Race, Ethnicity Seen as Top Priorities for Education Beat Diversity
EWA Members Share Views on Inclusion, Cultural Competencies

In an effort to deepen its understanding of diversity and inclusion issues, the Education Writers Association recently fielded a survey asking journalist members to share their views and experiences. A total of 170 EWA members responded to the survey, although not every respondent answered every question. The findings provide insights into current perceptions and priorities among education reporters, as well as early data to inform discussions by the EWA Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.

“EWA is deeply grateful to our members who took time to share their insights, experiences and attitudes on these critical issues,” said Francisco Vara-Orta, the chair of the task force and a vice president of the EWA Board of Directors.

The survey asked respondents to rank their priorities when it came to diversity in the makeup of the education journalism workforce. Nearly half — 82 of the 167 respondents to that question — rated racial/ethnic diversity as “most important.” Economic class and language diversity were next, with 27 percent and 13 percent, respectively, ranking those types of diversity as “most important.” Gender, generational, physical ability, and sexual orientation were ranked as lower workforce-diversity priorities.

Inclusion and Cultural Competency

Asked to rank categories of inclusion in order of importance to the field of education journalism, two approaches tied for first place as top priority. “Hiring members of underrepresented groups” and “training education journalists to cover underrepresented communities and the issues that impact them” were each rated as “most important” by 36 percent of respondents.

Tied for the next-highest priorities — each ranked as “most important” by 23 percent of respondents — were “creating pipelines and pathways for promotion for underrepresented groups” and “targeting and creating support systems and programs (e.g., mentorship, scholarships) for groups that have traditionally lacked access to the profession.”

Just behind, ranked as “most important” by 22 percent, was “more people of color, men, people with disabilities, etc., covering the education beat.”   

On a question about what kinds of cultural competencies are most important for journalists to possess in order to effectively cover education, just over 50 percent of respondents ranked “racial/ethnic” as the “most important” cultural competency.

That was followed by economic class, with 32 percent ranking it as “most important.” The other competencies listed — gender, geographic, linguistic differences, physical ability, religious, and sexual orientation — each received significantly fewer “most important” votes.

Who Responded

The majority of the respondents who provided their demographic information identified as white (77 percent) and female (73 percent). About 23 percent of respondents identified as nonwhite.

Those figures are consistent with the profile of U.S. education journalists gleaned from the State of the Ed Beat survey, conducted on EWA’s behalf in fall 2015. The new findings offer further evidence that the education reporting beat is more female and racially or ethnically diverse than American newsrooms as a whole.

The survey asked members about whether they had received a Pell grant to attend college, one indicator of family socioeconomic status. Almost 69 percent responded they had not received this type of federal financial aid, while 27 percent said they had, with 4 percent saying they didn’t know. While not a definitive measure, that result suggests that most survey respondents likely did not enter college from low-income households.

Generationally, more than half of respondents — 52 percent — identify as millennials, with another 25 percent coming from Generation X and 22 percent from the Baby Boom generation.

In terms of experience in the field, close to 40 percent of respondents have been in education journalism for five years or less. Twenty-nine percent have been education journalists for five to 10 years; 12 percent have 10 to 15 years of experience, 7 percent have 15 to 20 years, and 12 percent more than 20. Again, these statistics are generally consistent with the State of the Education Beat report.

For the first time in an EWA survey, we asked education journalists about their sexual orientation. Over 82 percent of the respondents identify as heterosexual or straight, with 15 percent identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer.  

EWA’s Role

Just over eight in 10 survey respondents said EWA has a significant role to play in efforts to strengthen diversity and inclusion in the field of education journalism.

The survey was conceived as a way for EWA to gather input on its members’ vision of diversity and inclusion, and what it looks like in education journalism. The results provide a springboard for further conversations — including among members of the EWA Diversity and Inclusion Task Force — about how EWA can advance these critical goals.

The task force is working to advise the EWA Board of Directors and staff on strategies to advance demographic diversity and inclusion in education coverage; help ensure that diverse demographic perspectives are represented in EWA programming; and promote diversity and inclusion on the education beat.

“The survey results are already informing the work of EWA’s Diversity and Inclusion Task Force,” EWA Executive Director Caroline Hendrie said, “and they will continue to shape our thinking as we move ahead with this important work.”