Diversifying Twin Cities Newsrooms

After George Floyd’s killing, newsrooms work to better reflect their communities. Four journalists of color create newsrooms to look more like their Twin Cities neighborhoods.

by Yasmin Abdurahman and Hafsa Farah

As the Twin Cities becomes more culturally diverse – not only in numbers but in influence – several newsrooms understand that it’s crucial for them to accurately reflect the communities about whom they tell stories.

Four journalists say they take the challenge of diversifying newsrooms and news coverage seriously through their presence as people of color, but most importantly through their life experiences they can share with their colleagues.

“In order to have an equitable newsroom, you need to create systems in place where they include talking to people and communicating,” said Kyndell Harkness, the Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s assistant managing editor for diversity and community. “We need to see what the guidelines are and what the bar is, so that people can meet it and not go below it.”

Since March 2021, Ava Kian has reported pieces that emphasize people of color and minorities’ experiences with health care providers.

MinnPost Race and Equity Reporter Ava Kian was inspired by her sister’s stories about racism in the health care industry.
MinnPost Race and Equity Reporter Ava Kian was inspired by her sister’s stories about racism in the health care industry.

Kian says she applied for her race and health equity reporting position because of her passion for social justice. Her older sister is a nurse among few women of color in her doctorate and nursing programs. She recalls mentioning how many of her sister’s co-workers and peers have various views about race.

The normalization of racism in her sister’s workspace – with hospital employees judging immigrants who shunned vaccinations – pushed Kian to learn more about health equity, such as health care challenges immigrants face because many struggle to express themselves. They experience language or financial barriers drove Kian to want to tell those stories.

“It made me not want to blame the individuals experiencing it, but explain the system of what’s behind it,” Kian said.

Through accurate reporting, she hopes to build trust in communities of color. Many people in minority communities often feel journalists aren’t empathic to their life experiences, she said.

“I think a lot of minorities and people of color have a hard time reaching out to (news) institutions when there’s a lack of trust,” Kian said. “There’s a disconnect between them wanting to share their stories and them feeling comfortable someone’s going to tell it in the right way.”

Sahan Journal editor and CEO Mukhtar Ibrahim recalls a mentor covering a story on immigrants and communities of color that portrayed her sources respectfully and accurately. Seeing the respect shown and the connections his mentor had with her sources, Ibrahim said she was able to accurately represent communities of color. This sparked his interest in creating a space where newsrooms reflected their communities.

The mission to have diverse, accurate stories starts with diverse newsrooms, Ibrahim said.

“If you speak the language, understand the language or look like (your sources), that gives you a different window into what these communities are going through,” he said. “A journalist of color can well document the issues mentioned rather than someone who’s not from that specific community.”

For Ibrahim, diverse journalist can establish connections and trust by being out and about in coffee shops, places of worship and elsewhere. That way, journalists understand readers’ experiences.

1.MinnPost Managing Editor Harry Colbert discusses his career experiences at multiple news outlets in the Twin Cities Jan. 21. Colbert appreciates that he can bring diverse voices and stories to a larger audience at MinnPost.
1. MinnPost Managing Editor Harry Colbert discusses his career experiences at multiple news outlets in the Twin Cities Jan. 21. Colbert appreciates that he can bring diverse voices and stories to a larger audience at MinnPost.

MinnPost’s Harry Colbert started his journalism career at news outlets that focused on Black audiences: Insight News and North News. He now works at MinnPost as the managing editor, where he says he can reach a larger audience that likely has not thought of certain issues before or hasn’t seen its issues represented.

“I’m unapologetically Black and want to make sure that we’re telling stories of people of color,” he said.

Colbert is happy with the impact he had on North News but felt there were limits.

“The impact with North is we were able to do really great work,” said Colbert, who still lives in North Minneapolis. “Same with Insight News. (We) were able to do phenomenal work in telling some much-needed stories. But sometimes we were telling the story inside of a silo, meaning the people that were getting the information, where some were saying, ‘Yeah, of course we know this.’

“Whereas with MinnPost, when we’re given some of this information – whether it’s talking about disparities in health or education or police contact and things of that nature – some people were unaware, or unaware to the extent in which this type of gap exists.”

Kyndell Harkness has seen how stories have changed as newsrooms changed over time as her own career changed, too. She worked for 20 years as a photojournalist and, most recently, got promoted to her assistant managing editor of diversity/community role at the Star Tribune.

“I just loved the job,” she said of photojournalism. “I love taking pictures. I love going into strangers’ houses, being invited, and having them be okay with taking pictures of them which is pretty cool.”

Despite her contentedness with photojournalism, Harkness and other journalists sought solutions for diversifying their newsrooms after police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, an international news event the Star Tribune covered for months.

After Floyd’s murder, Harkness and other journalists of color knew they needed to be treated better and their coverage of communities needed to improve, even after winning a Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Coverage.

Reporter Bio
  • Name: Ava Kian
  • Hometown: Minneapolis
  • Pronouns: she/her
  • News Organization: MinnPost
  • Job Title/Beat: Race and health equity fellow
  • Experience: 2
  • Past Affiliations/Outlets: Minnesota Daily, St. Paul Pioneer Press
  • Education: University of Minnesota, BA in journalism
  • Family: three sisters
  • Pets: one dog
  • Hobbies: yoga, dancing
  • Favorite movie: The Titanic
  • Favorite book: The Great Gatsby
  • Role Model: Christiane Amanpou
  • What’s the future of journalism in this market? “The future of journalism is hard to predict. I think it’ll become more diverse and have more emphasis on hearing from different perspectives rather that the ‘official’ voice.”
  • What should diversity/inclusion look like in our storytelling in the Twin Cities? “It should mean that our stories are about real people — and the people who are most impacted by policies.”

This story is part of a series produced at ThreeSixty’s 2023 Winter News Team, spotlighting local journalists. Read more stories here.