Charting A Sustainable Path for
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
Within Media Companies

This Toolkit for Implementing Systematic Changes Towards Equitable Representation in Media Companies is meant to be a resource for media companies committed to remedying imbalanced systems of power and representation within their organization's content and culture.

 

While we use food media as the case study for this toolkit, these learnings apply to media organizations at large, regardless of industry focus.

This toolkit builds off of the learnings of our Toolkit for Recognizing, Disrupting, and Preventing Tokenism in Media.

If you are looking for workshops and trainings based on this topic for your organization, you can read more about working with us here, and email us at hello@studioatao.org.

Initiative Overview

Toolkit for Recognizing, Disrupting, and Preventing Tokenism in Media

Toolkit for Implementing Systematic Changes Towards Equitable Representation in Media Publications

White Paper: DEI at The Kitchn

White Paper: DEI at Well+Good

Equitable Representation in Media Initiative
 

Introduction: Food Media’s 2020 “Reckoning”

 

Some have referred to 2020 as a time of “reckoning” within the food media industry. After the murder of George Floyd prompted the largest movement in U.S. history with the Black Lives Matter protests, food media outlets small and large released public statements denouncing racism and promising to stand in solidarity with BIPOC. Many were immediately criticized for the performative nature of these words, as discrimination remained rampant within the organizations themselves. Most notably, Bon Appétit Magazine came under fire for a culture of toxicity and pay discrimination against BIPOC employees, leading to a public dissolution of the existing Test Kitchen team and the departure of long-time Editor-in-Chief Adam Rapoport.

 

Since then, food media organizations have rallied around new goals of DEI, such as crediting recipe sources, distributing open calls for pitches from BIPOC writers, creating diversity task forces, and greenlighting more “political” food content. However, a great deal of this change has fallen on individuals within each organization, without programmatic, systematic, and institutional processes that align organizational goals with DEI initiatives.

 

Still untouched is the necessary unraveling of incentivization and revenue structures that reward discriminatory practices and systemically limit BIPOC access and power. To date, most national food media outlets have almost exclusively white leadership teams; only a small handful of exceptions exist, typically as independent publications like Whetstone Magazine, LA Taco, Peddler Journal, and For the Culture Magazine.

Ultimately, our intention with this toolkit is to:

  1. Identify common challenges food media staffers are facing in their efforts to improve DEI within their organizations.

  2. Offer potential solutions for systematic overhaul of existing organizational structures, drawing from the ideas of our Experimental Salon participants, public event panelists and guests, and individuals within the food media industry.

 

We have divided these challenges and opportunities into the three arcs of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Within each are separate sections on improving the Content of food media, or the experiences of People working within food media. We aim for this toolkit to offer enough detail to support food media organizations on both short-term execution and long-term implementation of these proposed solutions.

Diversity: Attracting & Representing Marginalized Talent

In the Introduction, we described how the food media “reckoning” of 2020 resulted in an industry-wide scramble to initiate DEI-related programming, often relying heavily on the unpaid emotional labor of a small number of individuals. In this section on Diversity, we discuss what organization-wide practices should be implemented to mitigate bias and exclusion, so that more voices are given the platform (and paid) to share the stories and recipes that reflect their talent. 

 

According to the Oxford Dictionary, diversity is defined as: "the practice or quality of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, orientations, etc." In the context of food media, we use the term "diversity" to refer to:

  • Diverse Content: A broad scope of published content that is representative of and shares the perspectives of many different types of people.

  • Diverse Organization: The presence of a varied group of people within an organization that has the access and power to affect important decisions.

Through our conversations and events with the food media community, we identified five key obstacles to improving diversity along the two axes above. 

  1. Content quotes have the potential to be othering, subjective, and inconsistently enforced. 

  2. "Diverse content" is often limited to specific types of stories and voices, such as the personal narrative. 

  3. Food media is an insular and limited network of people. 

  4. Food media's current hiring processes don't open the doors wide enough. 

  5. Food media is not incentivized to build lasting relationships with BIPOC freelancers.

Content

Obstacle 1: Quotas are only as good as the people who enforce them. 

 

In order to encourage diverse editorial content, executives have created implicit or explicit content quotas, often by requiring a certain percentage of stories to reflect certain marginalized backgrounds. But these quotas can backfire and limit how much "diverse" content is selected for coverage; certain pieces that share topical characteristics as others (see example below) can be deemed by leadership to be "repetitive." As one participant explained: 

“There's an endless stream of ‘differentiated’ content when it comes to [the south of] France or [individual cities in] Italy...but then they say, ‘We can’t run this roti recipe from the southern part of India, because we ran a recipe from the northern part of India a month ago.'"

 

Quotas can also “other” this type of content (and consequently, their writers and developers) as distinct from “regular” content. Under this framework, whether intentional or not, "diverse" content feels restricted to only certain times of the year (like heritage months) or to fit specific packages, thus making its continued relevance to, and support from, the organization unpredictable and/or uncertain. 

“Even if [a quota required that] 50% of the content would represent BIPOC, I pointed out that would mean 50% of our content is still white."

- Editor & Salon Participant

“When diversity is met with a number, the response becomes, ‘We took care of it for the year. Let’s move on.’”

- Editor & Salon Participant

Proposed Solutions

 

Focus on diversifying who is able to set and evaluate content mandates, like quotas. Eliminate the single gatekeeper by redistributing the power to greenlight, veto, and override content, to more BIPOC and junior-level staffers with a broader range of perspectives. This can be done through a formal promotion, a scope of work change, or the removal of layers of approval, among other actions. 


For example, even if a junior staffer does not specifically have assigning duties, offer them visible ways to edit and shape new content. Given that many newsrooms have "open" pitch and content meetings, consider what power structures prevent and/or encourage active participation from certain employees. Read more about mapping power structures here.

While quotas can be useful to assess progress towards a goal, quotas themselves do not drive sustained change. For example, setting target percentages of BIPOC contributors and expecting this number to grow at a certain rate each month can be, as one participant expressed, "a tangible way of holding ourselves accountable." At another publication, a random selection of digital and print stories from the last 2 and 5 years, respectively, are being audited by an outside party to determine if internal changes had actually resulted in different outcomes. Quotas must always be followed by data-driven actions that continue to redistribute and broaden power structures within the organization.

Clearly define, in writing, what is considered to be "diverse" and lay out guidelines on how to diversify all content.  Diversity extends beyond race into aspects like socioeconomic background, orientation, religion, and immigration status. (See: intersectionality in the Glossary.) Content strategy should be oriented around incorporating more diverse aspects into all stories, rather than carving out a set space for "diverse" content. More on this in the second problem, below! 

“Until people are actively willing to let other people in the door, conversations on diversity and equity will remain a circular argument.”

- Editor and Salon Participant

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Obstacle 2: "Diverse stories" are often limited to personal narratives. 

As mentioned in our first toolkit on food media, BIPOC-focused stories tend to be told in certain formats—primarily personal essays on overcoming hardship or growing up with a specific cultural heritage. Content diversity often does not account for BIPOC stories in the form of reported pieces, listicles, or general news. Similarly, "diverse" recipe content often fixate on history, "authenticity," and tradition. Cultural dishes are written as unchanging and unevolving, and can result in erroneously retrofitting new creations as part of existing cultural narratives.

These are symptomatic of a larger problem: Editorial leadership tends to share similar backgrounds and perspectives. In addition to race, homogenous alma maters, fields of study, peer networks, and former workplaces all can give rise to certain patterns in what types of pitches are accepted, how stories are framed, which ingredients need substitutes, what aspects of recipes are believed to require an "explainer," and what visuals are used to accompany each piece.

 

Additionally, a "diverse" piece of content can still lack diverse sources and experts. Often, those with the most money, resources, and/or proximity to food media networks will be included in a story. As former Grub Street editor Sierra Tishgart explained: 

 

“Press likes to report on what’s brand new, and there’s constant newness coming from people with the funding to constantly revamp a restaurant, redo a tasting menu, and open a fast-casual arm of their business."

“Early on, I noticed how [other Bon Appétit editors] gravitated toward the same aesthetic, cuisines, and chefs—and how little we had in common."

- Elyse Inamine, formerly of Bon Appétit

“So often in journalism, we're rushed to source quotes [to push out stories], and end up including chefs and restaurants that can get back to us most quickly...meaning those who can afford PR teams.”

- Kat Kinsman, Food & Wine

Proposed Solutions

Solicit diverse content from the ground-up via pitches, rather than relying on assignments from the top-down, to reduce editors' influence in predetermining content. In particular, encourage a wide breadth of content types within a larger content packages, such as reported commentary, op-eds, interviews, and roundups. This extends to recipe content as well: give room for writers to experiment with cooking ideas that may draw from cultural ideas without being beholden to representing one specific dish, cuisine, or culinary tradition. Read more about structuring pitch guidelines here.

Be explicit that diverse sources are the cornerstone of a good story, as well as a required standard for all content pieces. This has not historically been asked of writers; to make this an industry priority, participants agreed that editors must also be willing to offer support and flexibility (e.g. reaching into their own networks for leads or extending deadlines). Sometimes, editors may need to nudge writers to reevaluate when and why someone is (or is not) willing to be an 'expert'. As one participant recounted, “BIPOC sources will say, ‘This isn’t my exact area of expertise, so I’ll refer you to someone else’ whereas white sources often respond with: ‘Sure, I’ll talk about that’ [even if it’s not their area of expertise].”

People

Obstacle 3: Media can feel like an insiders' club.  

The insular and/or overlapping peer networks of those in positions of power limit an organization's ability to reach a wider and more diverse net of freelancers and staff members (e.g., writers, photographers, stylists). However, editors are increasingly tasked with finding new freelance creatives, especially BIPOC, without adequate support systems.

When hiring for staff, these network effects are further exacerbated by systems such as internal referral programs and arbitrary job requirements. For example, one participant shared that almost everyone hired through referrals at their organization was white. Another participant pointed out that certain long-held requirements—such as requiring a Bachelor's degree for a junior-level writer—are not necessarily indicative of ability or fit for the job, and automatically exclude many networks of potential candidates.

“We need to be actively reaching out to those who may not consider themselves ‘writers’ or ‘qualified’ to write about food."

- Editor-in-Chief & Salon Participant

“[When it comes to hiring], it feels like we’re trading chess pieces, which is definitely not conducive to change.”

- Editor & Salon Participant

Proposed Solutions

 

Document and prioritize the process of finding and developing relationships with new freelancers. This can include compiling resources (e.g., online directories like Equity At The Table), allocating budget for editors to buy independent magazines that feature emerging creatives, and deliberately carving out time each month for assigning editors to connect with emerging BIPOC professionals (as mentioned in our first toolkit). Several publications are also creating spreadsheets or databases to record freelancers they have developed relationships with. Even if some of these freelancers have yet to formally work with the organization, if/when the publication has a package or story well-suited for that freelancer, their information is handy. 

For example, multiple editors mentioned that they've had success with offering designated time slots, through a publicly-accessible Calendly, where early-career writers can have a 1:1 with them, as suggested in our last toolkit. Specifically, they've made these signup links available on their social media profiles (e.g., Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter) or in mentorship organizations' databases like Digital Women Leaders.

Some organizations have created specific goals for how many new BIPOC freelancers they want to work with each month or quarter. One organization meets monthly to evaluate their existing freelancer network, evaluate what perspectives may be missing, and intentionally seek out new writers to rectify these gaps. These targets run the risk of becoming quotas when unaccompanied by a deeper commitment to deepen these relationships over time. Read more in about investing in long-term relationships here.

Audit current job descriptions and requirements to change or remove aspects that may be unnecessary and implicitly exclusionary, e.g. educational degrees, geographic location, or resumes altogether (in favor of detailed cover letters). This also extends to the interview process; for example, one participant explained that a candidate for an Assistant Editor role should be evaluated on their ability to review recipes, not pitch a series or a package, when would not be a part of their actual role. Read more about developing equitable hiring practices here.

Resource: HR tech company Lever encourages an impact-oriented approach to writing job descriptions that avoids copious requirements and non-inclusive language, and instead focuses on what candidates will own, teach, learn, and improve on the job.

If referral programs exist, be explicit about the diversity criteria for new hires. In one organization, the Human Resources team deliberately asks employees to refer candidates from systematically discriminated backgrounds. While some participants were concerned that such a recruitment strategy may make candidates feel tokenized, others argued that organizations cannot fix the issue of representation without pointed efforts to bring in diverse talent.

“[Mainstream] food media needs to be paying more attention to [independent] food publications, because what our publications are doing is presenting a new guard of talent, finding new voices, and establishing new audiences.”

- Editor-in-Chief and Salon Participant

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Obstacle 4: Current hiring processes don't open the door wide enough 

Existing hiring processes were not designed equitably. Evaluation procedures such as interviews (especially those with questions that have little to do with the role and/or candidate's capacity to do the role) and edit tests can be unnecessarily burdensome to candidates, perpetuate biases, and concentrate decision-making power in the hands of a few hiring managers. Beyond the non-inclusive language in job descriptions, the common use of an unpaid edit test present another structural barrier for candidates that could use the time for opportunities that will be compensated. 

Many hiring managers are being asked to design and lead an equitable and inclusive hiring process, but they are not receiving structured training to do so — or being appropriately resourced. As one of our editors put it below, "Hiring is a full-time job." Additionally, putting major hiring decisions into the hands of one person naturally replicates certain preferences, regardless of good intentions.

“Hiring is a full-time job on top of my full-time job. The onus shouldn't be on [the hiring manager] to be teaching themselves how to hire inclusively."

- Editor & Salon Participant

“We need to grapple with the things that prevent people from working with [here]. HR's recruitment process can't be a black box where we don't know what is or is not working for us."

- Editor & Salon Participant

Proposed Solutions

 

Utilize edit tests sparingly, and compensate candidates for them. Several participants mentioned paid edit tests can be useful for evaluating a candidate's raw ability instead of relying so heavily on resume, titles, or years of experience. To avoid bias in the review of edit tests, one Editor-in-Chief shared they've seen great results using blind edit tests (removing names and identifying markers from the completed edit tests), especially if hiring committee members have already met the candidates. 

Hiring managers need to be supported with detailed hiring systems in place before they start overseeing the process. For example, standardize which rubrics and even questions are being used to evaluate role fit, to ensure all candidates are undergoing identical structured interviews; or build in steps to combat confirmation bias by having each interviewer submit impressions before having access to anyone else's report. Create a hiring tracker with detailed notes around how candidates performed in each hiring stage; it may be ideal to use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) that has these features already embedded.

Resource: The PTR framework defines preferences, traditions, and true requirements for the role. This can aid in the creation of evaluation rubrics that offer quantitative backing to why a candidate should (or should not) move to the next stage.

Specific Example: The Kitchn's parent company, Apartment Therapy Media, implemented a revised version of the Rooney Rule where at least one candidate that meets their internal diversity criteria is required the interview with the hiring manager (typically the second step) before the process moves forward for all candidates.

Instead of only one decision maker, create a hiring committee with diverse points of view where the hiring manager plays more of a facilitator role. Different interviewers are assigned to different stages of the process, and the decision-making requirements are shared amongst the committee or designated to different people throughout. In order for this to happen effectively, however, team members must feel comfortable to voice their opinions openly and be aligned with one another on the evaluation criteria. If necessary, the hiring manager can also take the place of the final approver, working within defined boundaries, because, as an editor pointed out, "When seven different people weigh in, there are a lot of thoughtful conversations but no decisions."

Finally, hiring processes need to be consistently improved through candidate feedback. As one editor questioned of their organization, "Are our salaries matching the cost of living in this city?" Pinpointing which factors may be undermining overall recruitment efforts builds a more consistent set of expectations for both candidates and internal staff members.

Obstacle 5: Media is not incentivized to build relationships with BIPOC freelancers.

When diversity is only measured through numerical targets, versus strength or length of relationships, organizations are not incentivized to cultivate longevity when working BIPOC freelancers. Instead, these freelancers may be only contacted to cover certain types of stories or heritage month packages, making the relationship feel tokenizing and exploitative. These transactional exchanges also minimize the comfort of freelancers in vocalizing potential needs or concerns, for fear of being blacklisted from future opportunities.

Organizations can also become more fixated on making their talent pipeline more diverse now, and disregard the need to organically develop relationships with and retain BIPOC talent. While more media organizations are beginning to partner with schools (such as Historically Black Colleges & Universities, or HBCUs) and industry organizations representing journalists of color, recruiting is only one phase of these relationships. When HR is only interested in engaging with a BIPOC student organization to funnel in diverse talent into the hiring pool, that is both extractive and exploitative.

“It’s about empowering a writer or recipe developer to, for example, ask for a Black photographer to shoot their piece, and us [the organization] to say, ‘Yes, let’s do that.’”

- Visual Editor and Salon Participant

“We need to talk to the person on the byline and ask for [the style they want for visuals], as opposed to just boxing the writer or photographer into an identity.”

- Visual Editor & Salon Participant

Proposed Solutions

 

Develop rapport and trust with freelancers at the beginning of your relationship with them. For example, inquire about the freelancer's preferences, career goals, and interests outside the current assignment. Some editors have offered to immediately commission a second piece as a way to demonstrate their commitment to a longer-term relationship. Another editor explained they are committing to working with at least one new freelance writer every month, from pitch to publication—a great standard to set across organizations. 

 

Challenge: One editor recounted that an early mistake their organization made was to rotate through too many goals. "One quarter's goal was to increase the number of first-time writers and contributors of color, then another quarter was about increasing diversity of sources. Because we changed every quarter, even though we succeeded each time there was no consistent progress overall."

Trust takes time to build, but with more investment in each freelancer up front, more freelancers are likely to return to your publication for those second or third pieces. This process ensures that those who may have started working with a publication through identity-driven pieces, do not feel tokenized or restricted by their identity. In addition to getting to know each freelancer more deeply, organizations can introduce freelancers to more (relevant) people within the organization at the start of their contract, and (over time) proactively give them more autonomy to pitch innovative or experimental stories. 

Invest in long-tailed talent pipeline development with HBCUs, non-predominantly white institutions (non-PWI), and other organizations educating the next generation of BIPOC talent. These are relationships that must be embedded into overall HR processes, not owned by one or two individuals on the recruiting team. Furthermore, these relationships need to be reciprocal. Beyond career and hiring fairs, create real bonds of familiarity and community by participating in, and/or creating, events and opportunities that are educational and generative for students. 

Resource: Pass the Spatula from the Food Education Fund is a great example of encouraging young food media professionals to create a publication that suits their vision of the future. It is currently managed by DeVonn Francis.

“We need to build relationships that are institutional, and don’t stay with one person or depend on that person for the relationship to continue at [the organization.]"

- Editor & Salon Participant

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Equity: Restructuring Power and Access

 

In the previous section on Diversity, we discussed the ways in which organizations can adjust their internal practices to welcome underrepresented talent and clarify what is included under the flag of "diverse content." In this section, we will explore how to redistribute power so that this talent has equitable opportunities to thrive in the food media landscape.

 

To us, equity is the redistribution of power, opportunities, and resources that adjusts and corrects for current and historical injustices. We were particularly drawn to the following definition:

"Developing, strengthening, and supporting policies and procedures that distribute and prioritize resources to those who have been historically and currently marginalized. Equity requires the elimination of systemic barriers that have been deeply entrenched in systems of inequality and oppression. Equity achieves procedural and outcome fairness, promoting dignity, honor, and respect for all people."

- Equity Task Force, State of Washington

In the lens of media, we use equity to refer to:

  • Equitable Content Processes: Content decisions are made and evaluated with an understanding of historical and current power and resource imbalances

  • Equitable Organizational Practices: Proactive and clear systems that offer incoming, existing, and outgoing staff members and freelancers alike with the necessary access and and power to shape their workplace experience

Through our conversations and events with the food media community, we identified five key obstacles to achieving equitable opportunities for underrepresented talent and their work to succeed: 

  1. The use of traditional analytics privileges certain types of content over the next generation of BIPOC talent. 

  2. Content creators don't often have control or the final say over how their work is published / presented to the public. 

  3. Opaque pitch guidelines implicitly exclude certain stories and create potential for inequitable writer experiences.

  4. Power is concentrated in the hands of senior leadership, but is otherwise obscured across the organization. 

  5. Compensation continues to be disparate, further exacerbated by opaque promotion processes. 

Content

Obstacle 1: Analytics privilege the past, rather than a new generation of BIPOC talent. 

 

For digital publications, analytics often drive content decisions, because the goal of content is to drive traffic to the site (which translates into advertising and sponsorship dollars). Traditionally, content performance is evaluated through the quantity of engagement—e.g., page views, link clicks, social shares—versus quality of engagement, which is more difficult to measure. These volume-based metrics encourages publications to create content based on "popularity" metrics based on search volume or social algorithms, which are already biased.

Consequently, BIPOC-focused and -centered content is considered "risky," especially in cases when publications lack historical data points on its performance. Those advocating for more diverse content may be given only "one shot" to convince leadership that these stories are worthy of continued investment. Even in the face of success, they may still be asked to "prove it every time," as one participant expressed, as if the initial response was a fluke. 

 

One participant offered an example: “If shellfish recipes don't seem to do well, when these recipes are proposed the response is, ‘Oh, people will not cook that’—and that can lead to discounting entire cuisines.”

 

Calls for equitable representation are perceived to be in opposition to business goals, and low-traffic periods are used as justification to de-emphasize the need for, and importance of, inclusive storytelling. 

Note: When it comes to digital publications with a paywall or subscription model, participants expressed less concern about analytics because of recurring revenue streams. However, they did note audience feedbackgenerally collected via surveysfactored into content decisions. In that case, it is critical for "demographics of the survey panel to reflect our current audience and desired audience," as one participant shared. In the case of print media, participants explained that "sales and ads dictate the issue themes," which can also lead to avoidance of "risky" content.

 
“We are traffic obsessive...so it’s easy to go into muscle memory and 'play the hits.'"

- Editor & Salon Participant

“Are we willing to sacrifice traffic for a better story that our readership might not have heard of?”

- Editor & Salon Participant

Proposed Solutions

 

Shift to engagement-based analytics, especially metrics that highlight the extent of the audience’s engagement, like:

  • Time spent on page

  • Channels of shares (e.g., content was shared on channels where the publication is not as active)

  • Content viewed per session (e.g., watching 5 videos on the same channel)

 

These reports are most helpful when paired with qualitative feedback, such as how “a story started a conversation here, or helped draw in these people who never read [our publication]," as one Editor-in-Chief explained. In addition to this, participants agreed that publications need to set aside a budget for pieces that are clearly non-SEO, non-social driven content, because simply not every piece is meant for virality.

more realistic timeline should also be established to understand how content shifts impact the publication. Several participants recommended a year or longer, to pull more reliable data on audience behavior once a publication publishes more diverse and inclusive stories. (For example, how much of the pre-existing audience was “retrained” to expect and engage with this diverse content? What new demographics of readers are represented?) This process requires patience, sustained dollars, and comfort with the fact that there may be some audience attrition as well.

“Our goal is to take a data-informed, but not data-driven, approach.”

- Editor and Salon Participant

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Obstacle 2: Content creators don't have the final say over how their stories are published or presented to the public. 

A lack of transparency tends to manifest in three distinct areas in the content cycle. This can first be seen in the relationship between editor / publication and the original creator (e.g., writer, recipe developer). In order to grab the viewer's attention, everything from final headlines, recipe titles, subtitles, photographs, illustrations, social media verbiage, etc., may be created without the input of the original creator—especially with freelancers. Even if this content is diverse, it is not treated equitably. In extreme scenarios, this can lead to unexpected backlash brunt by the creator. 

Next, visual and art departments tend to receive the least information and context before being asked to create visual assets. They are often brought in late in the process, with little time to develop relationships with the original creator. This makes it difficult to thoughtfully represent the creator's point of view, and can lead to imagery that is irrelevant or insensitive. In cases where stock imagery is used, a condensed timeline also forces editors to resort to widely available, generally non-diverse stock photography.

Finally, in scenarios where a public content mistake has been made, few publications have a formal procedure for addressing the misstep. As multiple Town Hall participants expressed, the lack of public accountability measures causes them to lose faith that the publication is committed to change. Internally, multiple participants recounted a crippling fear of "doing something wrong" when testing new ideas, because the lack of formal processes from leadership to acknowledge missteps, implicitly meant the brunt of public outrage would fall on junior and mid-level staffers.

 
“Once you give me [an assignment], let me have ownership and agency over it. I am still bitter about the headline [that ran without my permission]...I still get emails about it and it's been three years."

- Stephanie Kuo, Racist Sandwich Podcast

“How do we respond to comments about something that was written before I started?”

- Editor & Salon Participant

Proposed Solutions

 

Involve the original creator (e.g., writer, recipe creator) in all, final, public-facing aspects of their work. This is instrumental in changing the power dynamic with individuals who have historically held far less power in this exchange and sets the foundation for an ongoing, positive relationship. In the same vein, visibly crediting everyone involved in a piece—such as editors, fact-checkers, copyeditors, etc.—is a simple step to diffuse any potential angst being directed at only one person.

 

Example: For recipes, credit both recipe creators and interviewers in the recipe byline, such as the New York Times.

Bring visual and/or art department(s) in earlier in the creative process, and offer them communication channels to the central creator. Visual editors pointed out that creative briefs tend to come from editors and not the original creator, which unnecessarily centers the editors’ lens. Instead, hearing what the creator wants, is drawn to, and also "what not to do as part of the visual guides [is] really useful.” Multiple participants also advocated for more hybrid roles where a staff member would be the liaison between Editorial and Art/Visuals.

 

Tip: If your company does not have a team that can produce art and/or visuals for many pieces at a time, it may be worth commissioning more representative and inclusive stock imagery, as Well+Good has done and is documented in our whitepaper with them. 

Establish an accountability process for addressing mistakes, that includes both internal and public measures. For example: Evaluate the situation with an initial period of gathering feedback, which may include all-hands meetings as well as separate spaces that center junior employees' psychological safety, so they may openly discuss their reactions. Then hosting a public commentary period. Afterwards, leadership can present proposed process changes—or "guardrails," as one participant described it—to prevent a similar mistake from happening again. These commitments can be communicated through an editor’s note or a section on the publication's website dedicated to DEI. Additionally, formalize a process to protect creators, especially those who cover sensitive topics and are particularly susceptible to public backlash

It is worth noting that multiple participants mentioned that leadership would often outsource these responsibilities to an outside party such as an DEI consultant. While these experts can be useful, building a dependency on outside consultants to make important internal decisions undermines the ability of the existing staff members to create, oversee, and enforce new policies that directly affect them.

Obstacle 3: Pitch guidelines are opaque and not publicly available. 

Pitch guidelines are not always publicly available or accessible by external parties to the publication. This excludes potential contributors — especially those less established — by making it intimidating, opaque, and/or impossible to know how to initiate a working relationship. As mentioned in "Diversity,"  this shuts off interesting new ideas and pieces that would have been generated from the ground up.

 

Even in situations where the pitch process is viewable online, pitch format(s) and pricing information (e.g., a recipe, op-ed, illustration) are often not made explicitly clear. This gives rise to pay disparities and other potentially inequitable situations that most negatively impact newer and marginalized freelancers. 

 

Proposed Solutions

Make it a standard to publish clear, intuitive, and accessible pitch guidelines for your publication's print or digital outlets, linked to the homepage. In order to make the pitch process as inclusive as possible to a breadth of folks with varying degrees with familiarity and/or comfort with pitching, Salon participants outlined the following areas to address:

  • An overview of the different types of published pieces, with the expected requirements of each (e.g., op-eds are of this length; reported pieces should have at least a certain number of sources). Offering past examples here, like TASTE Cooking does, is useful.

  • How many pitches are accepted over specific intervals of time, if they are not an ongoing/rolling process.

  • What type of published content can freelancers pitch, versus what is always handled in-house.

  • What information needs to be in the pitch, and what level of detail is necessary for the assigning editor(s) to get a sense of the story and make a decision. In particular, a prior example of an accepted pitch is very helpful.

  • Who should writers pitch to, with direct email addresses for editors.

  • The expected turnaround timeline if writers will or will not hear back definitively regarding their pitch — especially in cases where pitch exclusivity is desired.

  • Outline of standardized rates for each type of story, and what aspects may change that number. For example, if a recipe pitch is set at a certain floor, but can be increased if the recipe is particularly complex and thus requires more time and resources from the contributor.

  • The generally expected length of the entire timeline, from pitch to publication. Especially for print magazines, pitched topics will need to stay relevant in changing conditions given the long lead time between pitch and publication. As one participant posed to the group in 2020, “How do you plan content in March before the November election that’s going to change the world?”

 

Setting these guidelines help reduce arbitrary decisions and back-and-forth negotiations that tend to favor those with dominant identities. It also establishes a baseline for public accountability.

People

Obstacle 4: Power is either obscured or concentrated in the hands of leadership. 

Even as newsrooms and Editorial teams grow to become more diverse, much of the decision-making power is still concentrated at the very top. BIPOC representation is often only seen among junior staff or freelancers. As mentioned in the section on quotas, it is important to "redistribute greenlighting, vetoing, and overriding power to more BIPOC and junior-level staffers with a broader range of perspectives," to sustain change beyond the goodwill of one, or a few, leaders at an organization.

 

However, many participants expressed there was little visibility into the pathways for promotion into leadership roles. This was especially prevalent in organizations with small teams where roles are not formally defined or understood, even within the team itself. As one editor put it, “It’s crucial to explain to staffers that promotions are not just because [the Editor-in-Chief] says so.”

There also exists more types of power than that reflected in one's official title(s). Unspoken forms of power, like soft power to influence senior leadership due to a personal familiarity or likeness, change how power is perceived versus 

established within an organization. However, these dynamics often go unnoticed by HR and leadership alike. For those external to the organization (e.g., freelancers), organizational charts and reporting structures are rarely displayed or offered, making it even more difficult to navigate the existing hierarchy. 

 
“Senior leadership needs to be representative of the readership we want and the voices we feature."

- Editor & Salon Participant

“There needs to be salary bands and growth charts for the organization so people know what core competencies lead to a promotion."

- Editor & Salon Participant

Proposed Solutions

 

Evaluate, and clearly define, where power lies within the organization. First, conduct a formal survey of both leadership and junior- and mid-level employees to uncover any discrepancies in formal versus informal power. This can take the form of written questions, or through something more high-touch, such as a listening tour. In particular, map where soft power is interpreted within the organization and ask why that may be the case.

Resource: Understanding and Working with Power (from the International Organization for Peacebuilding) examines the different types of power and how they manifest relationally. This could be useful to build survey or listening tour questions.

For external parties like freelancers, publish a publicly available organizational chart that shows the relationships and power distances between different individuals. This degree of transparency builds external accountability, and gives freelancers and applicants insight into the individuals they may be interfacing with and/or reporting to during their work with your publication.  

Establish and publicize (internally) clear pathways to leadership. One participant explained that their organization has explicitly defined "core competencies" for each level of seniority, complete with salary bands for the position. For example, to move from Associate Editor to Senior Editor requires "envisioning, ideating, and designing content strategy across a vertical" as well as working cross-functionally. In addition to making expectations clear, this places necessary pressure on the organizations to promote and pay staffers according to their work output.

Managers can take a more active role in this process to promoting more BIPOC into leadership by also setting time and resources aside for their direct reports to engage in personal and professional advancement opportunities. This could include trying a new type of project, growing their personal brand, or taking specific courses (paid for with an educational budget). At one organization, HR also launched an internal mentorship program for women of color. However, mentorship programs can replicate existing power imbalances and need to be carefully implemented.

 

Example: One Editor-in-Chief shared their direct reports spend certain days to shadow them and gain insight into behind-the-scenes tasks like planning out an editorial calendar. As part of this, they also spend time discussing the philosophical underpinnings and operational details of their senior-level work.

Obstacle 5: Pay disparities persist and prevent true equity. 

Pay disparities continue to persist across race and gender lines, as well arbitrary factors left over from outdated policies. For example, when someone joined the organization, or the delineation between print versus digital versions of a publication.  In other cases, these disparities may be pegged to an understandable factor, such as location and cost of living, but are not communicated clearly (or at all)—especially in non-unionized settings.

 

Pay disparities can also present in covert ways. For example, BIPOC talent face more obstacles than their white peers in receiving promotions, making it more challenging to acquire the necessary titles and salary history to obtain senior-level, higher-paying jobs. When there are not many new positions opening up, BIPOC talent may either stagnate at a certain level, or find themselves regularly occupying roles they are overqualified for.

For freelancers, the lack of transparency in per-piece rates puts those who may feel less comfortable negotiating at a major disadvantage. One editor shared that their publication currently allows freelancers to set their rate, but almost always finds themselves telling BIPOC and women that they can (and should) actually ask for more. 

 
“A lot of BIPOC editors have recruited for positions they are overqualified for. What is the responsibility of the company to stop letting [these candidates] take roles like this?"

- Editor & Salon Participant

“People are allowed to negotiate the baseline compensation rate, but if the only people who’ve negotiated are white and male, then should we just bump up the baseline rate?”

- Editor & Salon Participant

Proposed Solutions

 

Conduct regular promotions and pay audits. This annual process not only identifies where pay disparities exist, it provides data that can explain why inequities may have occurred. As mentioned in our discussion on clarifying and redistributing power above, internally publicizing pay bands and core competencies per level help mitigate disparities due to factors like access to senior leadership.

 

Specific Example: One editor explained that by "logging everything we pay people across all channels, like contributors and social media influencers, we can see where we may have inadvertently skewed rates. We allow negotiations for social media influencers depending on the person’s engagement and followers, so that skews toward people with more privilege.”

 

Train BIPOC talent for the leadership roles they are meant occupy. There are systemic reasons why talent pipelines are less diverse for more senior roles, and correcting for them may necessitate looking behind exact title or experience fit. Instead, decide if there are certain roles can be allocated as a training ground or stepping stone into executive leadership.

Allow employees to unionize, if they choose to. With the power of collective bargaining, unions (and other freelance collectives/communes at large) build power among employees to put pressure on bureaucratic organizations to change. Instead of viewing unions as antagonizers, collaborating with them to better understand worker needs often lead to higher productivity, employee morale, and less turnover.

 

Resource: Cultural Workers Organize put together a “Digital Media Unionization Timeline,” tracking the ongoing movement to unionize journalism in the United States.

Resource: Josh Sternberg (on his Substack, Media Nut) and the New Yorker Union provide further context on how and why unions prompt democratic, political change in the publishing industry. Through their most recent actions, the New Yorker Union achieved demands that reflect some of the recommendations in this toolkit:

  • Organized compensation structures with clear pathways to advancement

  • A joint labor-management DEI committee to work toward attracting and supporting a diverse workforce, and a company-wide commitment that at least 50% of candidates interviews will be from a marginalized group

  • A ban on NDAs that would prevent employees from speaking out against harassment or discrimination

Publish rates publicly alongside pitch guidelines so all freelancers are fully aware of them before they spend time and energy pitching or applying to a role. This transparency builds trust between publications and freelancers, and creates a ripple effect for other publications to do the same. Assigning Editors should also be trained on how to have conversations about pay, in cases when a freelancer does ask for more, so everyone has a consistent experience. A standardized pay matching scale (e.g., per recipe, per set of photos, per interview required) is a good start for establishing both a floor and a ceiling for pay. Read more about pitch guidelines here.

Inclusion: Embracing Conflict and Accountability

In the previous two sections, Diversity and Equity, we discussed how to attract diverse talent, then retain and empower that talent through equitable workplace practices. Even with these processes in place, however, it is inevitable that conflict and harm will happen. In this section, we outline ways in which media organizations can address these scenarios and foster true inclusion by emphasizing accountability and transparency.

 

To us, inclusion can be understood as a qualitative assessment of how well diversity and equity processes are integrated and working at an organization. 

"We define inclusion as a set of behaviors (culture) that encourages employees to feel valued for their unique qualities and experience a sense of belonging. Inclusion should be reflected in an organization’s culture, practices and relationships that are in place to support a diverse workforce."

- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

In the context of media organizations, we view inclusion on the axes of:

  • Inclusive Content: A wide breadth of content that does not presume or cater to a specific audience demographic

  • Inclusive Organization: Communication channels that invite participation and buy-in from all people within the organization, as well as publicly available information that disrupts the "insider access" model 

Through our conversations and events with the food media community, we identified four key obstacles to improving diversity along the two axes above. 

  1. A white, female, affluent, suburban reader is often centered, alienating other demographics.

  2. Most companies lack proactive conflict mediation channels and ways to communicate feedback upwards.

  3. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and Diversity Councils bear hefty burdens without proper compensation. 

  4. Most companies lack records or accountability measures (internally and externally) for past issues, mistakes, or lessons raised by staff members or readers.

Content

Obstacle 1: The affluent, suburban, white gaze is often centered. 

 

Certain foods and food experiences are framed in a way that the white experience is the universal one. For example, we noted in our first toolkit in this initiative that ingredients or dishes with BIPOC cultural contexts are assumed to be “new” and require additional explanation to the reader. In many instances, these are biases that can be perpetuated by the editor themselves, as the majority of those with power in media also come from similar backgrounds.

As one participant noted, “holiday” content typically refers only to white holiday content (e.g., recipes for Thanksgiving or Christmas). Similarly, the notion that a restaurant is an institution inside four walls—versus a street cart, food stand, etc.—is built upon western interpretations of dining, and naturally favors higher-income, often white, entrepreneurs who have access to the capital necessary to open brick-and-mortars. 

In other instances, the white interpretation of a food or food experience is inferred as the superior one. Multiple participants pointed to New York Times’ now infamous Thai fruit article as an overt case of this. At one point in the piece, the writer describes dragonfruit as “a bland mush with tiny seeds that can require floss to dislodge.” In comparison, "mainstream" foods that may have similar pitfalls—like corn on the cob—are generally not framed in such a critical manner. These framings  suggest that non-white foods exist in a separate category, aisle, or publication altogether. 

Visual content can also play into stereotypes, such as when news outlets used images of Chinatown for their COVID-related coverage, even though the coverage had no connection to the neighborhood. One editor named this "using a group to stand in for a larger idea." This extends to styling and photography. For example, one participant pointed out that wine is not always an appropriate styling choice, even if visually appealing; in 2021, Food & Wine publicly issued an apology for such culturally insensitive styling. Part of this issue is that creative briefs for photo or video shoots tend to come from the editors and not the original creator, which naturally prioritizes the editors’ lens, as discussed above.

 

As an initial first step to combating the white gaze, some organizations have begun to employ sensitivity readers to review content before it goes live. However, these readers are sometimes selected arbitrarily—e.g., they may be one of the more senior editors—or the assignment is given to a token BIPOC staffer as additional, unpaid labor.

“What exactly is a ‘universal experience?’."

- Editor & Salon Participant

“Just because I’m a person of color does not mean that I’m qualified to edit every story [by or about people of color].”

- Editor & Salon Participant

Proposed Solutions

 

Set formal expectations and guidelines around inclusive writing and visual content. One participant shared their organization uses "process checklists" that asks writers to evaluate specific aspects of their piece from a DEI lens before submission to an editor. For example, the composition of interviewed experts, how situations were framed, usage of phrases that assume a collective whole like "everyone knows that."

Specific Editorial Example: Well+Good uses a DEI Style Guide to codify language on sensitive topics like race, gender, orientation, and disability, based on the recommendations from experts and advocacy organizations. It also links to specific past examples to learn from; for example, a Sweet Potato Noodle Pad Thai recipe from 2017 “was explicitly positioned as a ‘healthier’ version of takeout solely because it used sweet potato noodles instead of rice noodles, when there’s nothing wrong with rice noodles.” See more in our whitepaper with Well+Good.

Specific Visual Examples: Serious Eats has a Photography Style Guide that includes a section on props, styling, and things to avoid. Another Visual Editor shared that new team members are now asked a series of questions to “consider their own biases" as part of their onboarding process.

Editors also need education and support on how to regularly detect their own biases. Part of this is normalizing individual research, instead of always leaning on BIPOC writers (or BIPOC peers at the organization) for subject matter expertise. As one editor recalled said, "Having grown up with certain Cantonese foods, in pitch meetings, I’m tasked with explaining the history of it. All I can really say is, 'I’ve eaten it since I was five!' but now I’m suddenly the expert. No one’s asking or expecting [white] Americans to automatically know the origins of mac and cheese."

Even with additional research, it is also unrealistic to assume that individual writers or editors will be able to self-diagnose every potential issue. Build in a proactive sensitivity review process as part of the standard editing process, that begins at the start of content creation, and engages everyone on the team, to utilize the entire team's perspectives and experiences to diagnose and address potential issues. Multiple participants also advocated strongly for a full-time fact-checker and researcher. 

Specific Example: One participant shared their organization had each department gather together to review scheduled stories early in the planning process, so anyone could comment on potential red flags, items to consider, visual assets, or a framing to avoid. This can also be a helpful exercise in building cultural competency across the department.

Specific Example: Multiple participants recommended designating a separate, internal Slack channel to ask for peer review. However, this can also present challenges in efficiency. One participant asked, “How do we decide if that’s a personal opinion versus the best choice?” Another pointed out: “It’s hard to incorporate six peoples’ feedback into two lines of text...and everyone is afraid of making the final call in case it is the ‘wrong’ call.” Establishing a clear process to address mistakes may help alleviate some of this—read more about creating channels for positive conflict here.

Of course, these solutions are not sustainable without also increasing BIPOC representation in editor and leadership roles to diversity the perspectives in a team or department. Thoughtful writing and editing also requires time. With publications so pressed to produce content, the Editorial team often do not have the bandwidth to comprehensively research and vet every piece with its current resources.

People

Obstacle 2: Companies lack channels for positive conflict and constructive feedback. 

There is a widespread avoidance of open conflict at the workplace, which one of our participants captured poignantly as a byproduct of white supremacist organizational culture. As a result, conflicts ranging from microaggressions to outright harassment tend to be dealt with in the shadows, cultivating a culture of fear in junior staffers and a feedback vacuum for those in leadership.

 

Few examples exist where proactive channels for healthy disagreement and positive conflict are in place before major issues arise. To their credit, leadership often implements an "open door policy" to welcome feedback and communication "anytime." However, this does little to acknowledge the existing workplace power dynamics that discourage BIPOC staffers from taking up that invitation. As one Editor-in-Chief pointed out, open door policies often only "works for the people who have lived a life of comfort and feel it easy to hit me up all the time." 

 

Even when staffers do communicate upwards, this is often an emotionally laborious process that feels professionally risky. Especially for issues surrounding identity and representation, these calls for change also end up falling primarily on BIPOC staff members, creating a stressful and taxing workload that they were not hired for nor trained to do.

 

For external parties, like freelance contributors, there are few (if any) structures that mitigate the asymmetries of power and information. Multiple editors acknowledged that most (if not all) issues that arose between a freelance writer and editor were handled on a case-by-case basis, because their organizations do not have any standard conflict mediation channels in place. In one core example, multiple editors agreed they had been taught to “rip a piece apart” in the editing process, which is not only counterproductive in establishing different narrative voices at a publication, but also destroys trust in an already unequal relationship. 

“I’m not 100% confident that if I were transparent, my concerns would be taken seriously because they are not ‘business' concerns."

- Editor & Salon Participant

“We’ve been told, ‘Please feel free to email us,’ so the door is somewhat open. Therefore, I shouldn’t feel weird constantly emailing [leadership], but it’s exhausting because these emails take a long time to put together. And I constantly have to navigate not wanting to get fired or hurting people’s feelings.”

- Editor & Salon Participant

Proposed Solutions

 

Implement systems for feedback and conflict mediation before issues arise. This likely necessitates power mapping (AS discussed above), creation of both anonymous and non-anonymous channels of communication, and a clear step-by-step process on how interpersonal conflict is handled per department (e.g., multiple designated intermediaries that will then engage a formal conflict mediator). This allows for (hopefully) satisfying resolutions that do not require Legal or formal HR involvement unless necessary. 

Specific Example #1: The Kitchn hosts monthly "safe space" sessions with a third-party DEI consultant where any employee can candidly discuss what’s on their mind and provide anonymous feedback to upper management via the consultant. Read more in our white paper hereHowever, anonymous feedback should not be the only channel of feedback available, as it can reinforce staffers' impressions that it is not safe to speak up openly. Additionally, the lack of context and specificity in anonymous feedback can lead to apathy from leadership to change.

Specific Example #2: Several editors mentioned their organizations have created designated Slack channels or online forums so that employees have a platform to organize their concerns and track updates on when and how the issue(s) are being addressed.

Specific Example #3: Build in peer support as part of the onboarding process by assigning new hires a "buddy" that will provide resources beyond the normal reporting system. One participant shared that this system, utilized at their workplace, also required a check-in between new hire and buddy at the 30-day mark. How this buddy is chosen, paired, and properly trained to provide support should be standardized prior to rollout.

Resource: The Academy of Management Annals provides a useful framework of understanding an employee’s considerations when deciding whether to voice concerns at work.

Utilize and document 360 performance reviews to minimize the bias and control any one manager can hold over their direct report(s). However, recognize that 360 reviews still tend to underrate women and BIPOC. Creating and implementing an equitable 360 review process will be a unique challenge per organization; we followed some of the work Apartment Therapy Media has been doing around 360 reviews in this white paper.

In addition to a formalized conflict mediation system, mentioned above, that would extend to freelancers, providing new freelance contributors a short, one-page overview of what they can expect from their editor(s) and editing styles (e.g., expected response time, written and spoken communication preferences) can set clearer expectations and also establish appropriate boundaries. An example of this for a general manager can be found here.

Ultimately, these communication channels will only thrive if they are trusted by those meant to use them. Ensuring these structures will adequately protect staffers and freelancers from retaliation is paramount. Additionally, tracking accountability from the organization in responding to feedback builds trust over time — read more in about committing to public accountability here.

“The reality is, the more you work with [someone] the more they are willing to say.”

- Editor and Salon Participant

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Obstacle 3: ERGs and Diversity Councils may bear outsized burdens without clear pathways to implement change. 

Employee resource groups (ERGs) can serve “as a potential avenue to talk upward with more clout,” as one participant described, but only when implemented as such. Instead of being a place for coalescing BIPOC power for change, many ERGs have become special-interest groups focused on event programming during heritage months. 

For the ERGs that have taken on more of a Diversity Council type role within their organization, they are often un- or underfunded, without clear authority to lead change. As a result, ERG leaders quickly burn out of this volunteer role that adds substantial hours and emotional labor on top of their regular workload — especially in times of crisis — without corresponding pay, resources, time allocated, or opportunities for advancement. Additionally, there exists few (if any) real consequences for leadership when they ignore the recommendations of the Diversity Council; this signals to its members that the group is more for performative diversity than to carry new ideas to completion.

“As one of two people of color on the Editorial team, I feel so small in such a vast company.”

- Editor and Salon Participant

“I just don’t know how much longer I can keep doing both [the Diversity Council and my regular job]. It’s so much emotional labor that isn’t seen.”

- Diversity Council Member &

Salon Participant

Proposed Solutions

 

Over the course of our interviews, we noticed the ERGs and/or Diversity Councils that participants found most effective in leading change shared certain attributes:

  • A formal operating budget built with a compensation structure for those taking on leadership roles (e.g., group leaders, sub-committee leaders, if any). 

  • A rotating group leadership that comes from outside the executive circle. At one organization, each member of their Diversity Committee rotates into a lead role every quarter, so that “no one takes the backseat” in the process.

  • Clear time allocation for ERG-related work for general members and ERG leaders alike, occupying space as an important workstream for that employee.

  • Explicitly defined mission, membership rules (including responsibilities of its members), and how the ERG is meant to engage with the organization and its various departments (e.g., through sub-committees).

  • Buy-in and accountability from senior leadership, where leadership's ability to act upon ERG requests are pegged to their own annual performance evaluations.

  • Clear allocation of power, so everyone within the organization is aware of what ERGs can and cannot do. For example, if ERGs are able to veto a major decision within the company regarding certain sensitive topic areas; or if ERG approval is required to publish a public-facing statement in times of crisis.

  • External support systems that can provide expert guidance (e.g., a trained conflict mediator, DEI consultant, or other subject matter expert).

  • Engaged support and investment from HR, as DEI is not a static activity to repeatedly check the box on every few months. In addition to the initiatives headed by ERGs and Diversity Councils, HR should be working simultaneously with their own set of DEI work. Most critically, finding a way to align DEI goals with the financial goals of the business is the best insurance that these programs will be taken seriously regardless of internal or external pressures on the organization.

 

Read more about the evolution of The Kitchn's Change Initiative (their all-inclusive BIPOC ERG) in our white paper.

Obstacle 4: There is a little accountability or record of past issues, missteps, or lessons. 

Problem: When staff members surface issues to leadership, many find their concerns simply disappear into a “black box,” with no clear steps for resolution beyond an email of receipt. This discourages and disincentivizes them from speaking up again, and breeds resentment and distrust. In the cases where an action is taken, it often comes in the form of a generalized training that does not openly acknowledge the basis for its new use at the organization. 

 

Similarly, external parties like readers and freelancers will see past mistakes of an organization be scrubbed from online archives and records instead of transparently addressed.

“When I bring up concerns to my boss, I usually get a short e-mail back from an executive that says, ‘We hear you.’ … Their stance is to just remove things and give vague statements.”

- Editor and Salon Participant

“HR thinks everything can be solved with another training video. It cannot.”

- Editor & Salon Participant

Proposed Solutions

Provide visible documentation on how the organization plans to respond to internal concerns, hold leadership accountable to change, and prevent future occurrences of harm. This should be located on an internal Wiki where everyone in the organization has access to it, and is explained thoroughly during onboarding.

Specifically, timelines should be established for when the organization will confirm receipt of an issue that is flagged, as well as for each step of addressing the issue. For example, if one step involves dedicating a Diversity Council meeting to discussing the issue, the process for scheduling that meeting, and recapping it with next steps, needs to be communicated. Leadership should be expected to publish internal updates to outstanding issues on this same internal Wiki, and be evaluated for their ability to respond to these changes over time.

Resource: Transformative justice (TJ) is an excellent framework to utilize in building this process, so the focus is on supporting those who were harmed and creating guardrails to ensure the harm does not happen again, as opposed to punishing a specific individual or group.

Learning from and moving beyond harm is an organization muscle that requires exercise, and should not be delegated or outsourced to third parties. While external consultants can be useful, building a dependency on these people undermines the ability of the existing staff members to create, oversee, and enforce new policies.

Publish a clear policy on how the organization will handle public mistakes. This includes how critique should be submitted to the organization (so it does not end up being directed solely at one writer or editor) and defining expectations as to how the organization will respond at different stages (e.g., to acknowledge receipt, to address as a private correspondence, to address publicly). Critically, it means openly recognizing the mistake was made, and not removing this documentation from public archives.

Specific Example: Some suggestions from our Town Hall included publishing an Editor’s Note, hosting an open commentary period, and detailing the company’s DEI strategy on the publication’s homepage to inform readers that there is a larger process of change taking place.

Specific Example: Bon Appétit's Executive Editor issued an apology on their soup joumou recipe, while also interviewing two experts within the Haitian culinary community. At our Town Hall, one participant expressed they appreciated the apology but were concerned that it was also an instance of tokenism, where a BIPOC person from the organization was arbitrarily brought forth to correct for issues they were not previously involved in.

Combined, these accountability measures reduces the feeling of risk while testing new ideas and allows trial-and-error to be a positive, not punitive, cycle for the organization. Multiple participants said that knowing there is a plan in place to address mistakes would help alleviate the emotional toil and exhaustion of reading aggressive Twitter threads. As one participant said, “We’re people too, and [the comments] hurt.”

 
 
 
 
 
 

The Methodology of This Document

Written by: Jenny Dorsey, Edric Huang

Edited by: Osayi Endolyn, Priya Krishna, Karen Kumaki, Ximena Larkin, Isla Ng, Korsha Wilson

Last Updated: 5/17/22

 

This toolkit was compiled by Studio ATAO using learnings from small, facilitated discussions we call Experimental Salons, bi-monthly accountability groups, 1:1 interviews, and an industry Town Hall over the course of 2020 and 2021. Read more about the process here.

 

The central question we posed for the events that contributed to this document was:

 

How Can Food Media Organizations Implement Programs of Change to Combat Tokenism and Move Towards More Equitable Representation?

This free resource has been a labor of love and the result of tremendous emotional labor from all parties involved. If you found this toolkit valuable, please consider backing us on Patreon or sending us a donation via GiveLively.

For the Experimental Salons and bi-monthly accountability groups, participants occupied editorial positions across a wide range of food media organizations, with insight into both external content strategy and internal policy. Our goals for these sessions were to:

  • Candidly discuss what challenges each person is facing when addressing equitable representation within their organization

  • Unpack the details of internal structures that need to be changed, so that change becomes integrated into the organization instead of relying on one or few people

  • Cultivate group accountability to spearhead long-term commitments to better representation within their respective organizations

We also concurrently worked on two public white papers that documented the step-by-step evolution of DEI initiatives at The Kitchn and Well+Good over the course of 2021. These are referenced throughout the toolkit, and you can read them here.

 

If you would like to reference this during industry conversations or conferences please provide a backlink to the original webpage to provide full context and credit Studio ATAO. Our mission is to shift the trajectory of media representation by laying out different guiding principles for food media and beyond.

If you are a company or organization interested in working with us to host workshops and/or trainings on the topics covered in this toolkit, you can learn more about doing that here and reach out to us at hello@studioatao.org to set up a time!

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