I’m USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll, and this is The Backstory, insights into our biggest stories of the week. If you’d like to get The Backstory in your inbox every week, sign up here.
Women now make up the majority of the newsroom at USA TODAY.
In our latest survey on staff diversity, released today, women were 51.7% of all journalists. We also made strides in the percentage of Black (13.6%), Hispanic (10.1%) and Asian American (7%) journalists. Overall, the newsroom was 34% journalists of color.
We compare ourselves to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau data, the most recent available at the time of our survey, in which the population was 12.5% Black, 18.5% Hispanic and 5.8% Asian American. Overall, the nation was 39.9% people of color.
Our survey does not include data on sexual orientation or gender identity at this time.
Our goal is to reflect the diversity of the U.S. by 2025, so while we’ve made progress, we still have work to do. To be able to fully and accurately report the stories of our country, we must reflect it.
It’s a proud moment to see the progress we’ve made in hiring and retaining women, particularly women of color, to reach this milestone.
“It matters because the news industry records history and for a very long time that history has been written from a male gaze,” said Holly Moore, USA TODAY Network planning director. “People in newsrooms are making decisions about what’s covered, who’s interviewed and the language we use to tell stories. Having more women in those conversations is key to presenting the most accurate version of history.”
Some may rightly say, “What took you so long?”
USA TODAY was founded in 1982. Around that time, women made up about 34% of newsroom staff in U.S. newspapers, researchers David H. Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit reported in the 1986 book, “The American Journalist,” a number that would only inch up the next 20 years.
In 1991, the earliest our records go, women were 27.6% of the USA TODAY newsroom; by 2001, we were at 29%.
“I recall that women were always about one-third of the newsroom’s total professionals, which pretty much aligned our newsroom with the newspaper industry,” said Wanda Lloyd, a senior editor who worked at USA TODAY from 1986 to 1996 and author of “Coming Full Circle: From Jim Crow to Journalism.” “I was proud to work in a newsroom where women were leaders in all sections. At one time or another in the early years, women held the top positions in News, Life, International, USA WEEKEND, Cover Stories and the Editorial Page.”
USA TODAY and its owner, Gannett, were early champions of newsroom diversity, but the number of women at USA TODAY and in the industry stayed at about a third for years.
Women make up the majority of journalism school graduates, and often women make up the majority of entry-level newsroom staffers. So why was the industry number not moving?
Part of the reason is that a number of female J-school graduates choose careers in public relations or related fields, said Kristin Gilger, a professor at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
“But if you look at those who are taking newsroom jobs out of college, the number of men and women is about equal. The numbers are still about equal five years into their careers, but then they begin dropping over time until, 20 years later, newsrooms become predominately male.”
Newsrooms were almost 60% male in the most recent News Leaders Association survey from 2019.
Conventional wisdom has it that women leave the industry to have children, but Gilger says the truth is more complicated. She examined the issue in a 2019 book she co-wrote about about women in journalism, “There’s No Crying in Newsrooms: What Women Have Learned About What it Takes to Lead.”
“Women drop out for many reasons – overload, fatigue, family obligations and the chance to make more money doing something else among them. But the biggest reasons, I think, are twofold. First, they don’t have the support they need — flexible work schedules, day care, help at home — conducive to working in news and raising children,” she said.
“Second, they discover the playing field just isn’t equal. They see their male counterparts being promoted, making more money and getting more recognition and better assignments while they’re dealing with not just the usual demands of a newsroom but also all the gender-related issues women face in their jobs (such as attacks on social media and sexual harassment). At some point, usually about 10 or 15 years into their careers, they ask themselves ‘Is this really worth it?’ and they leave.”
None of this is unique to media organizations – or to any organization that has traditionally been dominated by men, she adds. “But newsroom culture, which is rooted in a very macho ethos, has been particularly slow to evolve.”
When I was pregnant with my son, now 16, I went in to tell my male editor. His face fell. He said, “We had such high hopes for you.” Shocked, it took me a few beats to respond. I finally stammered, “And you still should.”
So many times in years past, men would make decisions for women that they never knew about. When discussing breaking news that would involve travel, someone would say, “We can’t send her, she has kids.” Or when talking about an out-of-state job opening, “She wouldn’t want it, her husband has a good job here.”
I would politely point out, “That’s really not your decision to make. Let’s ask her.”
“Women lift as they climb,” said USA TODAY Life editor Laura Trujillo. “They show each other a path. They look out for each other. They understand each other in a way that is different.”
When Michelle Maltais, managing editor for consumer, tech and travel, first joined USA TODAY, she reported to a Black female editor, the first Black manager she’d had in her career.
“It offered a sense of inclusivity, of mentorship, and I see that reflected in the role I’m playing now with other journalists of color,” said Maltais, who is Black. “Being able to see yourself in a role that has responsibility allows you to dream big.”
Men, of course, make a difference as well.
Some of my earliest and best mentors were men. Al Neuharth, who founded USA TODAY, left a legacy as a champion for hiring and promoting women and journalists of color.
“It’s a source of pride that, in an industry where top female news executives remain notable exceptions, we have a long track record of recruiting and promoting women,” said Maribel Perez Wadsworth, publisher of USA TODAY and president of news for the USA TODAY Network. “Our news report is no doubt enriched and strengthened by their perspectives, as it is by our overall commitment to inclusion.”
So what’s next? We have more work to do. At USA TODAY, we want our newsroom diversity to mirror national demographics in the next four years. Our local newsrooms aim to achieve parity with their local population.
That means recruiting and retaining the very best talent in the country, fostering inclusive newsrooms where all feel welcome, spreading out opportunities and making sure diverse voices are heard and acted upon.
“I’m incredibly proud of the work we’re doing as female and BIPOC leaders in our newsroom, and the numbers show we’ve clearly come a long way,” said Roxanna Scott, managing editor for USA TODAY Sports.“But it’s not the time to pat ourselves on the back, because our work never stops.
“There are always those who feel marginalized and under-represented in our pages and in our coverage. Identifying our blind spots is still an important part of our jobs as newsroom leaders.”