Beyond the Newsroom: A Digital Media Company’s Grants to Cultivate a Diverse Journalism Workforce



A new slate of grants from the TEGNA Foundation finds the funder looking to support training for “the next generation of diverse journalists and education and development opportunities for journalists and other professionals in the media field.”

By focusing on the broader and more dynamic “media field,” TEGNA’s announcement is a reminder that the journalism field consists of more than perennially besieged print outlets. A brief review of the foundation’s history and corporate parent explains why it is casting a broad net.

The TEGNA Foundation is the funding arm of the Virginia-based media and digital company TEGNA Inc., which was created when the Gannett Company split into two publicly traded companies back in 2015. At the time, TEGNA comprised the more profitable broadcast television and digital media divisions of the old Gannett, while Gannett's publishing interests were spun off as a new company that retained the Gannett name. TEGNA Inc. provides services and content to 49 television stations and two radio stations in 41 markets.

The TEGNA Foundation’s site lists three grant areas—Community Grants, D.C. Area Grants and Media Grants. As far as the last category is concerned, the TEGNA Foundation’s funding mission is to “support freedom of the press, ethics in journalism, and education and training for the next generation of diverse journalists.” The foundation particularly favors programs or projects that benefit the areas in which TEGNA does business and that seek to encourage diversity in newsrooms and in coverage.

2019 Round 1 TEGNA Foundation Media Grant recipients include the National Association of Black Journalists for its “Black Male Media Project,” the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) to support a workshop focused on investigative journalism at the AAJA conference, and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists toward its immersion newsroom experience for journalism students during their annual conference.

The TEGNA Foundation’s grants come at a time in which newsrooms struggle to train and hire a diverse journalism workforce. In 2018, the American Society of News Editors Newsroom Employment (ASNE), which partners with the Democracy Fund, the Knight Foundation and Google News Lab, released the findings of its annual diversity survey. It found that people of color represent 22.6 percent of the workforce in U.S. newsrooms. In addition, in online-only news organizations, people of color employed as managers and full-time journalists comprised 25.6 percent of the workforce among respondents, compared to last year's 24.3 percent.

While Meredith Clark, lead researcher and an assistant professor at the University of Virginia, called these findings “encouraging,” there was a huge catch: Only 234 out of nearly 1,700 newspapers and digital media outlets initially responded to the request to submit data. ASNE diversity committee co-chair Karen Magnuson was blunt in her assessment: “ASNE remains as committed as ever to the cause of advancing diversity, but the disappointing response rate puts us in a tough spot. We need stronger survey participation and support from editors to accurately reflect the industry and implement improvements.”

LaSharah Bunting, Knight’s director for journalism, was also frustrated with the low participation rate.We cannot advance diversity in newsrooms without measuring it,” she wrote on Knight’s blog.

In fact, a 2017 Knight report found that ship may have already sailed. Due to a lack of representative views and eroding trust in the media, minority readers are bypassing traditional journalism outlets entirely, and instead assuming the role of news creators and distributors themselves on platforms like Twitter. “Understanding these emerging social subcultures will allow more accurate portrayals of diverse communities and yield insights for better journalistic engagement in the digital age,” the report states.

And while funders are trying mightily to bring people of color and women back into the fold, it’s also important to acknowledge the market-based elephant in the room: In the last decade, more than 27,000 newsroom jobs have vanished, according to Pew Research Center. It’s hard to hire diverse journalists to reflect the communities they serve if outlets can’t afford to hire them.

Funders know what they’re up against, and are adopting a more holistic approach in their diversity training efforts.

Knight, for example, has provided financial support for the Associated Press Sports Editors’ Diversity Fellowship in Leadership program. Its curriculum focuses less on sports journalism-specific skills, and more on “digital expertise and fluency, business, marketing and entrepreneurial skill-building, and broader leadership qualities, including strategic leadership.” The idea here is that if journalists can’t land a traditional journalism job covering the local football team, they can nonetheless parlay a broader skill set elsewhere across the digital economy.

It was a prescient move, especially in the niche area of sports journalism. In late April, ESPN announced it was ending the print run of ESPN magazine, claiming “the vast majority” of the magazine’s readers now consume its journalism digitally rather than through the print version. Commenting on the announcement, Reed Phillips, a managing partner at the investment bank Oaklins DeSilva & Phillips, said, “it’s almost impossible to support a sports magazine in print.”

To that end, TEGNA Inc., as noted, isn’t a journalism company in the traditional sense, especially when compared to its former parent, Gannett, which owns over 100 daily newspapers and nearly 1,000 weekly newspapers. TEGNA’s portfolio also includes digital marketing services brand G/O Digital and a new multicast network called Quest. It’s no coincidence that its press release mentioned TEGNA’s support for diversity and development opportunities for “other professionals in the media field.”

This fact suggests that while small-town newspapers may be struggling, demand for content on alternative platforms—online, television and local radio—remains strong. This bodes well for aspiring diverse journalists and media professionals, a point underscored by Dave Lougee, president and CEO, TEGNA, and chairman, TEGNA Foundation.

“TEGNA is committed to a diverse workforce that represents the communities we serve. Providing hands-on training and support ensures that students entering our field, journalists and professionals are able to gain valuable skills and thrive in our industry.”