The Los Angeles Chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association

Minority Representation Low in Digital Media


As we gear up toward conference season, I’m reminded of a debate brought on earlier this year brought on by Retha Hill, which later spurred an active Twitter chat.

The complaint? Conferences — including AAJA’s — do a poor job of representing minorities digital media. Digital media conferences is missing diverse faces as a result of digital media teams being non-diverse.

“We can’t build a strong new media if their content and staffs are not diverse. New media cannot afford to make the same mistakes as old media, especially in the face of a changing America. More journalists of color have to take chances and innovate, whether it is at your legacy media company or at a startup that you form at your kitchen table.” – Retha Hill

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While that is an absolutely needed call to action, there’s not much actual action in it. We’ve heard it before: embrace new media, start blogging and tweeting, this new fangled thing is here to stay.

The problem is not that we still view digital media as “new” media when it is far from that (though that is an issue). The problem is a lack of knowledge about what digital media does.

One of the highlights of my career and one of the reasons I decided to go headfirst into digital journalism was because of a veteran journalist. A photographer, in fact. We were starting up some new blogs at the San Luis Obispo Tribune and I walked around the newsroom, touting how great it would be if we had more bloggers. I bothered columnists. I bothered reporters. “You can do this. It’s not any more difficult than turning around in your chair and talking to me,” I told them.

But they were still hesitant. Until I found David. He had an idea. A good idea. He wanted to post archive photos from our archives, which stretched back quite a ways. He’s post one every few days and as much context as he could find about it.

“Great!” I said. He handed himself over to me and I trained him on WordPress and checked in with him every few days. In time, he had the interest of every single historical society in the county. He was posting photos without context and asking readers for help. It grew to be our most popular blog.

He accepted that he knew nothing about blogging and got help. He asked me, then he asked the public to help him. Anyone can do this.

Robert Hernandez calls journalists to do this: “Take that leap of faith by putting your trust in the people who are just as passionate, concerned, obsessed about journalism as you are… trust those ‘Web people.'”

I’m going to take Robert’s assertion a bit further. Don’t just trust those web people. Believe in them. Fight for them. Accept that you know nothing.

It’s a hard thing to do as journalists.  But it’s even more difficult as a manager, or a worker bee.

If you’re a manager, you need to fight for more web resources even if you have no idea what those are. You need to look ahead of you and know that your future newsroom will need this, whether you are around or not. You need to push the envelope. You need to push your staff to get trained by those web people in the corner. It needs to be a mandate. Ideally, you’d learn a little about the possibilities of web journalism, even if you don’t get how those are made.

Managers need to fight for their whole newsroom to change — toward the web and toward more diversity. They need to push their existing minority staff to get trained.

If you’re a staffer, you need to talk to your web nerds. There is no excuse to not to talk over to your web people and ask how you can help. The best part of my day is when a reporter walks over, shows me a project or idea and asks, “How do I do this?”

As web journalists, we’re used to training others. We *want* to train others. We want to help you. The problem is, few journalists have the guts to say that they know nothing about the web, and often when they do, they’re content to stay that way.

We need more journalists of color who try to understand the web. Changing the lack of diversity on web staffs is the  responsibility of individual journalists as much as it is upper management.

Journalists should grow and learn. We learn more about our beats, and that can and should apply to knowledge of how to better report (or edit, or photograph, for that matter).

I can’t tell you what I’m going to need to know next year, let alone next month. But the only thing I can hope for is that I can reach over to the 20-year-veteran reporter next to me and walk forward *with* that person.

P. Kim Bui is the social media and community editor for Southern California Public Radio (89.3 KPCC). She has worked for online and traditional news operations as an editor, reporter and web producer including The Loop 21, San Luis Obispo Tribune and the Kansas City Star. She is also a co-creator of the weekly Twitter web journalism chat, #wjchat.