Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: the commitment starts with us

Every day at the American Journalism Project, we work with local news organizations to respond to an urgent need: building a sustainable local news field that reflects the communities it serves. And as we help our grantees build organizations that represent the diversity of the country, we’re committed to building an organization that does the same. Since our inception, AJP has been on a journey to advance DEI values in our grantmaking, in our support of grantees, and in our own workforce culture.

As a funder and strategic thought-partner to 41 grantee news organizations across the country, we understand how a commitment to DEI increases organizational effectiveness: by inviting and drawing on a mix of perspectives into decision-making, organizations can improve their ability to engage and connect with their constituents and their staff, and as a result, carry out their missions more successfully.

For local news organizations, this kind of impact requires the inclusion of diverse voices. We’re looking to help correct for a legacy of systemic under-representation and mischaracterization of American diversity by rebuilding a civic news media that is governed by, sustained by, and looks like America. The market failure to sustain local news is underscored by a fundamental DEI problem — and addressing this problem is at the heart of our work. 

While we’re focused on local news, the principles apply to other sectors. Plenty of research exists that links DEI practices to higher levels of innovation, employee engagement and retention, and even revenue growth, regardless of workplace industry or size.

When I joined the AJP team two years ago as its first chief financial and administrative officer, I was given an important task: to build the systems and structures within AJP that aligned with and advanced our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Below, we’re sharing where we are so far in our DEI journey, with the hope that it could encourage similar work in other organizations. While we certainly don’t have all the answers, we’re intentionally and transparently pursuing more just systems and processes for the investment and deployment of our resources. This commitment shows up in our work in a number of ways:

In our work with grantees
  • As we make investment decisions across our program areas, we consistently factor in the overall composition of our portfolio. Among other factors, we strive to support organizations that serve underrepresented communities (including communities of color and low-wealth communities) and are led by visionary leaders of color and women leaders, both in editorial and business leadership roles; 
  • For our startup organizations, we build our local networks to ensure that stakeholders who have lived and worked in these communities are involved in the hiring process for leadership roles; we’ve included local community members on interview panels, giving them a voice in deciding who will best represent them in these positions;
  • We require grant applicants to demonstrate how they are actively building a culture in which DEI values are reflected throughout their organizational operations as well as in their journalism and editorial strategies (including by serving diverse communities);
  • We launched the Local News Incubator as an investment in leaders of early-stage organizations, including those who may not typically receive large funding commitments; 
  • We’ve expanded our investments in news organizations that primarily produce journalism in languages other than English to better serve multilingual communities;
  • We deploy extensive community listening as part of our place-based market research; we have spoken to over 5,000 Americans about what they need from local news, with a focus on hearing from members of underserved communities;
  • We provide grantees with funding for DEI training, coaching, and other resources, and share portfolio learnings about DEI efforts across all our grantees.
In our internal operations
  • We’ve created a staff-led DEI Steering Committee and DEI working groups to explore different ways to advance an equitable and inclusive workplace;
  • We’re building a more inclusive and transparent hiring process that prioritizes the experiences of job applicants (from the information we include in job descriptions, to how we publicize opportunities, to how we structure interviews);
  • We track diversity of job applicants and ensure that candidates of color are represented at each stage of the hiring process;
  • We’re creating job-leveling and salary-setting processes that ensure equal pay for equal work, and have improved benefits to include better healthcare coverage and more paid time off options, including generous personal leave and parental leave policies;
  • We conduct a regular inclusion and belonging survey for staff, share the findings with our staff and board, and take direct action to address areas of disparity;
  • We regularly report on our DEI work to the governance committee of our board;
  • As a team, we’ve developed standards for how staff members are expected to treat each other and work together – and accountability to these norms show up in our annual performance review process;
  • We invite feedback and scrutiny from staff about our internal processes, then employ that feedback to improve;
  • We are building a more diverse board of directors by pursuing candidates outside of traditional networks.

In July, we released our latest diversity report, which is one way we lean into transparency about our team and our work. This report is an annual accounting of the gender and racial compositions of all of AJP staff, leadership, and our grantees (we look at all grantee staff as well as positions AJP has directly funded). It’s critical we track this information, and equally important that we share it, as an accountability measure and public reminder of what we are trying to accomplish and why.

In the future, we’ll share more details about our DEI work, starting with how we’re building a more equitable hiring process. By sharing reflections about our DEI journey, we hope to contribute to the DEI journeys of others, particularly funders and field builders like AJP.

We are committed to continue learning and improving. In the spirit of one of our core values, “constant learning,” we understand that achieving meaningful change requires an ongoing commitment to introspection, transparency, and growth. Among our staff and board members, we’ve invited candid conversations about our DEI efforts, and we welcome the insights of those reading this post too! 

If you have feedback for us or want to share an idea about what’s working well in your organization’s DEI journey, we’d love to hear from you.

Members of AJP’s 2023 DEI Steering Committee, who all contributed to this post, are Amar Rajwani, René Gornall, Loretta Chao, Gonzalo del Peon, and Hannah Ross.