With two minutes to address a half-full room of people sipping on white wine and staring at their laptops and phones, 22 candidates and their surrogates took to the stage Thursday afternoon to explain why exactly they should get one of the six open spots on ONA’s board of directors.
“It’s not just about diversity, it’s about inclusion,” said Imaeyen Ibanga, an incumbent seeking another term.
In all, only five candidates were seeking a second term: Ibanga, current ONA Board President Mandy Jenkins, Celeste LeCompte, Benet Wilson and Greg Linch. In total, there are only 15 board slots, with two-year terms. The 22 candidates reflect a changing emphasis on transparency and representation within ONA: academics, local news leaders, non-profit media, international media and media collaboratives.
“This is the largest board slate we’ve had in this organization’s history,” said ONA executive director Irving Washington.
“The other thing that’s unique is the diversity of this slate. I think you can look at some of the more basic tenets of diversity in terms of gender and race, but also you look at the organizations they’re coming from.”
Journalism has historically been a mostly straight, mostly white and mostly male space — something that has always, and increasingly more so, not reflected the audience it serves. In 2017, only 16.6 percent of staff in newsrooms were people of color, according to ASNE’s 2017 newsroom diversity survey. In online-only news organizations, that number was only slightly higher at 24.3 percent. Women made up only 39 percent of all newsroom employees.
Two days ago, ASNE announced that its 2018 diversity survey had a response rate of 14 percent, too low for their standards, and would be postponing the release of the data until it receives higher participation. Several national correspondents, including The New York Times political correspondent Astead Wesley, called it a disaster for news media.
“Utterly embarrassing that this many newsrooms, which advocate for the transparency and accountability of others, have not responded to a survey of their own editorial diversity,” he said on Twitter. “How does this impact public trust?”
The candidates for the ONA board tell a very different, significantly more optimistic story for the future of news.
“It’s completely frightening to get up there and make your pitch. I had to break the ice,” said Selymar Colón, managing editor and senior director at Univision. “It’s sad that there’s only six spots for twenty-two candidates and that’s what makes this election different from others. Twenty-two remarkable professionals that want to put in the work to take the organization to the next level.”