Journalism groups: Make the Pulitzers open only to news orgs that are transparent about their diversity

What could nudge news organizations, reluctant or unmotivated to share diversity information, into being more transparent? A group of journalism organizations thinks putting the industry’s most prestigious awards on the line could be the answer.

A new open letter signed by dozens of professional journalism organizations, nonprofits, and labor unions asks the Pulitzer Prizes to add language requiring newsrooms to participate in the News Leaders Association’s annual diversity survey (or similar) by 2024 in order to be considered for their journalism awards.

The open letter cites reporting in Nieman Lab that though NLA sought responses from 2,500 news organizations for this year’s survey, just 303 newsrooms responded. The signees include professional organizations like Society of Professional Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, National Association of Black Journalists, Native American Journalists Association, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, LION Publishers, and Institute for Nonprofit News — as well as a host of individual news organizations, including Vox and Spotlight PA.

The open letter, sent on Friday morning, was organized by Sisi Wei, co-executive director of OpenNews, and Jon Schleuss, president of The NewsGuild. (We’ve reached out to the Pulitzer Prizes for comment, and will update with their response.)

Wei and Schleuss sought counsel from NLA — which gave its support to the participation clause — and Meredith Clark, the professor at Northeastern University who has run the diversity survey since 2018, as they drafted the letter. After reaching out to professional organizations and groups, the two took additional suggestions to clear up the language and “make sure the criteria we were asking for was both firm and generous,” Wei said.

Here’s the open letter, as sent on Friday morning:

“The most incredible feedback we got was that other groups had thought of this idea as well, and they were excited that someone was finally taking action,” Wei said. “While we came upon the idea to start with the Pulitzers, so have many others.”

The organizers are still adding to the list of signees. They plan to release a second version, next week, with a list of individual journalists and news leaders who have given their support.

“There’s been overwhelming support for this, which has been so inspiring. Newsrooms were supposed to have a ‘reckoning’ after the murder of George Floyd, and yet, here we are in 2022 seeing that so few organizations want to even be transparent about their own newsroom diversity,” Wei said. “This small step would be a big push towards helping our newsrooms serve the communities they cover.”

Illustration of the Pulitzer Prize’s gold medal by Nicoletta Barolini.

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