North by Northwestern’s (NBN) diversity report examines the demographics of our staff and contributors for the purpose of transparency and accountability. We reflect over the results from our staff diversity and source tracking surveys each quarter to examine different ways we can make our newsroom an accessible and welcoming place for everyone. We typically publish our report near the beginning of each quarter and compare it to data from the past quarter to examine any changes in our demographics.
The Winter 2023 diversity survey saw the highest number of responses out of all quarters it has been sent to our staff. The 96 responses collected this quarter can likely be attributed to the growth of our Winter staff on both the web and print team, in addition to the extensive efforts of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) editors in encouraging staffers to fill out the form. On the other hand, our optional source tracking survey received only 36 responses.
This report does not distinguish between the web and print staff for specific demographics, however 48.4% of our total staff is exclusively on our web staff, 34.4% is exclusively on print and 16% of our staff hold positions on multiple parts of the publication between the website, print magazine and corporate teams.
Race & ethnicity
The majority of NBN staff identified as white, a trend continued from previous surveys. NBN's survey does not offer an option for identifying with multiple races, but staffers are able to select all races and ethnicities they identify with. In the Winter, the percentage of staff identifying as only white increased from 36.8% to 40.4%.
As previously mentioned, the number of respondents increased for this survey, so even though the percentage of those who identified as Latinx/Hispanic decreased from 15.8% to 13.8%, the number of people slightly increased from 12 to 13.
Meanwhile, the number of Asian and/or Asian American respondents decreased from 30.2% to 26.6% in the Winter. Within this group, East Asian students remained the majority constituting 80% of Asian staff and contributors at NBN, yet the South Asian population remained low at 2.1% and Southeast Asia at 3.2% overall.
The number of Black/African American staffers at NBN decreased from 14 to 13, making up 13.8% of the staff in the past quarter.
NBN's representation of Indigenous/Native American students and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders remains low, with less than 5.3% of staff identifying as such.
However, the number of Middle Eastern/North African staff members did go from one of the lowest representations and now remains at 6.4% of the staff.
Compared to the overall undergraduate population at Northwestern University, NBN's newsroom represents a high percentage of Asian and/or Asian American, Latinx/Hispanic, and Black/African American students. It is worth noting that NBN allows staff to select as many races and ethnicities as apply to them, similarly to official NU data. The Winter survey received the highest number of responses from NBN’s staff, contributing to many increases in data.
Our breakdown of data on gender identity in the Winter 2023 survey is consistent with our Fall 2022 survey. NBN recognizes gender as a fluid identity, so our survey offers staffers the option to identify with more than one gender identity.
Our newsroom remains primarily composed of staffers who identify as cisgender women, competitive to the larger Northwestern undergraduate population. The percentage of cisgender women at NBN increased from 77.6% in the Fall to 79.6% in the Winter, while the percentage of cisgender men decreased from 17.1% in the Fall to 16.1% in the Winter. Our survey also allows staffers to specify if they identify as transgender women or transgender men to better reflect the various gender identities within NBN.
The percentage of NBN staffers who identify outside of the gender binary decreased. Our survey allows staffers to identify with the following options: agender, gender fluid, gender non-conforming and non-binary. Of our staffers this Winter, 5.4% identify with a gender outside of the binary, a decrease from 7.9% in Fall 2022. These proportional decreases occurred as a result of a general increase in NBN staffers. We separated transgender individuals from this percentage instead of combining them as we did in the Fall 2022 report to more accurately represent our staffers and their gender identities.
In addition, our survey offers staffers the option to identify as questioning because NBN acknowledges that our staffers may be in different stages of the gender identification and exploration process. The percentage of staffers who identify as questioning increased to 4.3% in Winter 2023.
During the Winter, a slightly higher percentage of NBN staff and contributors identified as heterosexual at 55.6%, similar to the previous Fall's 55.3%. Bisexuality remained the second most common sexuality, with 25.6% of staffers identifying as bisexual. The proportion of respondents identifying as queer remained moderately constant, dropping slightly from 10.5% to 10%, as well as the percentage of staff who identified as lesbian, which slightly declined from 3.9% to 3.3%. However, the number of respondents identifying as gay increased from 3.9% to 5.6% from the previous Fall, while the percentage of those identifying as questioning remained low at 2.2%.
Members of NBN staff this past Winter spoke a combined total of 13 different languages other than English. About 24% of our staff speaks Spanish, and 13.8% of our staff speaks Mandarin, increasing from 19.7% and 11.8% respectively in the Fall. French remains the third most-spoken language, with 9 speakers on staff. NBN staff members also spoke Cantonese, Farsi, Filipino, German, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Portuguese, Shona, Greek, and Thai. The number of languages spoken in the newsroom decreased from 18 to 13. In total, 48.9% of our staff spoke a language other than English.
The percentage of international student staffers at NBN increased from 5.3% in the Fall to 7.4% in the Winter. International students continue to be underrepresented at NBN, although this percentage has been increasing over the past two quarters. According to the University’s most recent data, international students make up 10.2% of the undergraduate student body at Northwestern.
First-generation students account for 11.7% of our newsroom staff in the 2023 Winter, an increase from 10.5% from the 2022 Fall.
In the Winter survey, 18.1% of staffers identified as low-income, a slight decrease from the 2022 Fall survey, which identified 18.4% of staffers as low-income. NBN also asked students about their employment status to see how staffers may have to balance their work in the newsroom with other jobs or commitments. About 58.5% of students said they were employed outside of NBN, a slight decrease from the previous 63.2%.
Consistent with previous surveys, NBN asked students if they receive financial aid from Northwestern. The number of staffers who receive financial aid decreased from 52% to 50% in the 2023 Winter. According to Northwestern, 61% of undergraduate students receive financial aid.
This Winter quarter, Christianity was once again the most common religious identity among staff, with 27 respondents, compared to the 22 from Fall 2022. The second-largest group was Agnostic, which increased from 20 to 23 from Fall to Winter, respectively. 17 staff members identified as Jewish, which is an increase from the 11 from the previous Fall. Amongst staff members, 11 identified as Atheist, which was consistent with another 11 members identifying as not practicing. Additionally, 8 staff members identified as none. Other religious affiliations reported by staff members include Buddhist and “spiritual but not religious.”
The percentage of staffers at NBN who have disabilities decreased from 18.7% in Fall 2022 to 16.3% in Winter 2023. Despite the decrease, this percentage remains greater than the percentage of Northwestern undergraduates registered with AccessibleNU. According to the University’s 2021-2022 diversity, equity and inclusion report, 12.3% of the undergraduate student body are registered with AccessibleNU. NBN recognizes that not all students with disabilities are registered with AccessibleNU, but we utilize the University’s report as our best metric for comparison with our results. Although a few respondents elaborated on their disabilities, we are choosing to not publish their responses so that we respect their privacy.
For NBN’s Winter Quarter, writers for the website only sent the source tracking survey to Northwestern student sources while magazine writers were asked to send the survey to all of their sources. This was a a means of easing into our new source tracking efforts, given that the survey only began in Fall 2022. For the 2023 Spring Quarter, we require writers to send the survey to every single source they interview. We only received 36 responses on the survey, despite changing our protocol and asking writers to have sources anonymously fill out a post-interview survey.
Based on these responses, 61% of NBN’s sources were white, 16.7% were Black or African American and the rest were Asian or Latinx/Hispanic. Compared to both our newsroom and the Northwestern’s enrollment statistics for 2021-2022, NBN sourcing overrepresented white voices – given that 40.4% of our staff identified as white and University data indicated that 39.6% of the undergraduate population is white. Half of the survey respondents speak at least one language other than English, including various Chinese dialects, Spanish, French, Tagalog, Soninke, Tigrinya and American Sign Language.
A majority of sources identified as a woman – 52.8% – while 36.1% identified as male and 11.3% identified outside of the gender binary. This distribution is more balanced than that of our newsroom staff.
In terms of religion, 33.3% of respondents identified as Christian, 27.8% as Agnostic, 25% as Jewish, 13.9% as Atheist. Other religions represented include Hindu and Muslim. Other respondents indicated that they were not religious, not practicing or were spiritual but not religious. In addition, 11% of respondents indicated that they identified with a specific religion in addition to being Agnostic.
Lastly, 11% of respondents indicated that they have a disability.
We give sources the chance to indicate if they are a member of a community that is underrepresented in media as sources that we did not mention in the survey. Some respondents indicated that they are first-generation, low income students and one indicated that they are an international student.
The lack of responses on our survey obscure the demographics of our sourcing. For example, the form’s results indicate that NBN did not speak with Native American sources in the Winter Quarter, however stories like To plan a Pow Wow interviewed Indigenous students on campus.
NBN’s DEI efforts continued to expand in the Winter Quarter. Our DEI dialogue in January opened a space to reflect over our coverage and was facilitated by Medill’s DEI director Robert Brown. Our DEI editor team grew from one editor to three this quarter, along with the size of their responsibilities. To further integrate our DEI editors into the print process, they attended pitching, editing and design meetings to advise staffers on story angles and drafts throughout the quarter.
For the past few quarters, our DEI team has been hoping to launch affinity spaces for different minority groups on our staff but we have still been unable to coordinate an appropriate time with affinity organizations on campus. As the number of minority groups on our staff continues to grow, we hope to provide spaces where they can feel comfortable in collaboration with campus groups like NAHJ, NABJ and AASJ. To do this, we will make it our priority to plan affinity events earlier in the quarter and increase communication with other organizations.
Our biggest weakness this quarter was collecting source tracking results. The low level of respondents made it difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from our coverage. For the Spring Quarter, we are having both the website and magazine writers send the survey to all of their sources. In our DEI dialogue, we highlighted how important it was that they are the ones to request sources to fill out the form and that the purpose of the survey is so that NBN can identify gaps in our coverage. We also encouraged writers to let their sources know that the source is completely anonymous, that they only have to answer questions they are comfortable with and that it should take no longer than 30 seconds to fill out.
The biggest takeaway from our report is that it is a reflection of NBN’s increasing DEI and recruitment efforts. As the quarter with the most responses by far, we hope to make NBN a place staffers want to return to and writers want to contribute. In practice, this means continuing to be a barrier-free organization and learning publication that partakes in responsible journalism and hosts events like affinity spaces to make our newsroom a more welcoming place.