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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

How journalists get hired—and why we should talk about it

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El Colectivo 506
El Colectivo 506
El equipo editorial de El Colectivo 506 trabajó en conjunto para publicar esta nota. The editorial staff of El Colectivo 506 worked together to publish this article.

This might seem like an odd time to discuss media organizations’ hiring policies, since in our field today, any hiring at all feels like a miracle.

Besides, who has time? Hiring in journalism, particularly for freelance work and urgent coverage, moves fast by definition. Editors need to draw on their immediate networks and contacts. When a fire is raging or a scandal erupting, you’re scrambling to find someone you trust (or at least, someone who can WhatsApp you some high-quality clips)—not checking off boxes on a hiring policy. Last year, we asked some media founders and industry leaders in Costa Rica about hiring policies, and when the general response was, “What hiring policy?,” we weren’t surprised.  

But look at all this from another angle, and these issues make a discussion of hiring practices more important than ever in our hard-hit, embattled profession. When opportunities for paid work are shrinking, it’s more essential to look at how those opportunities are distributed. When hiring decisions move fast and are based on personal networks, it’s even more vital to examine—outside of those stressful hiring rushes—who’s in those networks, and who’s excluded. What are the hiring principals that should be in place so that they can be second nature when the moment arises.

When we participated in a gender equality training in 2023, we realized that because we are a media organization founded and run by women, we have taken our grasp of gender issues for granted. We’re proud that we’ve given lots of space to women journalists, interviewees, and op-ed contributors—but we had never really talked about it. Nor had we thought about the people we were excluding. When we built our award-winning edition “Las Titas” (“The Grandmothers”), about senior citizens who are caregivers for their grandkids and parents, we decided to hire photojournalists who were also mothers so that they would bring that perspective to their work. But we didn’t think through the positive and negative consequences of that impromptu rule. And if we hope that media across the board will be more inclusive and intentional when they make a hire, we need to start at home.

That’s why, supported by the Gender Mainstreaming Scaling Fund at LeFil Consulting, we hired the consulting firm Efecto Boomerang to help us create a hiring policy. We have two goals with this. First, we want to apply the policy in order to make our hiring more transparent and more fair. And second, we hope that we can open up some conversation with our journalism colleagues about this topic. 

To start, we have decided to make our hiring policy completely public. You can read and review this Spanish-language document here. Many companies keep this type of information and documentation private, and we respect this; however, it does prevent small companies like ours from learning from best practices in bigger organizations. Without the support of LeFil Consulting and theFund for the Integration of the Gender Perspective, our microbusiness could never have hired Boomerang’s professionals with the knowledge to develop this policy, much less take the time to research and learn about the subject.

We’re also interested in learning more about how our counterparts in other media organizations approach fair hiring in a complicated industry. While El Colectivo 506 hires only on the smallest of scales, we do hire, and we have always put a lot of thought into how to make those decisions. Working with Boomerang allowed us to understand that a hiring policy is not a “one size fits all” and that there will be variants for each process—but also that hiring journalists requires that we see much more than a CV. We need to see past work, which makes it challenging to keep our personal connections and biases out of the way.

Communicators who constantly apply to competitive funding opportunities know that a powerful pitch or published article that demonstrates great capacity for research, analysis and synthesis, can beat a resume. When we hire, we have considered these samples of journalistic quality, but now this practice will be supported by a more transparent and structured process.

And what happens after the selection? We often jump straight into the work at hand, leaving aside contextualization and induction processes that can later have consequences on the results of the work. We now have a clear process that reminds us that the person hired must be provided with information, and that the people not selected also deserve to have as much information as possible about what happened.

What’s next for El Colectivo 506? In addition to sharing this policy to improve it through discussion, we need to test it out! In 2024 we hope to double our team and hire a large number of journalists and photojournalists in different parts of the country. Through this process, we hope to contribute to strengthening the practice of journalism in our country and region.

Journalists, editors, media founders… what do you think? Tell us at [email protected], or via WhatsApp at +506 8483-1992. Better yet, jump into a WhatsApp chat with us this Friday, February 9 from 12 to 1 pm. You can join Network 506, our Spanish-language WhatsApp community for journalists and people passionate about journalism, right here: sala506.com/red506.

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