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Nobel Peace Prize Winner Maria Ressa Highlights The Need To Diversify Journalism

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Earlier this month, Filipina journalist Maria Ressa won a Nobel Peace Prize for her fight against misinformation led by President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Her win sheds light on two important issues: the injustices made against journalists on a global scale and the importance of freedom of the press. Her win also addresses the lack of female representation in journalism. 

Although Ressa is from the Philippines, her win echos to the United States, highlighting the necessity of diversifying journalism to better include the voices of Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) along with women and gender non-conforming peoples.

Throughout U.S. history, from Joseph Pulitzer to Robert Woodword and Carl Bernstein, journalists have fought for freedom of the press and discovered stories of injustice present in our society. However, a common thread appears throughout the history of famous U.S. journalists — the majority of them were white men. 

According to a 2016 study done by the American Society of News Editors, BIPOC women are the least represented in online and traditional print publications with percentages of less than 5% on a national scale. Although women make up two-thirds of students graduating with journalistic focuses, they only make up one-third of the media industry and an even smaller percentage consists of women of color. Women are increasingly leaving journalism and the media industry for several reasons — including harassment in the workplace — especially for those in leading positions.

Ressa had her own share of harassment from the public and the Duterte administration, leading as far as 10 arrest warrants under her name for cyber libel. Her experience isn’t uncommon —  from interns like Kate Havard to executive editors like Jill Abramson, harassment against women in journalism runs rampant with one-third of female journalists considering leaving their jobs because of it. 

Women lead only three of the top 25 news publications in the U.S. and only one woman leads a top news publication on a global scale. If we want to increase and maintain the representation of women in journalism, prevention of harassment — both online and in the workplace — should be the first step.

To combat misinformation, especially those concerning BIPOC communities, women of color are essential in newsrooms. Diversifying journalism isn’t just about reaching quotas proportionate to our national racial makeup. Real communities experience the impact of diverse journalism. Real people wish to see themselves represented and their issues discussed. Real people should have their stories heard and hear the stories of communities who have been fighting too long for a seat at the table.

The limited number of women of color journalists are doing exactly this: fighting for their communities through media exposure and making groundbreaking work while doing so. For example, Maria Hinojosa, a Mexican-American award-winning journalist, has reported on issues close to her community including the El Paso, Texas shooting and the safety of immigration detention centers. Pakistani-American and Muslim journalist Sabrina Siddiqui was well-known for reporting during the 2016 presidential election. Black journalist Errin Haines Whack dedicates much of her work to reporting on underrepresented communities, race and politics. These women of color journalists in the U.S. are just a few examples of the many who are doing what is necessary to combat misinformation against BIPOC communities. 

As Ressa famously said, “In a battle for facts, in a battle for truth, journalism is activism.” 

The contributions women and women of color journalists make, both in the U.S. and abroad, are steps closer to a battle for facts and truth on underrepresented communities. Action needs to be taken to better diversify newsrooms, the very place that plants seeds of information into the American public.

Media companies and news organizations should pledge to diversify their workspaces. As stated by the Columbia Journalism Review, the first step is to acknowledge there is a problem. If newsrooms continue to ignore the issues of their past instead of reckoning with it, progress cannot be made. Organizations like the Los Angeles Times are making that first step by examining their history of racism and pledging for progress in the future. 

The second step is for news organizations to overcome the barriers for entering into journalism. Many of those who have experience, networking connections and high levels of education are also white. Eliminating the barriers, while still ensuring journalists are qualified for their jobs, can contribute to diversity in newsrooms.

Another step is for newsrooms to write the stories BIPOC communities are interested in. Including sections in newspapers or online websites specifically catered to the diverse groups of America will let BIPOC communities see themselves represented. It also helps BIPOC journalists write about issues they care about and are well-versed in.

We, as the readers and consumers of media and news, can also push for change in diversifying newsrooms. Supporting your favorite women of color journalists by reading and sharing their work and writing letters to the editors about diversity in their newsroom are ways to start.

With how crucial press freedom is given the widespread misinformation news organizations fight against, now is the time more than ever to advocate for diversifying newsrooms.

Camelia Heins is an Opinion Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at cheins@uci.edu.