The next step is to evaluate hiring practices.
“Hiring diverse voices is part of deconstructing that legacy. It’s our collective responsibility to interrogate our origin story and take some responsibility in how we shape it for the future,” says Kainaz Amaria, visuals editor at Vox.
Ask yourself, and the staff, whether jobs and internships are posted in spaces where women, people of color and folks with different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds and gender identities are likely to see them.
Consider the implications of recruiting from closed communities, like prestigious universities or workshops. These communities, while ripe with talent, are often closed to those without a certain level of privilege. Universities can have prohibitively high tuition, and even tuition-free workshops require attendees to be able to afford travel and lodging, on top of taking time off work to attend.
By looking outside your existing personal networks, you help to break the cycle of privilege perpetuating privilege. A commitment to diverse hiring requires an acceptance that sometimes finding a diverse pool of qualified candidates requires more time and effort than finding a qualified white male candidate if most of your professional and personal networks are predominantly white and male.
“I think the way you diversify a staff — whether you’re talking about gender or race or ethnicity or even age — is with every hiring decision,” Goldberg says. “If you’re only going to interview all white guys, then whoever gets the job is going to be a white guy.”
For commissioning freelancers, web resources such as Diversify Photo and Women Photograph can help you find people of color and women working in photography. Considering the life experiences and perspectives a journalist will bring to an assignment can be key.
“The only way to make progress is to start making progress,” Goldberg says.
The work doesn’t end after hiring, though. A newsroom culture must be established to encourage and support minority voices in a relatively homogeneous newsroom. We asked Goldberg about the decision-making behind the cover image for the race issue, photographed by Robin Hammond, an extremely well-respected white male photographer whose photographs have graced the cover of National Geographic a number of times, including the cover of last year’s gender issue.
“Do we really want to get to a point where you can only have black people shoot black people, brown people shoot brown people, and white people shoot white people?” Goldberg asked.
Of course not, and that is a retort I’ve heard before. What is important to recognize, however, is that when you have a long-standing legacy of exclusively having white people photograph people of color, of men photographing women, of members of one dominant group depicting members of less dominant groups, then sometimes an overcorrection is in order to begin to undo some of the damage created by years of public consciousness being shaped by seeing members of these groups through a singular lens.
We also asked Goldberg how many people of color were involved in deciding that final cover image, which has been criticized as undermining the correction attempted in the issue, for exoticizing multiracial people and for peddling “post-racial fantasies” for a predominantly white audience.
Goldberg says she stands by the cover.
”These two cute girls are the visual manifestation of the fact that race is skin-deep. Because they have the exact same parents, they have the exact same ancestry and history, and yet those two girls could end up having very different lives because of the way that they present. And that’s really what the issue is about: It’s about the baked-in inequality,” Goldberg says.
While I can appreciate her perspective, I can’t help but wonder if she might have come to a different conclusion had more multiracial people been in the room and been empowered to share their perspectives on the cover image. I can’t help but wonder if the voices of someone like me — I am Cape Verdean and Jewish from a family with wildly varying skin tones and hair textures — might have helped the Geographic’s senior leadership to see the way that cover image might be read by people of color.
Being a new hire can be intimidating. Challenging the establishment with new ideas or differing perspectives can be daunting. Friction can be expected, but the best creative ideas are born from the tension of different perspectives and ideas pushing off one another.
“Organizations can support diverse perspectives by creating a safe newsroom,” Amaria says. “Create a code of conduct and make it public. Give folks channels to express concern if they feel harassed or mistreated. Hire diverse voices in leadership, midlevel management and on the content creation level. Be willing to have hard and uncomfortable conversations.”
This is not just a philosophical or ethical discussion, it’s a business decision as well. Goldberg reports the race issue reached 200 million readers in the first eight days after publication. If our news coverage is generated by and geared toward only a single demographic, then we are catering to an increasingly small audience. Babies of color now outnumber white babies. The demographic shift is here. If news outlets want to remain relevant, they must diversify now. “Black Panther,” setting box office records in many categories, demonstrated the enormous profit to be made from content created by and for a diverse audience, and considering the downward spiral of newsroom economics, diversifying may be the only way up.
Andrea Wise is an independent creative strategist and the NPPA secretary. She and Brent Lewis, who serves on the NPPA’s board of directors and is the senior photo editor at ESPN’s The Undefeated, are the co-founders of Diversify Photo. Akili-Casundria Ramsess is the executive director of the NPPA.
This article also appeared in the 2018 March/April issue of News Photographer, the magazine of the National Press Photographers Association.