As newsrooms nationwide slowly become more diverse, journalists of color are presented with more opportunities. But navigating the world of storytelling as a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, or person of color) journalist can be challenging.
Tai Takahashi leads a highly diverse newsroom as the news director for both WJTV and WHLT in Jackson, Mississippi.
“We have a very diverse management, and that’s not by accident — two African Americans, two Asians, and two Caucasians, so a vast array of voices. I want to say half of our staff is African American. So, it kind of reflects the population. Jackson herself is 84% African American.”
He believes that this diversity has changed the overall dynamic of the newsroom and how they approach coverage of stories within the community.
“We listen to all voices,” Takahashi explained. “And that’s really just the starting point.”
Takahashi is honest about the challenges his station faces.
“To say that we fully cover any issue as it relates to any population would be a bit dishonest. All I can say is that we try. And certainly, individuals aren’t shy about bringing up issues that need to be covered,” Takahashi said. “We only have a limited number of people to cover those issues. So we tackle them as we see them, we stick with them as long as we can. And sometimes we have to pivot. But yeah, there are issues regarding any type of minority group. All of them will never be addressed. But the best you can do is have those open conversations, make sure that you do your best to cover them, and not ignore them.”
Takahashi said minority representation is an issue beyond the newsroom throughout corporate America.
“You look at things from the top down,” he noted. “Even with an [influx] of female CEOs, there’s still a lack of representation from other backgrounds [including] African American, Asian, etc.”
He also suspects that the absence of diversity at higher professional levels has a trickle-down effect.
“Unless you’re making a conscious effort to diversify and looking at how your staff is made up, you tend to hire people who you’re comfortable with,” Takahashi said.
For people of color seeking a supportive and diverse newsroom job, the key is to ask plenty of questions before you take the job, according to Takahashi.
“You need to talk to a range of people to get a sense of whether this is the kind of culture that works for you,” he advised. “You have to figure out where you fit into the ecosystem.”
He also points out that many early career journalists have some learning to do about inclusive reporting.
You have to go into it eyes wide open, realizing you don’t know anything. You’re gonna pick up on biases that you personally have that you didn’t realize you had along the way. When people come in thinking, okay, I got this, that’s what they don’t have it. When they realize I’ve got things to learn and they let something get pointed out to them, like that was a little biased in the way you said something, you have to embrace that. Then look at ways to correct that,” he said.
As America becomes more diverse, Takahashi says the industry is going to have to evolve.
“So much journalism is understanding the times in which you live. You have to recognize change as it occurs and cover priorities as they occur and adjust accordingly.”