Lariat staff members speak on diversity in the newsroom

Lariat advisers and staff members at a Zoom meeting on May 19. Bryce Jorgensen/Lariat

Like many other industries, it’s no secret that news publications have historically lacked diversity

Pew Research Center found in 2018 that journalism is less diverse than the United States workforce as a whole. The study stated that 77% of newsroom employees are non-Hispanic white and that the industry had a relatively higher percentage of male employees at 61%.

The prospect of more diverse newsrooms across the country has been long-awaited, but it’s still not here. In 1978, an American Society of News Reporters board member suggested that newsrooms should reflect the nation by 2000. That clearly hasn’t happened, even 20 years past the deadline.

While the mass media workforce still has to work to achieve its inclusivity goals, journalism schools look more diverse than they once were. The Lariat is one student publication that consists of a diverse staff.

People from different ethnic backgrounds, religions, and cultures make up Saddleback’s 14-person student newsroom. Several staff members come from historically underrepresented Latino and Asian groups, for example.

“To me, diversity is being different,” said Brandon Chavez, the art editor with the Lariat. “It’s okay to be different. I’ve always championed being different. It’s having your own culture, your own way of doing things, and standing out from the crowd.”

11 of the 14 Lariat staff members are female while three are male. Not exactly a 50/50 split, but possibly an equitable solution to balance the scales of the male-dominated journalistic workforce.

Katarina De Almeida, the Lariat editor-in-chief, noted her perspective as a woman in a position of power at a newspaper.

“For me, it’s really empowering,” De Almeida said. “It feels very empowering as a woman to be in a position like an editor-in-chief because it is a male-dominated base. A lot of journalists and reporters are male. I don’t have a female mentor myself, so I just take it as I go.”

With diversity in staff age and general interests, several varying subjects have been covered. Lariat staff has written about topics such as local happenings, social issues, sports, and the arts.

“I’m older, so I enjoy the opinions of young people,” said Martha Phillips, a copy editor on the Lariat staff. “I like their enthusiasm. I’m not into theme parks, but some people are. I think that’s really amazing.”

Lariat writers covered Disneyland extensively during its unprecedented closure amidst the pandemic, only the third in park history and the first to last over a year.

Although embraced by Lariat staff members, varying ideas, identities and beliefs aren’t always met with acceptance by the rest of the world. Yasmine Atta, the entertainment editor for the Lariat, recalls experiencing discrimination because she is Muslim.

“One time, I was at a grocery store, and I was wearing my headscarf because it was Eid,” Atta said. “I was getting looks from people, and I heard this snarky comment, someone saying ‘Take it off.’”

Lariat staff members have spoken out against discrimination on the basis of identity, religion, and other factors, such as with articles about police brutality and police reform.

“Diversity means no matter who you are, you are treated fairly,” said Sydney Cooks, a Lariat copy editor. “Everyone is equal.”

In a Pew study from 2020, 59% of respondents said that they do not feel understood by news outlets. Minorities, in particular, more commonly felt that the misunderstandings were based on their identity.

UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report from 2019 found that diversity and representation in the media is favorable to audiences. The prospect of more diversity at journalism schools and their corresponding newspapers, such as the Lariat, could serve as a catalyst to a more diverse journalist workforce.