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Diversifying your Contributors in Seven Steps by Chelene Knight

By Chelene Knight, Managing Editor/Executive Director of Room magazine, and Festival Director of the Growing Room Literary Festival

Photograph of Chelene Knight
Chelene Knight

When thinking about diversifying your contributors, you must first think about what this means to you and your team. What does diversifying really mean? It should go above and beyond race and gender, and consider all the various intersections and the ways in which they meld into one another. Wherever possible have an in-person meeting with your team and make sure that “diversifying our contributors” is the one and only topic. You should recognize that there is no end result, but instead a system of established accountability practices put in place to consistently reevaluate the magazine’s efforts while still adhering to your mandate, mission, values, and long-term goals. Ask yourself questions about what diversifying really means. These questions can include: Who are we not reaching, and why? How can we let folks know that we want their voices included? How do we include as many voices as possible, but in a respectful way?

Most often, folks submit to magazines, purchase issues and attend events by word of mouth, or because they have a longstanding history/relationship with the magazine and its values. Find a magazine that mirrors and reflects what you hope to be doing and reach out to them and ask about their procedures. Make friends and have conversations. We shouldn’t ever be operating in a silo.

Step One: Define what your inclusion goals are

Start by embracing the Three T’s: Transparency, Trust, Truth—your bridge to success.

  • Truth
    Being open and honest about your magazine’s intentions, as well as being forthcoming about mistakes you’ve made along the way, will lead into building trust with your current readers. Be honest about who is missing from your pages. Share (perhaps in a weekly newsletter) that you WANT To include these folks, but need a little help.
  • Trust
    Trust is earned when a magazine delivers on their promises and trust is solidified by creating quick and concise solutions if things do not go as planned. Did you miss mailing an issue? Did you spell a contributor’s name wrong? Do you reply to all emails? It’s all in the details. Replying to emails sent from the very folks you hope to reach out to is imperative. Listen to their rants and raves and in your reply, ask them what their ideas are. Take their ideas and present them to your team.
  • Transparency
    No one should expect everything to happen overnight. And because of this, it’s super important to make sure you communicate your journey with your writers, subscribers, supporters and followers. Are you working on creating an accessible space, but hitting a lot of road blocks along the way? Let people know! The journey is just as important as the destination.

Step Two: Identify the barriers and then remove them

Barriers are obstacles that stand in the way of not only certain people submitting to your magazine, but they can also stand in the way of even accessing it. The only real way to find out what these barriers are is to ask. Send out reader surveys, weekly newsletters (and in these newsletters ask your current subscribers to forward it to someone who may not know your magazine exists).

Step Three: Take a look in the mirror: Does your staff and governing body reflect who you are trying to reach? If not, rectify this

The majority of folks submitting to magazines will look to that masthead to check the diversity of who is on the editorial and governing boards:

  • people of colour
  • folks with varying education levels
  • women, non-binary, trans folks
  • Indigenous folks
  • Folks with various abilities and disabilities

The list goes on and on. What’s that old saying? Be the change you hope to make. Reflect it every day. Although the above is not an exhaustive list, I know that as a writer and as an editor that these are things that are very important to me.

Step Four: Community engagement

Hosting your own events is a fantastic way to attract attention and build a larger audience for your magazine, but attending other events aside from your own, meeting people, networking and supporting other local organizations is a fantastic way to build and strengthen community.

Step Five: Relationship building

It’s one thing to establish strong relationships with the community, but also consider doing the same with organizations outside of publishing. Speak with local shop owners, cafes, restaurants and the like to establish the “three T’s” and check in to see if your goals align with theirs. Do they want to increase food sales? Ask about hosting an event there, or collaborate in another way (discounts can go both ways).

Step Six: Action items you can implement now

  • Transparency via weekly newsletters.
  • Form an equity and inclusion committee and make that committee the core of every decision your organization makes.
  • Perform annual language audits on your website, and other materials to make sure your language is inclusive.

Step Seven: Accountability and constant re-evaluation

Again, diversifying isn’t a matter of checking boxes. The work you do to make your organization as inclusive as possible, inside and out, should become daily practice, a part of your mandate. Check in with yourselves frequently to make sure you are on the right track and to look for ways to continually do better. A great way to make sure that this never falls off your to-do list is to write it into your daily operations. Ask yourself if every decision you make is as inclusive as possible. If the answer is no, go back and try again. This is work. Magazines Canada


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Feature photo: The Jopwell Collection

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