NPR, Media Bias, Employee Referral, and Diversity

A friend emailed me to ask: “Todd, you are a media guy, you probably have thoughts on this … how could anyone not know by now how biased NPR is, and what do you think of the whole government funding thing?”

Well, the government funding part — whether a media company should be partially government funded — I will skip because I’m not feeling the connection to recruiting. But the other part is very relevant. 

And here’s my take, and it applies to NPR and much of the media and Hollywood, college professors, and anyone else.

Maybe I’m not cynical enough, maybe I’m too optimistic, too naive or something, but I don’t think many reporters (or professors) wake up and say “I’m going to push my agenda today! I’m going to present a distorted view of reality! I’m going to be totally subjective!”

No, having met many writers and artists and others through MediaBistro and elsewhere, I can say most want to do their job well and fairly, whether they’re supposed to be an opinionated commentator or supposed to be a more balanced, more objective reporter.

Having said that, again having met many writers and artists and others through MediaBistro and elsewhere, I can say that most, like anyone, surround themselves by family, friends, and colleagues who think mainly like them. Their Facebook friends post things that generally are very similar to what they believe. Their Thanksgiving tables probably contain a rogue voice from whatever opposite end of the political spectrum they’re on, but mostly dittoheads.

They generally view TV or comedy shows, listen to radio programs, or read online blogs and articles that generally represent their point of view.

The people in their neighborhood, for the most part, vote for similar people.

They shop at grocery stores (think Wal-Mart vs. Whole Foods) that generally are frequented by people who think like them.

If they read an opposite point of view, which reporters and professors do sometimes attempt to do, it’s often still done in context: the conservative criticizing conservatives, or the liberal criticizing liberals — that sort of thing.

I don’t think employers usually have bad intentions either. Most, in my mind, don’t wake up and say “we’re not going to be diverse today! Let’s hire someone who’s as much like us as we can!”

(Though I was just discussing this all with Lance Haun, who says that many corporate culture/branding efforts do have this effect.)

Anyhow, again assuming corporations at least claim to be about diversity, people still refer people who they know, and they know people like them. They’re often not trying to do it. It just happens.

Even “diversity hiring,” in my mind, can result in hires who have a different skin color but a similiar mindset. 

Once an interview starts, the employer often interprets people who don’t see the world as they do as having certain negative characteristics. 

True diversity would involve hiring people who think differently — and often, as a bonus, results in them looking different. This sort of hiring of truly diverse people, people who see the world quite differently than you — is not as easy as hiring a diversity consultant, plugging in some diversity software, doing a little diversity training, and visiting a diversity job site.

What it does involve: well, that’s a great discussion that we should have, but I’ll throw one idea of many out there. If I’m an employer wanting someone “diverse” as defined not by skin color but by thinking differently, I’d advertise on a website that people who work at my company would not be likely to frequent. Of course, I’d still want someone who could do the job. 


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