From the Newsroom: The new role of Diversity and Inclusion Editor

Marissa Martinez, Print Managing Editor

In this series, Daily staff members hope to provide more transparency about how we operate. If you would like to submit a question to be answered here, please send an email to [email protected].

When I joined The Daily, I honestly don’t know what demographic breakdown I was expecting. Coming from my high school paper, where I was one of the only black or Latinx editors-in-chief in its history, I was a little surprised to see similar patterns play out in my college paper. But I wanted the structure and clips The Daily could provide, so I completed the new writer process and became an assistant opinion editor by the winter of my first year.

Over the course of that year, however, The Daily committed a variety of errors — some were normal in scope, and others were incredibly frustrating, offensive and wrong. Individually, they may have chalked up to personal error, but combined, they reflected poorly on our staff, coverage and publication. Rightfully so, many questioned the integrity of our paper and our ability to write about Northwestern students, especially those with marginalized identities.

One of the many problems with the way The Daily handled these mistakes was the lack of an ability to articulate the errors, why they were a problem, how they occurred and what we as a staff could do to fix them. That stemmed from a lack of widespread discussion about our prejudices, biases and shortcomings as a collective staff and editorial board.

This made me just as upset as the mistakes themselves.

A few other staffers and I had been vocal about our frustrations with The Daily’s less-than-inclusive coverage and roster for a while, but there were no formal talks surrounding potential solutions. This burden particularly fell on students of color and other marginalized members of the paper, who spoke openly about their concerns to a seemingly uninterested staff.

So I petitioned for the position of Diversity and Inclusion editor to be created the summer before my sophomore year. The then-editor-in-chief said such a role should be included in upper management’s responsibilities so as to not rest on one person’s plate, but they did not hold many explicit conversations about diversity held throughout the quarter.

When Alan Perez was selected as the new editor, I asked to create the position again, and formulated the role with the help of other staffers.

Much of what I do as D&I editor is not necessarily seen by the rest of campus. I compile weekly newsletters about diversity in journalism, lead staff discussions about inclusivity (and the lack thereof) in newsrooms, and work with section editors to come up with pitches that include more segments of NU’s and Evanston’s marginalized populations. Last year, we wrote an editorial that displayed our staff’s demographics. It is important to track these things because the identities we hold on staff (and the ones we don’t) influence the stories we produce and the conversations we have at every level possible, from generating ideas to editing.

I also am in charge of compiling coverage metrics at the end of each quarter to make sure the stories we produce cover a variety of communities and viewpoints. Through gathering these numbers, our staff is able to view the improvements we have made and the huge gaps we have yet to overcome; without any context, explanations or excuses from our staff.

In other words, beyond improving internal staff relations, I am trying to get other staffers to recognize the large gaps that have existed in our coverage for generations.

This is no easy task. While I work with some of the most thoughtful and caring people at The Daily, most of them are not used to talking about diversity and the ways identity affects our coverage, some of which can be chalked up to exposure — Medill and Northwestern do not teach us these things. Life experience does, and that’s something impossible to give.

That does not excuse ignorance, but it requires much more of a conscious effort on our parts to educate each other.

I am still willing to try to bridge that educational gap. Other members of the D&I team and I have noticed some improvement in covering marginalized communities on campus and in Evanston, partially due to the consistent conversations we’ve held as a staff. However, many of those ideas and eventual articles come from members of those same groups — improving the range of stories we produce is important, but should not solely rest on the shoulders of staffers already underrepresented in our newsroom. It’s an unfortunate and frustrating burden that occurs not only on college newspapers, but publications across the country.

As editor, I want to prepare our staffers, particularly ones about to enter professional newsrooms, to not rely on the vocal few marginalized people around them. I hope to equip them with the analytical skills necessary to evaluate past coverage and make tangible steps toward improving future stories. Throughout discussions, I have seen staffers of a variety of identities make really critical points, proving that the potential is there — it just needs to be cultivated and challenged.

We still have so far to go as a staff. Our coverage of people of color; first-generation, low-income students; religious minorities; people with disabilities and other underrepresented communities has slightly improved in various sections. But we have failed these groups before in our coverage and will continue to do so unless we keep making concerted efforts to overcome our personal biases as a collective staff.

My position as D&I editor is a stepping stone on a long, long path toward inclusivity. It is in no way a permanent fix for our problems, past and present, and the fact that it took so long to create such a role and make it a paid position is indicative of many things. Further, the job falls mostly on me, a woman of color. I know this will be typical of much of my career, but it’s still an uncomfortable power dynamic. Women of color, particularly black women, are often relegated to the educator role when it comes to diversity and inclusion work. I’ll admit — engaging my fellow staffers has felt difficult and almost impossible sometimes, especially considering the power dynamics of race and gender.

But the role is an important stepping stone nonetheless. As much as I have been frustrated this quarter, I have also had little moments of joy when staffers ask important questions during meetings, challenge themselves to research and report on complicated topics, and teach me new ways of looking at things.

The Daily will always hold a set of unique privileges and problems on this campus and in this city. As we continue to examine ourselves and hold each other accountable, this editor position plays a crucial role in exposing staff members, privileged or not, to new points of view. Only through self-reflection and critical analysis will we grow as a publication and begin to represent our campus and city well.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @mar1ssamart1nez

Related Stories:
The Daily Northwestern’s 2018 Diversity Report
The Daily’s decision to use the word racist
Martinez: Diversity is not an empty promise