A push for diversity is ever-present in a plethora of sectors and industries, but for many, diversity in the online space is as urgent a concern as any.
Speaking at the Online News Association (ONA) conference in San Francisco, Jose Antonio Vargas, for many best known for being front in center for Time Magazine’s cover filled with undocumented Americans, passionately addressed the issue of diversity in newsrooms — particularly online.
“This is a conversation that needs to happen,” Vargas, who is of Filipino descent says, adding that only diversity will allow the right conversations to blossom.
“We tiptoe around this in newsrooms. People of color meet to talk around white editors and there is some tension. I hope these uncomfortable conversations happen and we create that space in these newsrooms so we can ask, ‘Where are you coming from? How do you see this?’”
Vargas says that it begins with the young people who are able to get in the door at news organizations through unpaid internships.
“I couldn’t do unpaid internships because I needed to send money to the Philippines,” he says. “That’s how it is for a lot of minority youth. The only people who can do unpaid internship are white and affluent. So how are we going to support diversity in journalism if we don’t get resources for that?”
The ONA, which hosted the conference, says they do not measure diversity online at the moment.
“The idea came up but the last thing I wanted was another study on how we’re underrepresented,” says ONA board member Robert Hernandez, a professor at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism. “We are, but I’d rather us look at how we can change that.”
Hernandez says it starts with initiatives like ONA’s MJ Bear Fellowship, which identifies and celebrates young digital journalists with the qualification of diversity baked into the program.
The Associated Press-Google Scholarship program has a similar directive. “We’re committed to diversity, its page describing qualifications for eligibility states. “Students from diverse backgrounds, as well as those attending rural-area institutions, are strongly encouraged to apply.”
While programs like these certainly can leave their mark, Vargas knows online organizations have a way to go — and he challenges social media and online giants to make diversity a priority.
“What is the responsibility of Facebook, Twitter, Google and Tumblr to help fund these initiatives? Google, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter are news organizations,” he said.
He concluded the topic by invoking a famous name.
“Mark Zuckerberg once told me your newsfeed is your newspaper, it’s the people around you. So I think social orgs have responsibility to journalism and to diversity.”