American journalism today is predated by a long history of discrimination, inequity and inaccessibility that not only manifests itself in modern newsrooms – including our own – but also actively instructs today’s journalistic practices and definitions of objectivity.

The diversification of newsrooms alone is by no means sufficient in creating equitable, fair journalism, nor does it ensure that these spaces are safe, welcoming and accessible. However, diverse backgrounds and perspectives are necessary for the production of stories that accurately, fairly and empathetically represent diverse communities. For this reason, at the end of Fall Quarter 2020, the North by Northwestern editorial staff conducted the publication’s first quarterly diversity report survey.

At North by Northwestern, we recognize the importance of a diverse newsroom and an inclusive environment. But we also recognize our failure to be transparent about the demographics of our own newsroom thus far. We owe immense gratitude and respect to the Daily Northwestern for setting an example with the publication of their first newsroom diversity report in 2018, in which they called on other campus publications to follow suit. The importance of publishing this report now and our regret in waiting this long to do so cannot be overstated.

The Survey

The survey was distributed to the entirety of North by Northwestern’s staff, along with our freelance writers and contributors. The anonymous survey included questions about students’ gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexuality, religious affiliation, low-income and/or first-generation college student status and more. None of these questions were mandatory; students who declined to answer specific questions are listed in our data representation with the notation: “prefer not to say.”

In total, 101 students completed the survey, with 36 working as print staff and freelance contributors and 63 working as web staff and freelance contributors. Two additional students identified themselves as North by Northwestern writers without specifying belonging to either the print or web sections of the publication. In total, 46 students identified themselves as a member of our editorial staff (23 for print, 23 for web) and 47 students identified themselves as freelance contributors (11 for print, 34 for web). Two members of NBN’s print magazine and six members of NBN’s website did not identify whether or not they belonged to the publication’s staff or served as freelance contributors. This accounts for the difference between the combined total number of print and web members (99) and the combined total number of editorial staff and freelance contributors (93). Unsurprisingly, the vast majority – at roughly 74% – of our staff and freelance writers identified Medill as their primary school at Northwestern.

Due to the anonymity of the survey, we cannot confirm that every NBN staff member completed the survey. Further, there is no record of the total number of North by Northwestern freelance contributors. Therefore, although this survey was distributed through various means of communication and highly encouraged by the Editor in Chief and Print Managing Editor, it is likely that not every staff member and freelance contributor is represented in these results. However, the number of responses indicate that a majority of our staff and writers completed the survey. For the sake of analysis and for ease of understanding, the 101 survey recipients will most often be represented as a singular metric of North by Northwestern at large.

In creating the survey, our editorial staff made a number of errors that we note here for the sake of transparency. For starters, we did not specify for students to list the names of the languages they speak, so three students wrote in, numerically, how many languages they speak. Further, we did not ask for people to list their year at Northwestern, a data point that could have served for more detailed analysis based on individual undergraduate Northwestern class demographics.

Additionally, this survey lacked a question regarding whether students identify as disabled. At North by Northwestern, we recognize the struggles of disabled students on this campus, and apologize for any harm that we caused by neglecting to include this element of identity in our data. We also plan to continue working to make North by Northwestern more accessible, both for our staff members and for our readers. For instance, moving forward, we hope to implement image descriptions/alternative text for those who use screen reading and closed captioning on any video content we publish.

For future diversity reports, we plan to edit and improve the survey to account for these mistakes.

Important Takeaways

Race & Ethnicity

North by Northwestern’s newsroom – including both our print and web sections – is considerably white, with 40.6% of the 101 participants identifying as such. Based on data from fall 2019, Northwestern’s Evanston undergraduate population was about 43.8% white. While our demographic data roughly mirrors that of the University, it is important to note that the racial makeup of a predominantly white, private institution of higher education is not a fair or accurate marking of diversity.

Asian and/or Asian American students were the second most represented racial demographic on staff (although, again, we recognize that representation does not ensure equity), with 34.7% of our members identifying as such (compared to Northwestern’s undergraduate total of 18.4%). About 5.9% of our staff identified themselves as Latinx and/or Hispanic (compared to Northwestern’s 12.5%). This count excludes individuals who identified themselves as Latinx and/or Hispanic and white, who were noted in the “two or more races” data category. North by Northwestern also recognizes the clear and important distinction between Latinx and Hispanic identities, along with the colonialist roots of the term Hispanic. It was not our intention to equate these two identifiers by listing them together. Regardless, it is clear that Latinx and/or Hispanic students are underrepresented at North by Northwestern.

Black students’ representation within North by Northwestern was dishearteningly low, at 2% (compared to Northwestern’s 5.7%). This data suggests that our newsroom might have failed to provide a safe, welcoming and comfortable environment for Black students at Northwestern. Our overwhelming whiteness indicates a failure to prioritize the inclusion of Black voices in our newsroom. We acknowledge that our coverage of Northwestern activism and events primarily organized by Black students is a privilege, and that extending trust to our fellow students who identify as such is vital.

Students identifying as Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and Middle Eastern and/or North African are also vastly underrepresented at North by Northwestern. Only one student of each identity is a member of NBN, according to our survey.

Furthermore, roughly 14.9% of our members identified themselves as holding two or more racial identities.

According to our survey data on race and ethnicity, the editorial staff of North by Northwestern is less diverse – and far more white – than our freelance writers and contributors. While an overwhelming 50% of our editorial staff identifies as white, white students make up only 36.2% of our freelance writers and contributors. The existence of diverse perspectives among our editorial staff is imperative to ensure fair and accurate coverage of diverse communities, as well as to guarantee that these campus communities are being represented in the first place. While we are proud of the relative diversity of our freelance writers and contributors, relative diversity is not enough. Both the editorial staff and freelance writers and contributors of North by Northwestern are majority white and Asian and/or Asian American.

Gender Identity

Nearly three quarters of our staff identifies as female, while 19% identifies as male. Another imprecision in our surveying methods was failing to ask whether staffers identified as cis or trans men or women. The response option was long response, so some but not all students specified, leaving our results partly incomplete. Roughly 4.1% of students surveyed identified as genderfluid, gender-nonconforming or non-binary.

While Northwestern only collects data for male and female students, it is clear that non-conforming gender identities are underrepresented among North by Northwestern’s members. In an effort to normalize identities outside the gender binary, our initial training sessions for staffers includes asking interviewees what pronouns our staffers should use in publication, and creating inclusive spaces for reporters through affinity spaces.

Sexual Orientation

About 60% of our staff identify as heterosexual, with about 40% identifying as LGBTQ+. Since the response option was long response, students specified their sexual orientation at their own discretion. Additionally, not all respondents included sexual orientation, but 89 out of 101 did. While a majority of our members identify as heterosexual, North By Northwestern continues to strive to create a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students. Our newsroom also looks to further include more members from the community with differing perspectives that North By Northwestern lacks. It’s important to note that while about 40% of our staff identify as LGBTQ+, representation within these statistics can increase as well, specifically among students who identify as lesbians, gay, asexual, queer, and additional sexualities included in the community but not listed in responses.

Languages Spoken

Our staffers speak a variety of second languages other than English. We combined Chinese and Mandarin into one category given that some students used the terms interchangeably. Nearly a quarter of our staff speaks Mandarin or a Chinese dialect, followed closely by Spanish, with 23 people reporting that they speak Spanish. These two languages were most commonly reported, with French being the third most with 11 speakers. Staffers listed about a dozen other languages, spoken by 1-3 people each, including Portuguese, Hindi, Vietnamese and Tamil.

Religious Affiliation

Note: Because the response option was long response, it was up to us to make certain classification choices. We tried to establish standard criteria to distinguish each category, though we sometimes had to place students into the categories we felt made the most sense for classification purposes.

The largest number of responses (23) fell into a category that we designated as, “None, N/A or not practicing.” Because the response option on the form was long response, we had a variety of students indicate they were atheist/agnostic/not practicing although they were raised with a religion. Those students were classified into the categories of “Atheist,” “Agnostic,” or “None, N/A, or not practicing” depending on their specific response. Students who identified with a religion largely identified with Abrahamic religions, most often Christian denominations or Judaism. Many students identified as Agnostic (18) or Atheist (9). Students who did not respond were listed as “Prefer not to say.”

We do not represent many religions other than Christianity and Judaism, which certainly creates gaps in coverage and representation that we hope to rectify.

First Generation & Low-Income Students

First generation students made up approximately 10.9% of North by Northwestern’s members (compared to Northwestern’s 13.5%, as of fall 2019). Approximately 20% of North by Northwestern’s members identified themselves as low-income students. Northwestern typically refers to first generation and low-income students under the umbrella acronym of “FGLI.” However, our survey asked for students’ status as a first generation student or low-income student separately to emphasize that these identities can exist both in conjunction with and independently from one another.

Moving Forward

While publishing the results of our diversity survey is a step toward fairness and equity in our newsroom and in our coverage, there is much more to be done. It is clear that we must expand North by Northwestern’s current radius of outreach to diverse communities on campus, specifically by forming closer connections with organizations such as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists and more. In fact, the formation of trustful relationships between our newsroom and identity-based organizations on campus is vital in achieving accurate representations. We recognize that these relationships take work – we are willing to put in the time and effort to do so (by attending different organization meetings, learning/educating ourselves, etc.). However, we recognize the danger of tokenization as we seek to diversify our newsroom. We wish to communicate to diverse communities on campus that their voices and perspectives are valued by North by Northwestern.

This past quarter we introduced our first “inclusive and empathetic journalism” presentation. North by Northwestern editorial staff and freelance writers and contributors attended a mandatory training on how to report on and edit sensitive coverage of different subjects, experiences and identities. We plan to continue these trainings quarterly, and work to expand our knowledge base on scope of information along the way, particularly to include resources for reporting as someone with a marginalized identity (e.g., resources for BIPOC and/or LGBTQ+ journalists). With additional training, we hope that individual section editors will have the capacity to work more closely with individual writers and contributors to make their coverage more accurate and inclusive. This, in part, is to shift the burden of education partially off diversity editors, who have historically been people of color tasked with educating a predominantly white newsroom. By delegating this labor to more people, we hope to lessen the individual burden on our diversity editor(s).

In closing, we would like to recognize the importance of challenging traditional ideas of objectivity that force student journalists to neutralize subjects that directly affect them and their community. We also wish to question traditional ideas of “conflicts of interest,” specifically as they pertain to campus activism. Students should not be asked to choose between their role as a reporter covering pertinent campus topics and their role as a student invested in what they see as being in the best interest of their campus community. We understand that “objectivity” is often used synonymously with “acceptance of the status quo.” We do not accept this definition, nor do we accept the idea that journalism should be driven by such a principle. At North by Northwestern, we aspire to rebuild the trust between diverse communities that so many newsrooms around the country – including our own – have betrayed before.