A Focus on Retaining Journalists of Color—and Helping them Succeed

By Shannan Bowen

Executive Director, NC Local News Workshop

We need more journalists and leaders of color in North Carolina newsrooms.

This is not an opinion; it’s a fact that also applies beyond our state.

I know that many editors and reporters in North Carolina recognize this issue. Newsrooms have published diversity, equity and inclusion commitments, changed governance structures and launched other initiatives to diversify their staffs and operations. Participants in our first program of the NC Media Equity Project overall agreed that recruitment and retention of journalists of color are two of the most important focus areas for staff development.

But hiring more journalists of color is only one step.

During a session this spring at our NC News & Information Summit, three journalists of color — Eileen Rodriguez, Dante Miller and Laura Brache — shared their experiences working in local news and the challenges in developing their career paths. I told someone after that session that these are the women who should be leading newsrooms in North Carolina.

But we — collectively and individually — need to do more to ensure they get to those positions.

That’s why the Workshop, which exists to help our local news organizations tackle such challenges by providing resources and programs, has launched a leadership development program specifically for news professionals of color in our state. Six journalists from a range of organizations are participating in Upward:NC, a program designed and led by Emma Carew Grovum, the founder of media consultancy Kimbap Media.

“Local newsrooms are having a hard time hiring, especially when it comes to journalists who can help shift the demographics of a team and better reflect the lived experiences of a community. But they’re also struggling to keep talented journalists of color who are being courted by opportunities with remote work options and higher salaries,” Carew Grovum said. “Upward steps in to disrupt this narrative and says, ‘Let’s identify your future leaders, and let’s invest in them together.’”

Carew Grovum designed the Upward program as a Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow

“One of the biggest concerns I heard from journalists working in local news when I did the research component of my fellowship was the intense feeling of isolation in their news organizations and teams. ‘My bosses/colleagues just don’t understand where I am coming from’ was a common theme I heard from my interviews,” she said.

The cohort model of Upward creates a small, tight-knit community for the fellows. “The connections between the cohort simply cannot be understated in their journey: whom they turn to for wisdom and comfort, how they support and challenge one another. In the end, it’s our goal that each person feels less alone in their journey as a leader of color,” Carew Grovum said.

The participating journalists, nominated by their supervisors, include:

Lars Dolder, editor of The News & Observer’s Insider

Jamila Elder, assignment editor at WRAL

Kendrick Marshall, service journalism editor at The Charlotte Observer

Dante Miller, community engagement producer, WFAE

Sarah Mobley Smith, senior editor of WFAE’s race and equity team

Jade Packer, Director of Children’s Media & Education Engagement at PBS North Carolina


They will meet as a cohort for workshops on leadership development topics ranging from “how to manage up” to salary negotiation, which will include guest speakers from throughout the country. The participants also will receive one-on-one mentorship and coaching with Carew Grovum, and will participate in meetings with their supervisor and an executive sponsor from their organization.

When I talked with Carew Grovum about applying this program at a state level, she stressed that collaboration is key for the vitality of newsrooms in the future. “In order to best serve our communities, the best local journalism will come from connections and partnerships, the very kind we hope to build within Upward.”

My hope, from my perspective supporting our state’s news and information ecosystem, is that we see leaders of color in more newsrooms across our state. By doing so, we will ensure that communities of all types are included, represented and engaged by local news. And at the same time, we’ll transform the idea of what news leadership and representation looks like.

As Carew Grovum said, “Too many newsrooms and news communities are losing talented folks of color right now. There’s a lot of lip-service being paid around hiring journalists of color, which means folks may have increased options to move around. Retention really should be an ongoing game, but too many news leaders have back-burnered this work during the crisis of the pandemic.”

I know a leadership development program is only one approach of many that could and should happen. And as a woman who is white, I know I do not have all the answers. I’d appreciate and welcome any feedback or ideas from others in our ecosystem. My email and DMs on Twitter are open; I look forward to hearing from you!

NC Local News Workshop