For nearly two years, NBN has published a quarterly report detailing the demographics of our staff and contributors. Our goal in publishing this report is to maintain accountability within our newsroom and be transparent on our areas for improvement. We also hope to inspire accountability and transparency across other newsrooms. We generally publish this report in the first half of the next quarter after collecting survey data from our staff.
Since our first report for Fall 2020, the number of respondents has continued to decrease each quarter. We have tended to notice a low response rate in the Spring because of a drop off in participation towards the end of the school year. This Spring, we had 58 staffers and contributors fill out our survey. This number is consistent with the 56 respondents from Winter 2022 but still about 20% lower than the 73 from Fall 2021.
This year, we are implementing new efforts at accountability, retention and community-building to make sure we are staying true to our goals. These efforts will be detailed in the report’s closing section.
Like our previous diversity reports, we do not distinguish between web and print staff and contributors given the overlap and collaboration between both mediums. This quarter, our print staff was 12.5% larger than our web staff. In the past, our web staff has usually been up to 50% larger.
Race & ethnicity
The majority of NBN staff identified as white, as in previous quarters. NBN does not include an option in our survey for identifying with two or more races; instead, we allow staffers to check boxes for all races and/or ethnicities they identify with. The number of respondents who only identify as white increased from 44.6% in the Winter to 44.8% in the Spring. The percentage of staff who identify as white and another race dropped from 21.4% to 19%. Of the 11 respondents in this group, six identified as both Latinx / Latine / Hispanic and white.
The percentage of staffers identifying as Latinx / Latine / Hispanic dropped from 19.6% to 19%, but the number of responses increased from 10 to 11. This decrease in percentage can be attributed to an uptick in staffers who identify with other races and ethnicities not previously represented in NBN.
The number of Asian and/or Asian American respondents decreased from 35.7% to 27.6%. NBN asks Asian and/or Asian American students to provide subgroup identifications to reflect the diversity of the Asian diaspora. East Asians remain the majority out of all the Asian and/or Asian American respondents from our staff, with the number dropping slightly from 12 to 11 in the Spring. The number of South Asian respondents decreased from two to one, and Southeast Asian respondents dropped from six to four. With this decrease, East Asians make up 68.8% of all Asian and/or Asian American staff and contributors at NBN, up from 60% in the Winter.
The number of Black / African American staffers at NBN continues to be significantly low. Three students identified as Black / African American – up from one person in Winter 2022 – making up 5.2% of our staff this past quarter. Our publication is still falling short in representation of Black journalists in our newsroom. We are also falling short in our representation of Middle Eastern / North African and Indigenous / Native American students, with less than 4% of staffers identifying with these races and ethnicities.
According to data from the University for the 2021-22 school year, the total undergraduate population at Northwestern is 39.3% white, 20.4% Asian, 13.9% Latino/Hispanic, 6.0% Black and/or African American and 6.7% two or more races. The data also indicated that among the undergraduate population, there are only six American Indian or Alaska Native students and only one Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander student, although anecdotal evidence from NBN staffers suggests these numbers may be underreported. The data did not record the overlapping identities of students who identified as Latino/Hispanic or who identified as more than one non-Hispanic race, which makes direct comparison difficult.
Based on Northwestern's data, NBN’s newsroom overrepresents white, Asian and/or Asian American and Latinx / Latine / Hispanic students, and underrepresents Black / African American students compared to the overall undergraduate population at NU. This may be a result of the 6.3% of NU students who are two or more races and whose actual races NU did not record; NBN allows its staffers to select as many races and ethnicities as apply to them, which may elevate percentages across the board compared to official University data.
Our data collection for Spring 2022 maintained the same major and minor breakdowns as the Winter 2022 report. NBN staffers were given the choice to select multiple responses, acknowledging the fluidity of gender identity and how it lies on a spectrum. Some respondents selected more than one sexuality, so the individual percentages may add up to more than 100%.
NBN’s newsroom continues to remain predominantly woman-identifying as in previous quarters, but this statistic has seen a significant increase. In Spring, 74.1% of our staff identified as a cisgender woman as opposed to 60.7% in Winter 2022, with 4.6% of our woman-identifying staff members also identifying as questioning, meaning they were still in the process of defining their personal identity at the time of answering the survey. The newsroom has experienced a proportional drop in cisgender male staff members to 17.2%, with one student noting that they were questioning their gender identity. These changes in statistics from previous quarters may be skewed due to a changed quantity in respondents.
The percentage of staff identifying outside of the gender binary decreased from 19.6% to 13.8%, with 6.9% identifying as trans and/or non-binary and 6.9% questioning. Each quarter, we provide staffers five options outside the binary options of man or woman: agender, genderfluid, gender-nonconforming, questioning and non-binary. The option to indicate whether or not the respondent is “questioning” helps further distinguish each gender identity. NBN recognizes that exploring and discovering one’s gender is a non-linear process and so we’ve given our members the space to indicate as such. We have also separated cisgender and transgender options on our survey since Spring 2021 to further distinguish and identify the gender identities of our staffers.
Cisgender women are overrepresented at NBN in context of the overall Northwestern undergraduate population. This fact has remained the same over the past quarters. According to the University’s data for the 2021-22 academic year, 53.2% of undergraduate students are women and 46.8% are men while NBN’s gender breakdown has a 74.1% woman-identifying staff majority. Because the University only has binary gender options, they only represent male and female-identifying genders and do not accurately reflect the gender diversity on our campus. This statistic was the best point of comparison we could find for our newsroom’s own breakdown.
This past Spring, 52.6% of our staff and contributors identified as heterosexual, down slightly from 53.7% in the Winter. Some respondents selected more than one sexuality, so the individual percentages may add up to more than 100%.
Outside of heterosexuality, bisexuality was the second-most represented sexuality at NBN. The percentage of bisexual staffers decreased from 18.5% to 15.8%. Those identifying as queer, which had increased significantly to 14.8% last Winter, dropped to 10.5%. On the other hand, 7% of our staffers and contributors identified as lesbian, up from 3.7%. Those identifying as questioning, which we added for the first time last Winter, went up from 5% to 7%. Each other sexuality fluctuated by 2% or less from its percentage in the Fall. Altogether, these sexualities accounted for about a quarter of staff. According to a 2021 study by Gallup, around 15.9% of Gen Z adults identify as LGBTQ+.
Members of NBN staff this past Spring spoke a combined total of 11 different languages other than English. Around 31% of our staff speaks Spanish, and 15.5% of our staff speaks Mandarin. French was the third most-spoken language, with three speakers on staff. NBN staff members also spoke Farsi, Filipino, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Tamil and Vietnamese. In total, 55.2% of our staff spoke a language other than English.
In the Spring, our survey revealed that 3.4% of our staffers are international students, down from 5.4% in the Winter. The proportion of international students on our staff has continuously dropped since it was first included in the Spring 2021 survey, when 10.4% of our staff were international students. Compared to the Northwestern community, international students are underrepresented. They make up 10.2% of undergraduate students according to data from the University for the 2021-22 school year.
First-generation students made up roughly 6.8% of our newsroom staff last Spring, a slight rise from the 5.4% who were on staff in the Winter. First-generation students continue to be underrepresented in NBN’s newsroom; according to a report by Northwestern, 13% of the class of 2023 and 13.2% of the class of 2024 are first-generation.
8.6% of staffers identified as low-income on the Spring survey, a steady drop from the 12.7% who identified in the Winter. NBN also asked students about their employment status so we could see how staffers may have to balance the work of the newsroom with other commitments, especially if they may have to help support their families or help pay their tuition. About 62.1% of students reported having a form of employment outside of the newsroom.
In addition, NBN continued to ask students whether or not they receive financial aid from Northwestern in an effort to have a more empathetic understanding of their socioeconomic background. About 49.1% of staff said they received some form of financial aid, continuing the dropping trend seen in the Winter, as 60.3% of staffers in Fall 2021 reported receiving financial aid, while only 55.4% said so in the Winter; this is once again the lowest amount students to report receiving financial aid since NBN started asking the question in Spring 2021. According to Northwestern, 61% of undergraduate students receive financial aid.
Unlike past quarters, the largest group in our staff identified as Christian with 14 respondents, up slightly from 13 in the Winter. Those identifying as Jewish and as agnostic were tied for the second-largest group at 12 people each. Other respondents identified as Atheist, Hindu, Catholic, Buddhist, spiritual but not religious, none and not practicing. Five respondents indicated they identified with more than one religious affiliation, and five respondents indicated that they identified with a religion but were not practicing.
Of our respondents, 17.2% said they have a disability. This percentage increased from 14.5% in Winter 2022. For context, 12.3% of the undergraduate population was registered with AccessibleNU in the 2020-21 school year, according to the most recent diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) report published by Northwestern. NBN acknowledges that not every disabled student is registered with AccessibleNU; this is the only metric that Northwestern publishes on the number of disabled students on campus that we could find. Respondents reported a variety of different disabilities, such as ADHD, anxiety, vision impairment and chronic conditions, including immunocompromising conditions. We are choosing not to publish exact responses out of respect for the privacy of our staff.
In the Spring, NBN took several new steps as a publication to expand our efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion. For example, we began including a question in our survey to allow NBN staff and contributors to identify if they have jobs or are employed outside of NBN. Once again, Medill Professor Dr. Ava Thompson Greenwell led our mandatory DEI dialogue, which was held earlier in the quarter to ensure that DEI reflections and priorities are established early in our writing and editing process. Continuing our mission to ensure transparency from our newsroom, NBN also began tracking the demographics of our sources in the Spring. We tested two different methods to see which would yield the best results. We asked contributors of the print magazine to send their sources an entirely anonymous post-interview survey, similar to the survey that we use to build these diversity reports. Contributors to the website were made to ask their sources a set of demographic questions during their interviews.
At the beginning of this school year, our executive team reflected on both methods of collecting data on our sources and decided that the anonymous post-interview survey was used more often and collected more information. Starting in Fall 2022, we are asking all contributors to provide detailed source information. It is now the responsibility of our editors to send the anonymous survey to every student interviewed by NBN. Our aim in having interviewees fill out this survey is to assess what aspects of the Northwestern student body we are covering well, and to identify the gaps where we are falling short. The results of our first quarter of source-tracking will be included in our Fall 2022 Diversity Report, to be published in the first half of Winter in 2023.
In the Spring, we were unfortunately unable to plan and host affinity spaces for marginalized students. However, going into Fall, we are once again hoping to begin an affinity space program. We are also hoping that these spaces will be in collaboration with different POC journalist organizations on campus, including NAHJ, NABJ and AAJA. We have brought on two Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Editors for the Fall who will be responsible for organizing and hosting these affinity spaces.
Going into the Fall, we will be continuing to update our DEI style guide, a document we created in late Spring to help staff and contributors identify terms, discourses and questions to ask as they write or edit pieces with NBN. We have also created an anonymous form, linked in our social media, for both NBN staff and people from the greater Northwestern community to report DEI-related concerns about our reporting or our newsroom. We also invited Medill’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director, Robert Brown, to host our quarterly DEI dialogue in the Fall.
At NBN, we believe that every staffer and contributor is responsible for thinking critically about and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in our reporting and in our newsroom. With that said, we continue to struggle with the promotion of our diversity survey. We cannot ensure transparency without representing our staff. NBN hopes by introducing the survey earlier in the quarter, we will be able to include more of our contributors and our staff in our analysis.