Gannett is nearly a year into its commitment to diversify its newsrooms to reflect the communities it serves by 2025.
Among the main goals of the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S. is to increase the number of people of color in leadership positions by 30% and “achieve racial and gender parity with the diversity of our nation, throughout our workforce,” according to the Gannett 2020 Inclusion Report - a company census and outline of goals that reach into 2025.
The demographics of Gannett’s current workforce of 15,508 is overwhelmingly white at 73%, and 54% male. Those two groups are also earning more than their peers within the company who are women or journalists of color, according to a study of pay equity in 14 unionized company newsrooms conducted by the NewsGuild’s Gannett caucus.
The data used for the report, published April 27, was requested from Gannett by the 14 newsrooms per U.S. labor law last fall. The small-sample study includes anonymized salary and demographic data of 466 non-management employees. The NewsGuild’s Gannett caucus consists of 41 unionized newsrooms, according to the study.
The study listed multiple examples of disparities involving women and people of color. Among them:
Rebekah Sanders, a consumer reporter at the Republic and chair of its newsroom guild, said the union “applauded the admirable diversity goals that Gannett has set for itself” in regard to diversifying its workforce and reporting those demographics transparently.
“But it's a glaring omission when the company talks about diversifying the workforce, but doesn't talk about fixing pay disparities,” Sanders said.
“You can't get a diverse workforce if you're not paying fairly and you're not paying a living wage.”
In a letter to Sanders and NewsGuild president John Schleuss, Gannett said the international journalism union was spreading misinformation. The letter was posted on USA TODAY NETWORK PR’s official Twitter account on April 29. The company’s official statement went further, criticizing the methodology used.
The NewsGuild “issued a misleading document based on outdated data alleging pay inequities on a small subset of Gannett’s more than 250 newsrooms,” the statement said. “We strongly disagree with its methodology and its findings.”
The statement continued: “It is troubling that the NewsGuild’s document would issue a 'study’ that fails to take into consideration critical analysis factors and then espouses the benefits of joining a union as the solution ... Gannett is committed to ensuring equitable employment practices for all employees -- including specifically for all of our journalists, as they champion the stories of the communities we serve.”
A Gannett spokesperson declined to comment further on the issue.
Michael Anastasi, regional editor for USA TODAY and vice president and editor at The Tennessean, a Gannett newspaper that was not part of the NewsGuild study, said he was concerned by the “level of journalism that was lacking” in the findings.
Sanders, one of six journalists recruited from the listed newsrooms to put the study together, countered by saying the methods that Gannett has called into question are “tried and true,” including nine months of “painstaking work by award-winning journalists using the company’s own data.”
“It was a report that we dedicated hundreds of hours to, to make sure that it was accurate, and that it gave the full picture,” Sanders said.
In Anastasi’s view, Gannett has been an industry leader for decades in commitment to diversity, and the company’s statement last August was not a new ideal for the media conglomerate.
“What is new is the specific program, but it's really a reflection of a deep-seated, long-held cultural value held by the company and its leaders,” Anastasi said. He added that “diversity, equity and inclusion” are “deeply baked” into Gannett’s DNA.
Part of Gannett’s financial commitment to diversity is its partnership with Sports Journalism Institute. Anastasi has been involved with SJI since 1995, when he had his first intern from the program. He’s been committed to it since and said he believes in “the quality of the program,” saying it has proven itself to be the premier national internship for sports journalists. Gannett’s commitment to hosting multiple interns was a factor in the 2021 class of 17 being SJI’s largest ever. and Gannett is among SJI’s funders.
The commitment to diversity by Gannett CEO Mike Reed in August included a financial commitment to reach the company’s goals. Sanders believes if Gannett does not first address fair pay, its diversity goals will not be met in five years.
“You're not going to retain people of color and women and diversify your workforce if you're not going to pay them equal pay for equal work,” Sanders said.
In regard to representation, some newsrooms have more work to do than others. At The Tennessean, Anastasi said he doesn’t see a lot of things changing because, as an editor, his diversity hiring has averaged 55% to 60% of his overall hires. His focus, he said, will be on helping reporters grow and advance in their careers, a process that involves “a lot of work over a long period of time.”
With the current initiative and goals set for 2025, Anastasi said it’s exciting that all newsrooms are now “rowing hard in the same direction.” He believes that will result in a snowball effect that will lead to increased interest from journalists seeking to join Gannett newsrooms.
The way Anastasi sees it, the true test of accountability will be whether Gannett newsrooms can thrive in the coming years.
“We see this as not only the right thing to do, but it's a business imperative,” Anastasi said. “If we're not able to successfully do this, we won’t be a news organization that the community turns to for its information. It's that simple.”