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Q&A: PJStar Executive Editor Romando Dixson Says More Diversity Is A Priority

Romando Dixson via Twitter
Romando Dixson, executive editor of the Peoria Journal Star.

The Peoria Journal Star's new executive editor, Romando Dixson, started just about a month ago, but he's already setting some expansive goals.In a front page article Monday, Dixson said he's making bolstering the paper's diversity and inclusion two major priorities in both staffing and editorial decisions.

WCBU's Tim Shelley spoke with Dixson about his goals and his time in the River City so far.

Tim Shelley: You wrote the article about diversity in the newsroom, and kind of your goals for diversity for the Journal Star. You talked a little bit about both the newsroom demographics and the type of stories the paper covers. If you can just expand a little bit upon that.

Romando Dixson: Well, I think first of all, you know, the staff here is doing a good job. You know, and we have a lot of experience. We have a lot of talent in our newsroom, whether it's writers, photographers, or editors, in the course of getting to know people, I have enjoyed learning the different personalities in our newsroom, and things of that nature. Although we've been, I guess, we're not working either newsroom because of the pandemic.

So, in terms of what our needs are gonna look like, we know it is overwhelmingly white, and there's nothing wrong with that. You know, and it is overwhelmingly male. And again, this is not anything against, you know, any gender or race or anything like that. But the important thing is that you want to reflect the community. And if you have a balance of male and female, and you know, different races in the newsroom, I think you can better reflect that in your coverage.

And certainly, I think we're actually pretty close in terms of race, and, you know, reflecting the community, we're not far off there. But in terms of gender, it's kind of out of balance with, you know, in our community, nationally is about 50/50, male and female. And in our newsroom, we just have one female reporter, as so we're just out of out of balance there, and so on. It's just after that we would like to improve and also, you know, we just tell them the community what our newsroom looks like. So, you know, there are parts of Peoria, maybe different races that don't feel as represented in our coverage. And I think we've covered all areas of the community, but we just want to make sure we're doing more.

TS: So when you talk a little bit about the makeup, you mentioned the lack of women in the newsroom specifically. So how do you how do you go about changing that? Does that go into hiring more people over the next five years in terms of goals?

RD: I think the main thing I want to say is we'll hire the best people for an available job. But, you know, in our company, Gannett, we strive to have a diverse pool of candidates. And so whether it's male, female, Black, white or Hispanic, you want to have the best pool of candidates so you can make the best decisions. So one way to do that is certainly hiring.

And then the other thing that I think people may overlook, and I don't want them to overlook with this story is that, you know, we want to have diversity in coverage, too. That's just as important. Like the people in the newsroom can cover diverse communities with the current makeup.

But you know, I think it's always good to have, again, a good mixture of people, young and old. And even some of the veteran reporters here will be like, oh, we'd love to have an intern, or, you know, a younger reporter come in. So, I don't think that, you know, again, there's different layers to diversity: age, gender, and race. So we're just looking to strike a healthy balance in all three.

TS: And in your in your article you link to a couple examples of the diversity in coverage. One was the the article about WMBD reporter Treasure Roberts wearing braids on the air. And the other one was, I believe, about Grandpa John's Rib Shack, which was a legendary restaurant here in Peoria. So those are kind of examples of what you're talking about in terms of kind of improving or widening the breadth of the type of stories you're covering?

RD: Correct. And, you know, those were just recent articles from the past month that I've been here.  You know, Phil Luciano, our columnist and reporter, you know, that idea he had on his own. A story he wrote, just this past weekend about a West Peoria man running and you know, fighting racism, running with a sign miles and miles per day every morning to you know, bring attention to racism and bullying. And so that that's another story about, you know, a diverse story. And Phil, he does this all the time. So, again, I do want to emphasize that we have already been covering in diverse communities, and he did this on his own. He's always kind of done that.

But also I want to say, you know, we're just trying to do it more than maybe we have in the past. So that, I just want to be clear as light, when you say you do it, more people say, 'Oh, you never do it.' I don't think that's the case.

TS: And just to circle back for a second here, just to talk about you a little bit here. So you're a Michigan native. You've worked in papers in Mississippi, South Carolina, and you've been here in Peoria for a little bit over a month now. Just, so -- kind of your first impressions of the community. What do you think?

RD: Oh, I think people have been very nice. Most of my interactions have come with people in the newsroom, obviously. But you know, I've been out to eat down on the riverfront, and stayed in the hotel, downtown. So I've gotten a nice greeting from folks.

I will say, my very first time here riding around in a cab, people told me 'don't move here.' The cab drivers told me not to move here, but I didn't listen to them. So, you know, by and large, you know, there's a pride in Peoria. And, you know, people are nice. One man gave me a ride from the airport to my hotel because I had a phone screen went out my first trip here. So that's just an example of the kindness that people have shown me.

TS: Was there anything else you want to add or you want people to know about things you're working on the Journal Star they might not know about and might find interesting?

RD: Well, you know, just check us out at pjstar.com. You know, another big story storyline in the country right now is what's happening with schools and how they try to slow the spread of coronavirus, but also provide the education that families and parents want to see. Also you know, in terms of schools and things like that. Athletes and sports, so, there's a bunch of different viewpoints and topics on that. And then, so we'll have a lot of coverage as it relates to that and other things.

TS: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for your time this morning. I appreciate it.

RD: All right. Thank you.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.