Attendees of the “Build a Newsroom Culture that Values Differences and Dissent” session explored how embracing the cultures and values of journalists can positively influence their reporting and work environment. The session kicked off the 2023 Society of Professional Journalist convention.
It was led by Trusting News Director Joy Mayer, Trusting News Assistant Director Lynn Walsh, who is also a former chair of the SPJ Ethics Committee, and Austin American-Statesman Deputy Managing Editor Andy Sevilla. The three hosted a conversation on how differences can strengthen a newsroom and potentially build community trust in journalists by boosting transparency and reliability.
“We all have things that we feel very strongly about and still manage to report on,” Mayer said. “It’s central to what we do as journalists that we are able to cover anything and be able to acknowledge where we’re coming from, and also be able to represent the best, most salient argument and viewpoints from across a variety of perspectives.”
While most newsrooms advertise themselves as neutral, unbiased news sources, the balance of leaving one’s identity at the door and out of articles may be challenging. The three used their first exercise, Personal Identity Mapping, to explain.
Each attendee was asked to consider specific aspects of their identity. Some are visible, such as race or gender. Others are invisible to the eye, like prioritizing mental health or family relationships. The exercise allowed journalists attending to recognize the parts of their identity they can’t hide. They also discussed how their identity is tied to the way they view the world and how that shaped them as reporters.
“It’s good to kind of get into sessions like these, to reinforce the thought process and have, I think, things like this just more prominent, front of mind to bring back to the newsroom to talk about it with colleagues,” Austin City Hall reporter for Community Impact Ben Thompson said.
After acknowledging the parts of their identity they prioritize, the speakers had guests recognize personal values that cross over into their reporting by writing three values down on sticky notes and placing them on the wall. Some of the values people wrote included having empathy for interview subjects, being an activist and showing fairness in their reporting.
“It’s a way to look at who we all are and how that affects our journalism,” Mayer said.
By welcoming complex conversations inside the newsrooms and making workspaces a place to discuss identity and differences, Walsh said this could successfully lead to having outside conversations reflected in newsroom coverage.
Walsh hopes the session revealed how more inclusive stories can be told. Attendees learned by connecting with the communities they cover, finding common ground in values and understanding their differences, they can build trust and diversity in coverage.
“Our goal was to kind of set people up to have these conversations and be thinking about it,” Walsh said. “When your community feels more represented and connected, they feel as if you see me, and then they feel that connection, which can build that trust.”