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Diversity in Media

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Vox says it’s new media, but it looks a lot like the old stuff

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Yesterday Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias et. al. officially announced their new media venture, the central, titular project from fast-growing Vox Publishing. No longer “Project X,” the newly revealed Vox purports to be a generalist news, generalist audience site aimed at solving the “problem in journalism” -- context. The site launches "soon."

The press has been excited about the potential for “explainer journalism” for years. This is not new! And it’s not a necessarily arrogant worldview -- the first draft of history lately runs fast and loose, and a frame of context is often lacking in breaking stories. There's certainly work to be done on this front.

But the way Vox aims to hold a reader’s hand down while navigating the treacherous path of information comes off unapologetically patronizing. It’s not clear if Vox will be expending many resources in the way of reporting (a great way of adding context!), or if the site is solely aimed at explaining others’ reporting to us, the apparently dumb readers.

Then there’s the other matter of Vox’s resources. The site’s introductory page lists several supposedly frequently asked questions, but none are: Where are the people of color? Where are the women?

While Vox may be purportedly taking a new (softer?) approach to hard news, the project looks rather familiar. With some hard-working and talented exceptions (Melissa Bell, Sarah Kliff), Vox’s staff is still overwhelmingly male and white. While Klein may be half Brazilian and Yglesias one quarter Cuban, there’s more color in the executive editor’s outfit in Vox’s intro video than there is in Vox’s current staff list.

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This is not strictly surprising but it is a disappointment. When supposedly revolutionary, problem-solving new media organizations blindly replicate the same structural patterns and problems as their forebearers, they don’t look so solutions-oriented after all.

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New journalism institutes aim to increase diversity in media

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Next month a group of college students will be the first participants in Politico’s brand-new week-long journalism institute aimed at promoting more diverse voices (read: people of color) in the media. Students will work closely with Politico staff, and the program will be advised by the American University School of Communication and the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.

Less of a done-deal is the Native American Journalism Fellowship, which is seeking the last few thousand dollars to fund a new annual program for Native American college students interested in media.

These kinds of efforts outside of traditional educational institutions could be a huge boon to improving the pipeline to media work and promoting more diverse voices in the press. The media landscape so often feels dreadfully, insurmountably old and white, and the criticism of it often feels rather hopeless -- these powers are incredibly entrenched, and ideas about "culture fit" (read: seeking homogeneity) in hiring are incredibly pervasive. It’s genuinely refreshing to see these projects moving forward with such support.

Learn more about the Native American Journalism Fellowship crowdfunding project in the video below:

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American Prospect’s journalism is as good as their new business plan is bad

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American ProspectAmerican Prospect editor Gabriel Arana pulled no punches in calling out “the unbearable whiteness of the liberal media” -- including the magazine where he works. From his piece:

When you're in the business of telling stories, lacking diversity means you're limited in the sorts of stories you can tell—or even think of telling. A newsroom filled with white guys simply lacks the same imagination as one with people from an array of backgrounds.

The good news about diversity is that it tends to perpetuate itself. Having people who belong to minority groups on staff signals that the workplace is inclusive, which encourages people of color and those from other minority groups to apply, and once minority writers and editors sign on, they instantly expand the network of personal and professional contacts to draw on the next time a position opens up.

Diversity isn’t just for diversity’s sake -- it makes publications more relevant and resilient. Arana’s piece was a wake-up call in many ways.

But only two weeks later, Arana -- the one brown staffer at the Prospect -- was lamenting that magazine’s imminent near-death.

We’ve become inured over the past decade to hearing tales of print magazines cutting back on their print products. But as more and more people from a variety of backgrounds are getting their news online, especially via mobile devices, it’s disturbing to see a publication scaling back their (free) online offerings -- especially when those pieces are as strong as Arana’s press diversity take-down. Hopefully the American Prospect -- a great political magazine with a strong history -- will recognize that the web does work, especially in branching out to new audiences.

more related stories:
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Whoever is running the New Republic’s Twitter should really stop

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New RepublicThe New Republic was on an odd little run against women of color yesterday.

Exhibit 1:

Read instead: That Time piece in question, about transgender actress Laverne Cox -- the first transgender person ever featured on a Time cover.

Exhibit 2:

Read instead: The New York Times’ obituary of calypso dancer, streetcar operator, poet, activist, social historian, and all-around amazement Maya Angelou. It’s a rare moment when a woman of color gets such prominent ink from the Times, too.