Tuesday, December 15, 2015

NPR should track disabilities among staff diversity

National Public Radio ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen has released a look at diversity among NPR newsroom staff, encompassing race, ethnicity and gender. She also addresses diversity among on-air sources for Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

I thank Jensen for addressing diversity in NPR newsrooms (both on staff and among the people whose viewpoints that it chooses to share). I thank her as well for her intention to continue addressing this issue.

Among gender, ethnic and racial diversity, I wish to suggest that disabilities are equally important demographics.

Newsroom diversity has direct bearing upon two types of stories especially: stories of mass shootings and the killings of people with disabilities by parents or caregivers.

In the former instance, the perpetrator is “diagnosed” with a mental illness or developmental disability — often by unnamed or unofficial sources (for example, through statements via a social media account attributed to a family member). Missing or overlooked is the fact that people with disabilities are far more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violent crimes.

With the latter story, reporters project sympathy for the killer who was “burdened” with responsibility of caring for the person whom he or she chose to kill.

I believe that reporters and editors with developmental disabilities would shape very different narratives around these sensitive stories.

When addressing diversity in NPR newsrooms, I ask that Jensen please include the percentage of NPR staff who identify as having a disability. As Jensen says, “Diversity matters in newsrooms,” and this is especially evident in the types of stories that I’ve identified above.

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