What should people with power do to be good allies to those without it?
“Spend it down,” said Walt Mossberg, the pioneering technology journalist, at the Freedom Forum’s Power Shift Summit: The Power of Allies in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 28, 2020. “Spend your power to say, ‘Here’s this woman. We need to hire her right away.’”
That’s what Mossberg did when he was a top columnist at The Wall Street Journal and Kara Swisher was a young journalist at The Washington Post. He went to the executive editor and insisted the Journal hire her.
“At every turn in the road … he treated me like an equal,” said Swisher, co-founder with Mossberg of Recode and now one of the country’s most influential journalists.
Mossberg also made sure Swisher and other women colleagues were in the rooms that mattered when important decisions were made. Swisher took it from there — she made sure powerful people remembered her name and recognized her worth — even when they tried to look away.
Mossberg “was only interested in talent, yet he had an eye to understanding you have to give opportunity to women and people of color without making a big deal of it,” Swisher said.
Freedom Forum fellow Jill Geisler of Loyola University Chicago opened the Summit with a challenge: “You’re not a leader unless people choose to follow you. You’re not an ally unless others believe that you qualify.”
Allies have the power to change the culture of newsrooms to eliminate harassment and create opportunities for women and others who have been marginalized. The key to success for allies — both individuals and organizations — is acting with intention to create change.
The summit convened more than 100 leaders across journalism and the media industry to explore the critical role that individuals can play in fighting harassment and discrimination.
Representatives from NPR, POLITICO, Time magazine, PBS, CNN, Al Jazeera English and the new political news site for women, The 19th, took part in the Power of Allies, as well as leaders from American University, Howard University, the Missouri School of Journalism, the International Women’s Media Foundation, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and the National Association of Black Journalists, among others.
Many spoke of how they benefitted from the help of an ally, defined simply as a trusted force for good. They also shared stories of what happened when they became allies.
Elisa Lees Muñoz, executive director of the IWMF, who helped lead the conversation, illustrated the challenges for news organizations with statistics from a recent IWMF Global Report. The data showed that men hold two thirds of top media management positions, and three quarters of middle management jobs. Munoz noted that one industry survey on decision-making authority only netted a response rate of 17%. “Is this an industry that wants to fix itself?”
Hannah Allam, a national security reporter for NPR, said that young reporters need experienced professionals to help them get opportunities, keep them physically and mentally safe, and amplify their work.
At 26, she got her first foreign news assignment to Iraq. Competition with other reporters “melts away” when you are all facing the same risk, Allam said, noting it came down to more than finding body armor and making a list of things to take overseas. “Women would pull you aside, saying you should probably bring Plan B (emergency contraception) because of the risk of sexual assault, you should probably work with a fixer or driver, or you don’t want to stay at that hotel, it’s not safe.”
When Allam was pregnant and the military refused to embed her, her foreign correspondent colleagues became her allies. “The women in the press corps said, ‘Absolutely not’ and wrote a letter. They fought for me to have that opportunity.”
For Ricardo Sandoval-Palos of PBS, an editor at Time magazine became his unexpected ally when he called one day to compliment Sandoval-Palos on his work. The call meant everything to the then-30-year-old reporter who had been thinking of leaving journalism. “Now,” said Sandoval-Palos, “I seek out young reporters, women and journalists of color, tell them they are doing a good job, and I offer to help.”
Emily Ramshaw, formerly of the Texas Tribune and now a co-founder of The 19th, said her former boss, Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith, was an innovative ally.
“When I started there, the Texas legislature was a difficult place, all white, all men. Evan did things that brought me into the club and helped me win them over in time. He would rib me playfully on social media, as though we had a funny little feud. But it was his signal that I was his peer.”
Later, when Ramshaw struggled while on maternity leave, Smith urged her, when she was ready, to come back to work and take his job, as editor in chief. “It changed the course of my life and my trajectory,” she said. “He believed in me in the moment when I felt my darkest.”
Summit participants shared stories of efforts they are making to improve the diversity of both newsrooms and news reports.
Maya Garg of Al Jazeera English and colleague Alexandra Sarabia decided in 2017 to start tallying the number of men and women who were interviewed on their program. By 2019, they reached more than 50-50 parity. “Our goal for 2020 is to do even better,” said Garg. “We have done shows where the entire panel is made up of women.”
Said Garg, “Those voices are out there, so spending that extra hour, two hours, days to find those voices that might not be the most obvious choices, that was really big for us. We weren’t going to rest until we found the woman, the person of color, the person with different abilities so that we could amplify their voices and we weren’t talking about them, we were speaking with them and engaging them.”
Swisher and Mossberg said their plan was to feature only CEOs in their high-profile technology conferences, but they had to refocus because the industry was so male dominated. “We realized it was only going to be white men,” Mossberg said. So, they changed their strategy. “If we found interesting women, we put them on stage.”
Hannah Allam said NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro has a whiteboard in her office where she tallies who was interviewed in stories and the circumstances. “It also sets an unspoken challenge to the rest of the newsroom: ‘What are you doing? What about your show?’”
Loren Mayor, NPR’s president of Operations, said NPR put a formal mentorship program in place that a third of the staff volunteered to join. Other staffers formed a Slack channel that paired people to get coffee and talk together. Separately, several employees formed a women of color mentorship program.
“Because it was created by the very people who wanted it, they made sure it addressed the very critical questions that were on the minds of their constituency,” Mayor said.
Alberto Mendoza of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists said his group is promoting allyship by offering childcare for parents who come for training sessions. After allegations of misconduct at a conference in 2010, a new code of conduct was created, including a requirement that all board members and mentors must attend anti-harassment training. “You have to be intentional,” said Mendoza. “We must create a space where nobody just stays quiet anymore.”
At The 19th, which will fully launch later in 2020, Ramshaw wants to amplify the voices of women and women of color and to create leadership opportunities by providing six months of paid family leave for parents, four months to take care of a sick relative and the freedom to work anywhere in the country.
Sharif Durhams, CNN digital senior editor and president of NLGJA: The National Association of LGBTQ Journalists, said that people should build networks and share them. He praised Sarah Glover of the National Association of Black Journalists for encouraging him to seek ways to make NABJ’s language more inclusive for transgender people.
Glover, past president of the NABJ, said that being an ally is an ongoing process. “I’m stirring the pot in a positive way. That’s the most important thing – to support.”
For newsrooms challenged by language and the LGBTQ community, Durhams said, “Whatever your rule is should not supersede the respect that is given to people when you call them by the name that they describe themselves by. A rule isn’t as important as giving people the due respect that they deserve.”
At the Freedom Forum, “Diversity and inclusion are in our DNA,” said Chair and Chief Executive Officer Jan Neuharth. Her father, Al Neuharth, founded USA TODAY as well as the Freedom Forum, which fosters First Amendment freedoms for all. Al Neuharth was known for promoting women and people of color at Gannett.
Mackenzie Warren, who manages training programs at Gannett, said that journalists often don’t reflect the communities they cover. Five years ago, Gannett created the Emerging Leaders program to help women and minorities develop the skills they need to be executives. “We are retaining 92 percent of those who were in the original program, and two thirds of the attendees have been promoted at their news organizations.”
Gloria Riviera of ABC News and The Press Forward, a group formed to improve newsroom culture in the aftermath of sexual harassment accusations against powerful journalists, said there is a need for conversations that empower new employees, some of whom may have just graduated college.
“I never had a course that told me how to enter the workforce and what I needed to do to gain success,” Riviera said.
The Missouri School of Journalism has been using the Power Shift’s Workplace Integrity Training to hold workshops for staff and faculty once a week since October, said associate professor Amy Simons. Simons estimated they have reached 85% of the staff with training designed to create respectful, supportive work environments.
“We do it to make change,” said David Kurpius, dean of journalism.
At POLITICO, Vice President of Human Resources Traci Schweikert said 2020 is the Year of the Ally. That will include employee outreach, coffee get-togethers and additional training with a focus on the themes of community, curiosity and compassion.
Don’t wait for there to be a program to mentor someone, Mossberg said. At The Wall Street Journal, he informally took new employees to lunch to show them the ins and outs of the newsroom.
NPR’s Allam cited what she called “the Anthony Shadid rule,” referring to the late New York Times reporter known for mentoring younger journalists. “My tiny way of keeping his memory alive is to do the same. Anybody who asks for a tour of NPR, can you review my clips, I will try to make time because I remember how much it meant to me as a young journalist.”
The Freedom Forum’s Power Shift Project was launched with the first Power Shift Summit in 2018 as a response to the #MeToo movement that revealed harassment and misconduct cases in the media industry. The project’s goal is to create workplaces free of harassment, discrimination and incivility and create opportunities for those who have traditionally been denied them.
The Power Shift will convene six Workplace Integrity: Train the Trainers sessions in 2020, most of them in Washington, D.C. One will be held in August 2020 in Chicago at Loyola University.
Find out more about Power Shift and how you and your organization can apply for training and benefit at www.powershiftproject.org