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Observer Editorial: The hole in our newsroom

| Friday, January 27, 2023

As Walk the Walk week wraps up at Notre Dame, our predominantly white institution is left to think about how to put into practice the ideas we’ve engaged with this week. The University has poured funding and time into curating events with distinguished speakers and alumni and publicly uplifted its diverse students’ stories for the week.  This, of course, is an important first step in championing people of color on our campus and educating a majority white student body but it is, by nature, performative. So, how do we confront the actual problems we face when it comes to including students of diverse backgrounds?

The Observer strives to promote diversity and inclusion in our newsroom, but there are ways in which our efforts can be more performative than substantive. We cover many culturally diverse subjects, such as the Asian Allure showcase, Latinx Heritage Month events at Saint Mary’s, the Black Images talent show and the history of the Potawotami land on which Notre Dame is built. However, in an internal feedback survey we conducted last semester, some writers expressed that our coverage felt tokenistic at times. 

This semester, we pledge to focus on more in-depth coverage on the state of diversity and race relations in our tri-campus. 

Yet even with this new focus, there will inevitably be stories we miss. We want to hear from you on how you feel The Observer has neglected your particular corner of campus. You can email or talk to any of our editors, who are more than happy to discuss story ideas. 

At the root of our problem, The Observer is lacking diverse writers. Having writers of various cultures, identities and backgrounds — and even from various areas of study — expands the range of interests and story ideas of any media organization, therefore, making its coverage more representative. 

This issue is mirrored in newsrooms across the country. In 2021, the New York Times reported that 70% of its leadership was white. In the summer of 2020, during the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, more than 150 employees of the Wall Street Journal signed a letter to their editor saying that the Journal’s coverage of race was “problematic” and that its staff was not diverse enough. The Chicago Tribune, a paper that serves a city where 55% of the population are people of color, does not officially publish their employee demographics, but stated in a 2021 article that legacy news organizations like theirs “must do a better job of telling the full stories of the city’s Black and brown communities.”

In theory, The Observer doesn’t have as many barriers to entry as most other news organizations. Unlike other college newspapers, we do not require our writers to apply before they write their first story. An opinion piece written by the former Editor-in-Chief of Georgetown University’s student newspaper The Hoya argues that student journalism is often stacked against low-income students because student newspaper roles often require long hours, taking away time that could be spent working part-time jobs. While working at The Observer is time-consuming, we are able to pay our staffers who edit and produce our content five days a week — contrary to practices at many other colleges.

Still, there is clearly something about our culture that is failing to bring in a diversity of students. We want to make joining and writing, editing and photographing for the paper as accessible as possible. Let us know of any way we can make this newsroom more welcoming. If you’ve ever had any interest in working for The Observer, visit our office in the basement of South Dining Hall for our meetings on Sundays: 2 p.m. for Scene, our arts and culture section, 2:35 p.m. for Sports and 3:30 p.m. for Notre Dame and Holy Cross News. If you’re at Saint Mary’s, stop by our office in the basement of the student center for the Saint Mary’s News meeting at 7 p.m. Sunday evenings. If you’re not ready to dip a toe in just yet, we would encourage you to read our site and paper as well as follow our social media accounts to see the variety of work you could do.

The Observer must be a more inclusive place. If you feel you could assist us in that goal, we would also like to invite you to apply to be a part of our Talent and Inclusion department. The department is led by the Manager of Talent and Inclusion (MTI) and includes an assistant MTI position. In this role, you would directly be involved in making our coverage more representative, recruiting more writers of color and other identities and backgrounds, building our presence at Holy Cross and making our newsroom one where everyone feels welcome. Do consider applying here before next Friday.

We take our responsibility to the tri-campus community seriously. We want our staff to reflect the University’s and Colleges’ student bodies as closely as possible. We are your paper and we are independent for a reason — to tell all stories. But we are missing some voices in our newsroom, and we intend to do all that we can to rectify this. Reach out to us if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions for ways we can do better. We want to be a paper you can be proud of.

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