Radius Reader: Diversity Deficits, Net Neutrality Spin & (Un)Ethical Vice


by Margaret Wright

— Journalism isn’t alone as an industry in its perilous lack of staff and leadership diversity. But as Robert C. Maynard deftly put it:

“It matters that those who lead the newsroom understand every facet of the community they cover. It matters that the interests and concerns of nonwhite residents need not well up in violence before they are recognized as worthy of attention. It matters that the positive contributions of the nonwhite community be recognized in other than the nonwhite press. It matters that the rich and varied texture of the American voice be heard, and it matters that the picture of America we see on the news and on the front page include pictures of nonwhite people in all stations of life, not just those who are on welfare or in police custody.”

Thankfully, more journalists and media organizations are discussing and confronting the issue. As the Compass is committed to building as much organizational transparency into our startup as we can legally and logistically manage, ongoing examinations of how to create and maintain diversity are paramount. This “game plan” by Lam Thuy Vo is one I’ll be dissecting with my colleagues, and I’m cheered by the advent of the Journalism Diversity Project. (Please note: Additional resources on the topic are always welcome and likely to be shared via Radius.)

Just today, GLADD and the Human Rights Campaign called out the media for too often “inaccurately representing the current climate of acceptance across faith communities,” while simultaneously directing journalists to a reporting guide that “seeks to correct these disparities in reporting,” particularly as midterm election races heat up. The guide includes an extensive resource directory and “new approaches to faith interviews.”

Reporter/editor/producer Carla Murphy also lays out a challenge to consider how other structural forces (such as the consolidation of media ownership or FCC mandates) “[taint] the ground rules for national media policy discussion and debate.”

While we’re on the subject of the FCC and media control, Timothy Karr (a former journalist and current strategist for the non-partisan advocacy group Free Press) wrote an impassioned critique of the ongoing PR campaign waged by phone and cable companies against net neutrality protections. Karr accuses industry giants of using rhetorical sleights-of-hand to mischaracterize what’s at stake as the wait for the FCC’s final decision ticks down. Writes Karr:

“For years now, phone and cable companies have likened the Internet to their private property, a domain over which they have ultimate say.

Under this scenario, Net Neutrality violates the phone and cable companies’ rights as “individuals”—none being more sacred than the right to free speech (or, in their view, the right to throw all other speakers off the front porch).

What’s lost in this spin is this: The Internet is not the private property of AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. It’s a network of networks (some private and some public) that depends on a common set of rules to transport information, connect people and function. And the most important rule for preserving free speech online is common carriage, the classification that prohibits ISPs from interfering with content.”

It was disappointing but not surprising to learn this week that the rapidly expanded Vice News, “an international news organization created by and for a connected generation,” appears not to have taken the time to consider ethical implications of offering seemingly hard news while also operating under the umbrella of the larger Vice Media enterprise. Vice Media, in the company’s own words, is an innovator by virtue of its “360-degree approach [which]ensures that we not only create the content, but that we also distribute, promote, and sell it via our network of advertorial sites.”

Emphasis on advertorial? Capital reports that a Vice staffer who was recently sacked (so, yes, he may have an ax to grind) “went public with a series of accusations against his former employer, backed up by screenshots of emails he posted this week to Twitter, suggesting that the company had killed articles he’d written because of potential conflicts with advertisers and ‘brand partners’ of the company.”

Media Bistro’s PR Newser offered this “takeaway” on the issue:

“No media outlet — no matter how cutting-edge its coverage may be — is truly independent as long as a sponsor is helping to pay its bills.”

Intrusions on the barrier meant to isolate news from the revenue side of media organizations have a long and storied history. But during a time when public trust in the media is still deplorably low, I’d argue that history should be both notorious and cautionary. Furthermore, PR Newser’s point might be accurate if there were no longer any media outlets committed to maintaining a strict firewall between donors/advertisers and journalists. There are still some around, and I’m proud to point out that the Compass is one of them.