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Arizona Republic Reporters Issue Diversity Demands on Progressives-Only Site

The Arizona Republic building in 2013.EXPAND
The Arizona Republic building in 2013.
Zeb Micelli, CC 1.0
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A group of Arizona Republic reporters want sweeping changes to improve racial and ethnic diversity in their newsroom.

Diversity in thought, maybe not so much.

The self-described majority of the newspaper's reporters, a group made up of Arizona Republic Guild and Diversity Committee members, released their mission statement last week. The reporters' demands include implementing a racially based hiring system, conducting a review of salaries they want to see made public, and dictating a special opinion column they want published in the paper. They've invited other journalists to add their names in support.

"Journalists of color and their allies at The Arizona Republic are standing in solidarity with journalists across the country who are re-examining their coverage and reallocating resources to prioritize equity, diversity and inclusion in their newsrooms," the statement, addressed to Republic executive editor Greg Burton, reads. "We don’t have racial parity for journalists of color in opinions, upper management and other veteran roles to fairly cover our diverse communities with the insight they deserve."

The diversity goals are a sign of the times and an attempt to address previous diversity efforts by the paper that began long before the May 25 death of George Floyd. Burton wrote in a June 30, 2019, column that, having joined the staff a year before, he intended to do something about the paper's lack of diversity through promotions and new hirings of more women and people of color.

"Closing the gap is not enough," Burton wrote. "Nothing short of absolute commitment will reverse course."

The reporters are taking him up on it, demanding, among other things:

* Diversity reports and salary reviews of everyone in the newsroom, with findings made public except for the reporter names. (The group of reporters did not make their own salaries public to show any current wage disparities.)

* Racial parity within five years in the newsroom, including managers and the editorial board, so that departments "reflect the ethnic and racial demographics in Maricopa County." Management should "interview at least two applicants from traditionally underrepresented groups..."

* An opinion column about the commitment to diversity.

* Compensation for the diversity committee's volunteer work.

The statement itself was published on Action Network, a site that "empowers ... progressive causes."

"That's right!" the site says: Entities that aren't progressive should not use the site. "The Action Network is only open for progressive individuals, organizations, and candidates. We're not interested in helping your opponents win."

That would seem to present a sticky question for the leaders (and readers) of the Republic: Can the paper continue to serve an audience that is not only ethnically and racially diverse, but politically? Are these reporters declaring their allegiance with Action Network and its progressive goals?

Several Republic reporters promoted the message on Twitter. But none contacted by Phoenix New Times, including Republic Guild leader Rebekah Sanders and Diversity Committee member Dianna Nañez, would answer questions about it. Reporter Uriel Garcia responded to a tweet by New Times about the statement's publication on a progressive site, saying that he hoped "you would be empathetic to our efforts," and how New Times' efforts at newsroom diversity helped kickstart his career. But he declined further comment.

Burton also declined comment.

The concept of objectivity itself has been under scrutiny in journalism for years, and in certain applications is seen as a hindrance to informed, accurate reporting.

Objectivity "is probably one of the greatest fallacies perpetrated in journalism. No one is objective," said Martin Reynolds, former editor-in-chief of the Oakland Tribune and co-executive director of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, a 43-year-old California organization dedicated to helping newsrooms become more racially diverse.

Besides the basic truth that every human has bias, newspapers can also fairly make "determinations from a preponderance of reporting," Reynolds said. For instance, his newspaper made a decision to report from the perspective that "gun violence was bad. We were not going to be objective in any way, shape, or form."

Yet while coverage can be steered toward a viewpoint that research shows to be factual, "you don't declare a progressive position," he said.

The nuances of journalistic objectivity also get blurry when it comes to social media guidelines.

The Republic reporters say they "repeatedly hear from women and journalists of color that they are disproportionately disciplined under corporate social media policies." (They don't make clear if they mean this has happened at the Republic.)

"We want to ensure that journalists are not unfairly disciplined for their social media posts about diversity, race, racism, inclusion, equity, inclusion and other topics," the reporters' statement goes on to say. "[Management should] provide written clarification on what the company’s expectations are for journalists’ social media and how those policies are enforced."

How much of their own views journalists are allowed to put forth on social media is a widely debated topic in the world of journalism these days. Reporters have been fired and disciplined nationwide for posts deemed offensive or credibility-ruining. Yet the basis for such discipline can be widely subjective, or based on posts made years ago.

"This is all pretty challenging and confusing, quite frankly," Reynolds said. He's tweeted recently that Donald Trump isn't fit to be president, he said, but only because he's not covering the White House or working as an editor. "I would keep all that to myself. I wouldn't go to a protest... It's legit for a news organization to place some parameters on this."

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