Diverse newsroom critical to accurately telling Pensacola’s stories. Here is my promise.

opinion

Pensacola is a diverse melting pot of cultures with an eclectic population base drawn to our beautiful community by the pristine beaches, bustling downtown and a walkable/bike-friendly community that appeals to millennials and baby boomers alike.

This is a community that calls people home, with generations of Pensacolians choosing to stay — or return — to raise their own families in the schools, the churches and the community that helped shape who they are. Add to that the ability for employees to work from anywhere in the country thanks to advances in remote technology, and we have a community that has experienced incredible growth.

Our community doesn’t look the same today as it might have looked a couple of decades ago, and we are stronger for it.

The shifting demographics requires a shift in how and what we report at the Pensacola News Journal. It requires our staff to think outside of our own bubble and to take active steps to ensure we are covering the community that makes up Pensacola today — the entire community.

We took tangible steps over the past year to ensure our journalists were expanding their outreach and coverage into more diverse neighborhoods. We created a community solutions reporting beat to focus on, among other topics, the issues and challenges that plague underserved communities. We created a community development beat to focus on community growth and change in our neighborhoods across Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

We set out several years ago to build a diverse workforce that was in parity with our community, and we have made significant gains. But gains are not good enough.

While our staff racial makeup is on par with the community — 31% of our journalists are of color compared to 30% of people in our community — our gender balance lags far behind. Our community is nearly 50% male and female, but our newsroom is just 25% female. We must do better.

These percentages are so much more than numbers that represent a target. These percentages represent the commonalities we share, as much as they do the differences that exist in any peer group. Unique challenges, values, strengths, privileges and biases are often a part of being surrounded by people who look and act just like you. 

It is vital that our staff represents the community we serve, or we will fail to serve our community accurately. This is not by intent, but human nature. We see the stories in the churches we attend, the neighborhoods we live in and the streets we drive. We see the challenges that our own families are experiencing and the successes of our neighbors.

We see what we expect to see through the lens of our own experiences and, frankly, our own implicit biases. 

Implicit bias is called “implicit” for a reason. You don’t realize you have it, and you don’t realize the damage you can do when it goes unchallenged. I would love to say that I don’t have any implicit biases, but like every one of us, I surely do. It’s just much easier to see when you’re on the receiving end.

When my son, Eduardo, was a freshman in high school, we moved from his childhood home to Indiana. He was a National Honor Society student, fluent German speaker and high-performing student, but his new guidance counselor assumed he was a Mexican migrant worker student based on the color of his skin and his name. She wouldn’t register him for classes beyond the current semester and assured me there were plenty of “hands-on classes” that he could take to make it through the year, refusing to register him for the AP classes he would need to attend college. We wasted a year having to prove what would have been taken for granted if he were not a Hispanic student.

She meant no ill will. In fact, she thought she was helping, and that’s the problem.   

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