Newsroom leaders at a range of publications around the country said including diverse voices in their editorial pages remains a work in progress.
Sewell Chan, editor page editor at the Los Angeles Times, said one of the paper’s main goals is to make opinion journalism more inclusive and avoid the path of least resistance.
“We’ve got to do the work as editors and as gatekeepers,” he said. “No one’s going to come do it for us.”
Last year Chan said his team published a series of editorials — including one in which the paper acknowledged how rooted it had been in white supremacy for most of its existence — and “how fraudulent its relationship with communities of color,” and with its employees of color had been in the last four to five decades.
“We also apologized for that legacy and for contributing to systematic racism in [Los Angeles], and said we ought to do better,” he said.
“We accompanied that with five essays by journalists, most of them journalists of color at the LA Times, looking at how we’ve covered communities, and then finally, we welcomed tremendous community dialogue.”
Chan said the most “moving and humbling” responses to those editorials came from people who said the LA Times had not been a part of their lives because they thought they wouldn’t “see themselves or their communities reflected in its pages.”
“This apology was the start of allowing them to think that maybe, you know, it’s worth having another look to see what we’re doing differently now.”
Those at the helm of newsroom editorial pages must “be much more thoughtful, much more intentional” now, Chan said.
“We’ve got to really be looking at who has the bylines, what perspectives have we not heard,” he said.
Nancy Preyor-Johnson, editorial board associate editor at the San Antonio-Express News, said her team embraces diversity, thought perspective and background, and looks “to give everybody a platform,” whether it’s featuring them in editorials or inviting them to write an op-ed.
She said she recently attended the tail end of a COVID-19 emergency housing and utilities outreach event and was shocked at how many people were there. But said she was more taken aback and saddened by the fact that “no other media was there.”
In-person events are one way to connect with people in the community but social media can also play a huge role in gathering the voices of locals, Preyor-Johnson said.
“I follow politicians but I also follow people who are just normal everyday, you know working on the front lines at Walmart [people], and I get to hear them,” she said. “And so, one wonderful thing about social media is that everybody feels empowered by [it] to put their information out there, put their values out there.”
Bina Venkataraman, editorial page editor at The Boston Globe, agrees that social media can be a powerful tool in connecting with people who can offer a different perspective on specific issues.
When cloth masks were first being recommended by the CDC in the spring of 2020, Venkataram said, she noticed a tweet from a young Black man who said he was afraid to wear a mask in public.
“And the perspective was really one of you know, what it means to cover your face and go out in public as a young black man in America in 2020,” she said. “And I thought that was so poignant, I followed up with him and got him to write an op-ed. His first ever.”
She said it’s important to find ways to speak to those at the ground level and have a “street view of a city” when writing for the public.
Allen H. Johnson, executive editorial page editor at the News & Record of Greensboro and the Winston-Salem Journal, said he loves it when readers say “our newspaper” and thinks it’s very important people in the community feel listened to.
Johnson said he also thinks “it’s very important that we have conversations.”
“I think it’s much harder to do that,” he said. “We need to do it more now than ever.”