Knight Foundation Working to Boost Diversity in America's Newsrooms?

In a recent interview with Inside Philanthropy, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's CEO and president Alberto Ibargüen spoke about how the current "crisis of journalism" was a key impetus for Ibargüen to move the grantmaker aggressively into backing innovation.

But "innovation" constitutes far more than shiny new digital, mobile, and multimedia tools. Knight is also concerned with innovation in the human capital sense, specifically as it applies to diversity—or, more accurately—the lack of diversity, in many newsrooms across the country.

This focus was part of Knight's grantmaking well before Ibargüen's new Statement of Strategy last December.

In 2014, Knight awarded $1.2 million to support the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism's diversity initiative to address the underrepresentation of minority journalists in newsrooms. And last year, Knight's blog included a provocative piece by Marian Liu, who passed along her takeaways from the recent Online News Association Conference.

The conference's theme of diversity in newsrooms, she said, "may prove to be the biggest challenge" facing the industry. In September, the American Society of News Editors reported that minorities held around 17 percent of editorial jobs in U.S. newsrooms. Also, Asians are the fastest growing minority group, and Latinos are the largest minority group, prompting attendee and EmergingUS founder Jose Antonio Vargas to ask, “Would the election be differently covered if the stories were by minorities and women?”

Everyone in the room agreed on the scope of the problem. So how can newsrooms successfully boost diversity among their ranks? For one compelling strategy, we turn again to the Knight blog. Knight provides financial support to the Associated Press Sports Editors' (APSE) Diversity Fellowship in Leadership program, and its board member, Michael A. Anastasi, explored keys to the program's success.

The program, which has graduated 21 fellows, targets mid-career professionals and puts them through nine months of rigorous training to prepare them to be candidates for leadership positions and for promotion. Now, according to Anastasi, the APSE is ready to take the "next step."

With the support of the Knight Foundation, the program will begin its sixth year with an updated curriculum that focuses less on sports journalism-specific skills, and more on "digital expertise and fluency, business, marketing and entrepreneurial skill-building, and broader leadership qualities, including strategic leadership."

In short, the program argues that the key to cultivating more diverse editors isn't to train them in skills they already have, but instead, those that transcend their journalistic niche. Viewed through this lens, the program looks more like the kind of leadership development regimen you'd see in Fortune 500 companies. (It also doesn't hurt that the program includes Knight-friendly skills like "digital expertise.")

Most importantly, while this program focuses on sports editors, these foundational elements can be scaled across an increasingly segmented sector, whose various niches include business, religion, and health journalism.