When the twin crises of the pandemic and the winter storm hit Texas, not all communities were hit equally. As The Texas Tribune has reported, Black and Hispanic Texans were disproportionately devastated by COVID-19, unemployment and the power outage.
That discrepancy underscores why it’s critical for The Texas Tribune to have a staff that reflects the diversity of Texas, where Hispanics are on track to be the state’s largest population group this year. Journalists from different backgrounds — which includes race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age and socioeconomic class — bring different ideas about how to approach a story and what is newsworthy in the first place. As newsrooms across the country have faced a racial reckoning this past year, we have rededicated ourselves to diversifying the Texas Tribune team.
We’re making progress. Since we overhauled our hiring practices in mid-2018, more than half of the employees we’ve hired have been people of color. By the end of 2020, 37% of our staff members were people of color, compared to 33% in 2019 and 30% in 2018. Fifty-nine percent of Texans are people of color.
We still have work to do. At the end of last year, 62% of our staffers were white, compared to 41% of Texans. Twenty percent of employees at The Texas Tribune were Hispanic; 40% of the state’s population is Hispanic. Seven percent of our employees were Black, compared to 12% of Texans. Seven percent of our employees were Asian, compared to 5% percent of Texans.
Of our 24-person management team, 38% were people of color. Of the staffers who report and edit the news, 45% were people of color.
It’s essential that we collect accurate data about our staff demographics. That’s why last year we modified how we ask our employees for this information. We added a Middle Eastern and North African category even though the U.S. Census does not include this option. Three percent of our employees identified as Middle Eastern or North African.
We’re also asking our employees which languages they speak, and we’re especially interested in hiring people who speak Spanish. Nineteen percent of our employees speak Spanish, compared to about 29% of Texans.
Since we asked our employees for this information in late 2020, we have said goodbye to several staff members and welcomed others to our team. As we fill open positions, we’re continuing to improve our hiring practices with a goal of diversifying our staff. We collect confidential applicant demographic data, and we require that candidates from historically underrepresented groups are included in the interview stage of every job. We’re investing more in recruitment efforts, advertising with professional associations that promote diversity and participating in job fairs at historically Black universities. We’ve boosted our presence at conferences designed for journalists of color, with a goal of forming relationships for current and future job openings. We’re posting jobs publicly and widely. Hiring committees — cross-departmental panels meant to ensure that a variety of perspectives are at the table — evaluate our candidates.
All of these are tactics in service of the overall goal of ensuring that our newsroom is representative of the audiences we want our journalism to serve. We have an additional goal of ensuring the people we feature in our journalism also reflect the diversity of the state.
Our new source diversity project helps us achieve that. We’re now asking the people we interview — and the people who speak at Texas Tribune events — to share their race, ethnicity and gender to help us understand whose voices we are highlighting. The project, which we piloted last year with significant contributions from our student fellows, launched in our newsroom in March. We’ll use the data we collect to identify coverage and sourcing gaps and to ensure accountability around correcting any imbalances.
We’re not the only newsroom tracking the demographics of our sources; our project was inspired by the BBC’s 50:50 project, and we’re keeping an eye on efforts underway at organizations like Chalkbeat and KUT.
The launch of our source diversity project was almost derailed first by the pandemic and then by the winter storm. We pushed forward despite the demands of these emergencies because we believe that even in a crisis — especially in a crisis — our sources must reflect our state. The events of this past year did not affect all Texans in the same way, and it is our job to include all the voices necessary to tell that story.
Grayson Norwood contributed to this story.