Gizmodo’s Narisetti explains how to have a diverse newsroom
Raju Narisetti is the chief executive officer of Gizmodo Media Group, which operates websites Gizmodo, Deadspin, Jezebel, Jalopnik, Kotaku and Lifehacker and is owned by the Univision.
He was formerly senior vice president of strategy at News Corp., the parent company of The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and MarketWatch.com.
Narisetti also held multiple administrative positions at both The Journal and The Washington Post. He was managing editor at the Post and was deputy managing editor at The Journal. He was also editor of Wall Street Journal Europe.
From 2006 to 2008, Narisetti was the founding editor of Mint, a business newspaper in India.
Earlier this month, Gizmodo Media Group released a diversity report that showed that showed that slightly more than half of its staffers are female, and about half are classified as caucasian, in stark contrast to the rest of the media industry, which is overwhelmingly white and male.
Narisetti spoke by email about newsroom diversity and recruiting a diverse news staff with Talking Biz News. What follows is an edited transcript.
How has Gizmodo been able to have a more diverse newsroom than most other media organizations?
There has been a very conscious effort on part of all the hiring managers, particularly our site leads, to make sure that our staff reflects the increasingly diverse, young Americans that we count as our audiences and fans.
That our sites have engaged and passionate readers also means that a lot of diverse journalists want to work with us, and we continue to get a healthy pipeline of such applicants. And our staff recommendations for new hires also go a long way in continuing to build a diverse newsroom.
And this has happened in the first few months of an acquisition and integration — with its predictable and unexpected challenges. So, while we are happy to stack our existing diversity against any of our peers or mainstream media, I am not sure I would want a “lowest common denominator” thinking to make us complacent, as we have ways to go and having a very diverse newsroom should always be a high priority, “work-in-progress.”
When you joined Gizmodo, was this one of your focuses?
I think it is incumbent on leaders of modern news organization to have diversity as a core metric of personal success. At GMG, we initiated a voluntary policy of posting all jobs — which is critical not just for new hires but also to give existing staff an opportunity to be aware of and if they want to, seek different, sometimes more challenging roles. Because so much of the diversity issue is also about professional growth of existing staff, especially those who can become future leaders of news teams.
We also restarted a very robust, paid internship program; put in a process whereby top leadership of the company also meets as many finalists for roles as we could, without becoming a bottleneck, to make sure we are hiring for skills and diversity and culture-fit.
It is important to actually have specific tactics to go with a focus on diversity, so that it translates into short/medium term results, and not just remain an intent.
What did you bring to Gizmodo in terms of promoting diversity that you learned at your previous jobs?
The philosophy that what we don’t measure periodically is what we rarely fix. And what we don’t publicly hold ourselves accountable, once measured, is something we can easily find excuses to not to get around to. Especially in the current media landscape, where the business model challenges can often become the more central preoccupations for leaders.
Why do you think most U.S. newsrooms are overwhelmingly white and male?
Weak leadership; Lack of real intent; Unwillingness to take risks by reaching deeper into the ranks when the top layers are not historically diverse; Not focusing enough on building a diverse starter pipeline; Being satisfied with tokenism in the masthead; Unwillingness to connect growing lack of trust issues to lack of diversity in newsroom; Poaching from each other than adding to the diversity pool.
I always say a good way to really get a feel for a news organization’s true leadership on diversity is to ask, especially during job interviews, for data.
If a hiring manager, especially senior managers, are not able to give you their staff profile and numbers — whether it is diverse or not — off the top of their head, then you know it is not a key priority for them, at least not on an ongoing basis.
What do they add to coverage?
A diverse staff makes our journalism and story-telling truly reflect the audiences we are trying to reach, engage, educate, inform and entertain. Period.
Gizmodo covers some tech-oriented topics. Is that a subject that is more difficult to recruit a diverse newsroom for?
Gizmodo.com, our flagship site, has always had a very expansive view of “tech,” which means it appeals to a very wide audience and thus attracts a lot of diversity in thinking about tech. Its reporting and editing ranks are quite diverse now, and the hiring and retention mind-set in that team is also one that will continue to build on this.
Do you feel like a more diverse newsroom gives you a competitive advantage? How so?
By 2028, which is not that far way, a majority of America’s young (18-34) will be non-white. While there a lot of ‘go-to’ media brands today for young people, we believe we have the journalism, the staff, the resources, and, more importantly, the long-term intent to become the go-to media brand for a much more diverse, young America that clearly lies ahead of us.
That belief rests on our newsroom and our entire company reflecting that diversity and that higher sense of purpose. We are off to a solid start if you just look at a snapshot of where we are today but, this is a long game, and I really think our diversity will be a core competitive advantage that reinforces our journalism to get us there.
What’s an area of having a diverse newsroom that you’d like to improve upon?
I think it is important to learn to question success a lot more than failure. In that sense, there isn’t a single area of hiring, training, developing, retention where we can’t improve upon from where we are today. The reason we are able to attract great, diverse talent is because good people leave their current organizations and come to us.
Similarly, we have been, and always will be, an organization that has amazingly talented and diverse newsroom staff that will be wooed by others.
I think if we are the place that is continuously adding to the diversity pipeline, and training and developing future newsroom leaders, one success metric will be how well GMG alums are doing elsewhere. To truly embrace that success metric, which I have long believed in over the years, we then need to always be improving, and not settling for what might feel like a status-quo success or even relative peer-group success on diversity.