Sincerely, Leaders of Color: There is no pipeline problem

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Instead, a problem exists in how the industry treats historically marginalized journalists in the hiring process.

Commitments, Not Predictions: As we start 2022, Sincerely, Leaders of Color asked our fellow leaders, allies, and rebels — of all colors — to make commitments and promises for the year ahead, and how they’ll contribute to making safer, healthier newsrooms for all journalists of color. Here’s what they said. This special series is presented with support from The American Press Institute.

There is no pipeline problemPeriodt.

There is, however, a problem with the hiring process. Lots of problems, actually.

To own my part in this system, this year I commit to helping solve this problem in hopes of diversifying our newsrooms, especially leadership. But that doesn’t mean you simply send me your job listings and be done with it.

This is a problem we all – regardless of what level of experience you have – need to take on.

Let me say this, journalists of color need to take active steps and apply for open jobs. While the hiring process is problematic, we, journalists of color, can’t complain about the lack of diversity in leadership and newsrooms if we aren’t making the effort to be in those positions.

Now let’s be real, that is one challenge but it is nowhere near the biggest obstacle in diversifying newsrooms.

In a recent, informal survey, I asked dozens of journalists of color about their experiences when applying for journalism jobs. What I heard was frustration.

This told me, again, that there is no pipeline problem, but their answers identified many, many hiring process problems.

While I commit to encouraging people to apply, I want those in a position to hire to make their own commitment to do better in the process.

Here’s what I think hiring managers need to do first:

First, when crafting the job posting, don’t ask for the moon. Be honest about what skills you truly need and what you value. Asking for everything not only turns away people who believe each facet of the job description is real, but it also pushes away qualified applicants who may suffer from imposter syndrome – these tend to be women and people of color.

What are you asking for in the applications? Resume, clips, references are a given. But one of the largest complaints from the applicants I spoke to was the extra, unpaid work they had to do while applying. That means taking an hours-long test or giving the hiring company original ideas they could use and benefit from, without paying the applicant. Many people told me about the hours they poured into the process only to not get hired, but to see their original ideas used afterwards.

If you are going to ask for unpaid labor, buy your finalists at least a cup of coffee. This may sound like a crazy idea, but if you really need your candidates to do genuine work for you, as stated above, show them you value their effort by buying them at least a cup of coffee via a gift card or something. Hell, you want to be truly fair, pay them the hourly, minimum wage for the estimated time it takes to complete your application. When you don’t offer any compensation, it telegraphs a culture of exploitation in your organization.

Even if you have the best intentions, don’t ask for your friend/colleague of color to share your job listing with their “diverse network” – especially if you haven’t spoken to them in a while. This communicates a clear message that you aren’t really committed to hiring a diverse candidate. That act feels reminiscent of the NFL’s problematic Rooney Rule.

Let’s be blunt: Pay people (a cup of coffee goes a long way) for asking them to help you diversify your newsroom. I am proud of my network and it has been years of work to build it and you want access to it for free?

You want me to do work and help solve your problem of a non-diverse news organization that can’t attract diverse candidates? Think about what that communicates.

Instead of that ask, try this: ask your friend/colleague of color for advice on how you could diversify your own network – but remember you have to do the work. This is not a quick fix just so you can hire someone. This is an intentional, genuine act that benefits you and your organization a lot more than an immediate hire.


Diversify who you follow on social. How? Look at diverse people you respect and currently follow and see who they follow.

Commit to engage and respectfully participate in diverse locations, being aware that you are new to these spaces and there to learn. How? Attend, in-person or virtually, conferences like the NAHJAAJANABJNAJANLGJA and countless others. More than once.

Listen. How? In any form, whether networking or reading social, listen and read the room on how candidates of color are and are not being treated. Some of us are willing to speak to you in an effort to improve newsroom culture but others are tired. If you value those discussions, buy them a coffee and listen.

The biggest complaint I heard from candidates was the ghosting. Whether it was HR or the person who actively recruited them to apply, every one of the people I spoke to said that communication just dropped, despite them checking in.

In one case the CEO recruited a candidate, so they applied. They didn’t even get an interview and were ghosted by the organization and CEO who recruited them. You are only hiring one candidate, so you face a challenge with the rest of the candidates: will you either burn those bridges or foster a genuine network that will help you in the future?

No one – especially journalists of color – wants to work at your news organization that has a reputation of mistreating their employees and has seen the diverse talent flee. And no person of color wants to share your listing to other diverse candidates to have to be mistreated.

We all want this industry to improve and reflect the diverse reality of our communities.

Hiring is the first step to solving these problems. It’s arguably the easiest problem to solve, compared to retention, promotion, and fostering a healthy newsroom work environment.

I can’t commit to making your news organization treat their employees better (yet) but I do commit to helping newsrooms hire the countless talented diverse journalists, some graduating from my program and other academic institutions across the country.

But I just laid out what the hiring process should be doing for people rather than what I am committed to do myself.

I am fortunate to have a strong, wide, diverse network that engages with different aspects of the hiring process, but the bottomline is I am not the one hiring or applying the process.

That said, I have a role to play.

I commit to holding myself, colleagues, network, and applicants to this framework I outline.

When someone shares a job listing with me, I will interrogate them about the skills required in the description, the level of pay, and what they have done to attract diverse candidates. And, while I may share the link with my network, I need to be proactive and recruit – which I do, but not for every job. I will tell the hiring manager to be aware of how they communicate with candidates and ask them to buy coffee when they require finalists to do a lot of extra work. I will also ask for “a finders fee” that I will charge only if any of my candidates apply for their position. And that fee will immediately get Venmo’d to any candidates I recruit. Let them enjoy some coffee after applying for this position. The only ask that will benefit me is one I ask of everyone I help get a job: once you get your first paycheck, buy me a drink – Makers Mark + Ginger Ale + two limes.

There is no pipeline problem.

There is a problem of how you are treating the people in the pipeline, especially when attempting to hire them.


Robert Hernandez

This is a guest column, solicited by P. Kim Bui and Emma Carew Grovum and edited by Kim. We want to make sure to include voices from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. If you’re interested in guest writing, or have someone you’d love to hear from, let us know here. It was originally posted online here:

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