Deez Interviews: Doris Truong, on the first real forward step every newsroom should be taking + who in the industry is doing it right (or at least getting close)

This week’s interview is with Doris Truong, Poynter’s director of training and diversity — AKA, the person you should be calling up right now if your newsroom is demanding some serious change right now.

We talked about the best first step any employer can take in order to start tackling issues of institutional racism and workplace diversity, what role professional orgs like AAJA can play right now, and tips for how to make having all these convos on Zoom a little better for everyone.

So. Given the soul-searching (and all the shaking up) that every outlet has been going through lately, how has it affected your work at Poynter?

We have seen a dramatic increase in requests for Poynter to provide diversity-related training, but it isn't necessarily on "how to do a better job covering diverse communities." It's very internally focused. Newsroom managers are eager for ways to tell their staffs that they have heard their frustrations. Engaging trainers is one tangible step forward.

Even before the dramatic — and recent — shift toward greater newsroom accountability around issues of inclusion, I've been plenty busy. The pandemic means we've had to rethink what kinds of in-person training translate well to a virtual environment (no one is going to sit in front of their screen for eight hours straight — nor should they!).

I'm also doing what I can to elevate others, drawing on my work with multiple associations that represent journalists of color. I wrote an open letter to newsroom managers, moderated a panel on "How to Fight Racism" and appeared on "The Takeaway" to discuss whether objectivity exists.

In a 2018 interview, you have this great quote talking about how "Newsrooms don't become more diverse and inclusive overnight." I think a lot of outlets right now are really tempted to find that quick fix. But what would you say is the best first step an outlet can take once they realize they need real, institutional change? 

Management needs to listen. Just listen. Let the staff talk about opportunities missing (or lost), and let them offer suggestions for improvements.

Then commit to do something. Be realistic in the timeline. Don't try to do everything at once. Many, many newsrooms have started capitalizing Black when referring to people and culture. It's an important step toward recognition and inclusion, and it costs nothing to make this change.

Institutionally, one immediate step with positive impact is inviting more voices into meetings where decisions are made. Don't limit decisions to people with titles. Great ideas — and valid challenges to the status quo — can come from anyone.

As if having these conversations weren’t already complicated enough, there’s the added layer of having to do so much of this work over Zoom right now. Are there any tips/tricks you've found to make virtual conferencing work better for these kinds of discussions? 

If I'm in a room with someone, it's a lot easier to see them shift in their seat or turn their gaze, and I can ask, "What were you thinking, and do you care to share?" Online, I'm reliant on how much of someone I can see through their webcam. Sometimes, I don't even get that narrow window into their world.

Depending on how much time we have together — a single session or a series of trainings — we might make the time for people to do self-introductions and to share something others might find memorable about them. In Zoom, we encourage people to use the chat box and the "raise hand" function. And we'll often say: "Would anyone we haven't heard from today like to share?"

During your career, you've also served as the national president of Asian American Journalists Association. I've been thinking a lot about the collective memory and existing structures that these professional organizations can offer; what role do you think they can play in the current atmosphere?

It's crucial to know what has been successful in the past. Why did initiatives go the distance? Why did others fail? And it's important to revisit good ideas that were abandoned; a new group of leaders might be more receptive. 

Institutional knowledge can also be helpful in determining who is an ally. With turnover in association membership (and newsroom staffing), it can be easy to overlook someone who is a quiet but powerful force in pushing for change.

Finally, let’s assume no outlet/publication is getting a perfect score on diversity and inclusion right now. But who do you think stands out for their efforts?

City Bureau in Chicago is my go-to example of an organization that hires with diverse perspectives as a fundamental principle. Their core values include equity and inclusivity, and they live up to those goals.

Legacy newsrooms such as The New York Times and NPR deserve recognition for releasing an annual staff census; the Times also has started tracking how many nonbinary employees it hires. The Marshall Project has laid out goals each of the past three years and marks its progress toward achieving them.

Don’t forget to follow @DorisTruong on Twitter, and have a ponderously thoughtful Juneteenth!

Deez Links is a dailyish newsletter written by delia cai.