Last summer, the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor forced institutions to reflect on the racial and diversity inequities present in their current systems, journalism included. Even the L.A. Times looked back at its own history and apologized for racist reporting. The growing Black Lives Matter movement also impacted our newsroom and provided the necessary push for the Equity Board to take shape at Annenberg Media.
The creation of the Equity Board didn’t happen overnight. What began as an investigative reporting initiative as part of Poynter’s College Media Project soon became an initiative for inclusive reporting. We first went by the Diversity and Inclusion Desk, but as we got a better grasp of what we wanted our group to be, we became the Equity Board. We had weekly meetings and collaborated with organizations like Poynter and Maynard to better understand what our newsroom needs most from a group like ours. We dedicated the fall semester to conceptualizing the Equity Board with the help of fellow editors and community members. As we enter the spring semester with a stronger idea of our purpose, we will be able to guide future projects and current collaborations within the newsroom.
The mission of the Equity Board is to provide oversight and insight throughout the newsroom, helping our newsroom leaders and the students who work on multiple platforms through coursework and as volunteers understand how to best report on underrepresented communities. Additionally, we will advocate for ethical practices across desks, inclusive hiring throughout the newsroom and an overall environment of acceptance. We want to ensure that every community on campus feels seen and heard through Annenberg Media’s reporting.
Annenberg Media has its own history to reckon with, from sensationalized reporting on communities of color to misgendering sources. It is far from perfect.
We must make a change. This past year has been a time for the journalism industry, which has long been riddled with racism and discrimination, to reflect on its failings. Like most newsrooms across the country, we have long suffered from an inclusion problem. Many members of the USC community at large have felt left out or misrepresented for far too long.
Professor Amara Aguilar’s “Engaging Diverse Communities” class focused their fall semester on looking at these gaps in reporting, assessing the fault lines of Annenberg Media.
“This work is needed now more than ever, both in professional newsrooms and in student newsrooms, so that we can shape the next generation of journalists and create quality content that truly represents our communities, and shares the diversity of their stories, and is representative of everyone that this work is really vital to journalism,” she said.
It is not only affecting our readers, but it’s also affecting us internally.
“We know it can be discouraging for people sometimes in the newsroom if they don’t feel like they fit in, or if they don’t feel like their communities are represented,” Aguilar said. “And it is so important to focus on changing that culture.”
For the past six months, our board has worked to come up with an all-encompassing plan that places accuracy and inclusion at the forefront of our reporting.
As Equity Board members, we will be involved throughout the newsroom, monitoring Annenberg Media’s coverage and addressing any questions or concerns that may arise from editors, reporters or our audience. Members of the Board will also regularly publish briefs dissecting various diversity, equity and inclusion-related topics that are relevant to current events or ongoing newsroom issues.
For example, in the past semester, we’ve shared highlights from our coverage and also pointed out places where we can do better in a weekly letter to the newsroom delivered via Slack. These briefs included topics like the terminology of Latinidad, diversifying sources and acknowledging bias while reporting. Future briefs will address things as they come up, as we are all learning the complexities of reporting on diverse communities and inequality.
The initiative was initially pitched to Poynter as an investigative team, but executive editors Erica Hur and Chandler France saw a stronger need for an entity like the Equity Board.
“It’s super easy for journalists to get stuck on one specific audience group when pitching and writing stories, and it’s why the Equity Board is much needed — It’ll now help us keep our reporters and editors more accountable and mindful of the way we cover different communities,” Hur said.
It goes beyond the need for a single desk or group with Annenberg Media. For France, attention to diversity and inclusion is required all throughout our publication.
“We don’t just want to push ‘diverse’ stories to this one desk; we want to ensure that our coverage across all platforms are highlighting stories from diverse perspectives and doing it in the right way,” France said.
Additionally, we are working to create an updated style guide that provides guidelines on inclusive phrasing and language, which will be used throughout the newsroom and in all Annenberg Media reporting. It will be made public so our audience can understand our decisions. The Style Guide will be regularly updated to reflect the most current usage and terminology.
Finally, we are conducting mandatory training for all newsroom members at the beginning of each semester. These trainings will cover a variety of topics, such as the history of South Central, how to diversify pitches and sources and how to respectfully pitch and write stories about marginalized communities.
Looking into the future, we want to produce original content created by members of the Equity Board and outside writers that will provide fresh, diverse viewpoints. We plan to engage members of marginalized communities to write about their experiences and provide perspectives that otherwise aren’t heard in the newsroom.
Currently, the Equity Board consists of three members, with hopes to expand in the future.
Steven Vargas (he/him) is a master’s student pursuing an M.A. in Specialized Journalism (The Arts), focusing his studies on dance as a tool for abolition. He previously worked at Annenberg Media during his undergraduate studies at USC as the managing editor, USC editor, ATVN arts director and social media editor. When he is not in the newsroom he is performing and filming across Los Angeles as an actor and dancer with a focus on arts for social change. He joined the Equity Board because he experienced diversity issues arise while working as an editor. While he pushed for more inclusive protocols, his position as an editor was not enough to change the whole newsroom. Equity Board provides him the opportunity to do so.
Kally Daniewicz (she/her) is a senior majoring in journalism who hopes to pursue a career in law. Her focus is health and wellness journalism and she has previously served as a USC and news editor for Annenberg Media. She joined the Equity Board to help identify areas in the newsroom, or in the newsroom’s coverage, where people were being excluded, misrepresented, or ignored, and to be able to help create a more inclusive environment in the newsroom.
Pauline Woodley (she/her) is a junior majoring in Journalism and minoring in Cinematic Arts. Her focus is entertainment and culture journalism and this is her first year as an Annenberg Media editor. She has previously written for Annenberg Media, The Daily Trojan, Young Hollywood and Culturas. As a Black Latina, she has long been invested in inclusion and representation. She believes that change in the media industry is long overdue and hopes that her role on the Equity Board will help advocate for better reporting within Annenberg Media and a more fair newsroom.