The United States is experiencing an array of overlapping crises. The public health crisis has led to an economic catastrophe.
It has led to a trauma for the entire community as we wonder about the future of everything from public schools to jobs and industries on which we have long relied. Then, a much older crisis reasserted itself. The killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville along with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia provoked another chapter in this country’s 400-year story of public reckoning with racial injustice.
In San Diego, we’ve helped uncover disparities in how Black people are treated by police. Report after report has demonstrated how much more likely they are to face searches and even lethal force from law enforcement officers.
From health to public education outcomes, it is obvious that in San Diego, like everywhere, systemic racism shapes all corners of society, including newsrooms. Newsrooms are among the least diverse places to work – and it often shows through what stories we tell and how well we tell them.
Voice of San Diego launched 15 years ago as a small team to fill a vital need for investigative and explanatory journalism. And we are proud that our library of investigations into law enforcement and inequities in San Diego government and education is relevant now to tens of thousands of new readers who have found our service in the last few months. Our coverage of public affairs has never been more applicable. It has helped our organization survive this historic tumult.
Now, the crisis in local journalism and the relevance of our efforts over the past 15 years are calling us to expand and serve more people across the San Diego region. We won’t be able to connect with as many people as we could in moments like this, however, until our own staff is more representative of San Diego County.
Our own newsroom’s lack of diversity limits our perspective and reach.
Recognizing this shortcoming, last year, we collected data on our staff, board, readers, events, podcast guests and stories to get a comprehensive idea of how well we reflected the region.
In San Diego County, almost 46 percent of the population is White, 34.5 percent is Latino, 11 percent is Asian, 4.4 percent is Black and .5 percent is Native American.
Our staff of 17 is 24 percent Latino – the newsroom is 17 percent Latino. We have one Asian and no Black or Native American staffers. Our Board of Directors now has three people of color out of 11 members – or 27 percent. Two are Latino and one is Black.
Our staff is 71 percent women and our board includes 27 percent women.
And that’s only looking at racial diversity. When it comes to religion, sexual orientation, veteran status and socioeconomic or political background, we see similar issues.
Without the lived experience of some of our audience and peers, we undoubtedly miss stories and don’t notice things a more representative reporting corps would catch. We don’t interview enough people of color, in our stories or in our podcasts. Events have become a big part of our service, but they have often not attracted diverse audiences.
In 2019, we spread our events into more communities and hosted a much more diverse Politifest than prior years. We made some panels accessible in Spanish. We’ve been publishing A Parent’s Guide to Public Schools in English and Spanish and presented it to parents through public libraries throughout the county. We’ve started improving our website’s accessibility for people with disabilities.
Strangely enough, the pandemic has also allowed us to increase diversity in our virtual events, podcasts and VOSD at Home.
The staff and board established our first official strategic plan for the organization and incorporated diversity and inclusion goals – including ensuring our staff and sources better reflect the community we serve – into it. With help from readers and experts, we will hold ourselves accountable to improve every year.
We want to become a bigger, stronger organization that serves more people. But the largest untapped audiences, the best stories, the most striking injustices, the most inspiring tales, the best opportunities to expose problems and leadership failures may be out of our reach if we fail to improve the diversity of our team and the resulting quality and relevance of our work.
Knowing there are stories we can’t get keeps us up at night. And we won’t rest until we can.