Reporting and technical writing. Saturday - Oct 16, 2021

Vargas Awakens News Leaders in Stirring ONA Address

Jose Antonio Vargas’ ONA keynote explains fundamental and obvious reasons why many news organizations still aren’t diverse.

I couldn’t physically attend this year’s ONA conference in San Francisco but I followed it constantly via Twitter and got news from it in real time. I was especially moved by an intelligent point made by keynote speaker Jose Antonio Vargas just as dozens of people who I follow began tweeting about something he said.

He explained the fundamental reason why so many newsrooms still aren’t diverse (in terms of class). His observation is that because so many newsrooms offer unpaid internships, only affluent kids can take part in those programs. This results in non-affluent kids not getting off to the same start, not getting the same experience, not meeting the same people in the industry as the affluent kids do so the problem perpetuates as something systemic.

Vargas puts it best and fortunately, ONA graciously offers livestreams of various speeches and panels. The video above and here is an hour but here are key jump times: right at about the 15 minute mark, Yahoo’s Director of Editorial Operations, Anthony Moor, begins introducing Vargas, then at about 17:30 Vargas himself begins his great keynote address. I’ve transcribed his point which begins at 51:20 during Q&A:

“This is my biggest concern right now… as somebody who grew up in this and who lived in newsrooms my whole life — being a journalist when you’re younger is not that easy, right? … This is why a lot of newsrooms can’t get people of color in their newsrooms because… I needed to send money to the Philippines since I was 18 to send my sister to school, I wasn’t going to go to an unpaid internship. So the people who can only go to unpaid internships are mostly affluent, mostly white, mostly people who can afford to do that. So how are we going to support diversity in journalism if we don’t get resources for that?”

I agree — news companies that are serious about developing leaders from all walks of life will have to allocate resources to their internship programs so that they accommodate a broader base of young talent.