For Gina Chua, diversity in storytelling is just as important as diversity in the newsroom.
Chua is a self-described “quasi-third-culture person” who was born in Singapore, grew up in the Philippines and has studied and worked in the U.S. and Asia. Last December, she came out as transgender. Four months later, she made headlines after being appointed the new executive editor of Reuters. She is now one of the most senior transgender editors in journalism.
But for Chua, her presence in the newsroom isn’t enough.
“I want us to think about more diversity of the stories we write,” she said. “Yes, I want diversity in the newsroom, and I want the newsroom to be representative of the world, but I think that’s only halfway there. Really, what matters is what we write and how we reflect the world in the words, pictures, videos, graphics that we put out.”
Chua spoke to NBCU Academy about how newsrooms can be more inclusive to trans journalists, the challenges they often face and the impact that she hopes to have on the industry. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are some challenges trans journalists face in the newsroom?
I think it’s challenging mostly on an interpersonal relationship basis. But I just want to say, I think I’m an exception to the rule here given where I was when I transitioned. I think it becomes equally an issue on an interpersonal basis [depending] on what your job is and who you’re seeing. How do your sources interact with you, which is all just an extension of how does the world interact with you?
You mentioned the interpersonal relationships, how might that change between reporter and editor?
In an ideal world there isn’t any change. You are technically the same person, although hopefully happier, more at peace and more yourself.
Nobody wants to work in an organization where there are either bigots or racists, homophobes, voluntarily. So this is not confined to trans people. If you’re gay, you don’t want to work at an organization where you come out and half the people hate you.
“The most valuable thing that organizations can do is really treasure the new perspectives and diversity that they have in the newsroom.”
If you’re trans and you transition, or you’re nonbinary, genderfluid or anything that affects your presentation, you are much more in your face. Every day you showed up for work, you used to look like that, now you look like this, you’re asking for specific things. I don’t like the word ‘accommodation’ and saying that because it sounds like a favor. But you’re asking for pronouns to be respected. You’re asking for your identity to be acknowledged.
It’s not that different than if you are an Asian person, and you’re sent to interview a white nationalist. You can request, and hopefully you have an editor who’s sensitive to those issues, out from that assignment, but, as a reporter, as working reporters, you kind of have to deal with the world as it is, and that can be difficult.
How can newsrooms dismantle the structural barriers that exist for trans journalists of color that makes it hard for them to enter the field?
Ideally, you want to be looking for people’s skills, not what they look like. You should be trying to take hiring biases out of things, which often means having anonymized tests. If you need people to write a reported memo for a job, get the memos from people and then scrub all the names. Have the hiring panel read and grade them based on the words, not on the name on the top of the photograph.
Next, you have to hunt where you’re not hunted. Go out to the various journalists’ associations. If you really have the time and effort, go into LinkedIn and start searching for people. And then in some cases, going directly after them and saying, ‘Hey, I have a job here, you look like you might be the right candidate. But would you like to apply?’ At the end of the day, it’s a two-way street.
What can they do to address the barriers to keeping trans journalists of color in the industry?
It’s HR policies that you need to have; it’s benefits and ensuring non-discrimination. You don’t have that, you don’t have anything. But then over and above that, it’s management making sure that people are at least respectful of the change and the transition. You can’t make someone like somebody, you can’t make them believe in something, but you can ensure behavior, and that’s the very least a manager can do. Ideally, they should be doing more than that, they should be modeling a behavior that is truly welcoming.
“You can’t make someone like somebody, you can’t make them believe in something, but you can ensure behavior, and that’s the very least a manager can do.”
The most valuable thing that organizations can do is really treasure the new perspectives and diversity that they have in the newsroom. I mean, all newsrooms should treasure diversity to begin with, but in some ways, this is a new diversity that they hadn’t realized before when somebody transitions like, ‘Oh, now I understand why your point of view is x.’ It doesn’t mean that those points of view are right, but it does mean you should take that into account, as you’re thinking about coverage, stories and so on.
If the organization can really listen to them about coverage, I think that’s what motivates people, and honestly, that’s what keeps people.
As a journalist, how do you handle pushback from an editor that questions your lived experiences?
How do you do that without getting a reputation for being difficult? It’s really hard to say, there’s multiple ways of doing it. You have a lived experience and I have a lived experience, but the danger is when you think yours is the normal one and I think mine is the normal one, and we fight about it. I think it’s understanding that both our views are some part of reality, and that there’s a Venn diagram where we overlap, and we can look for the parts where they overlap.
“Really what matters is what we write and how we reflect the world in the words, pictures, videos, graphics that we put out.”
If you’re going to push, be cautious about being right, and that depends on how hard you push. So if you’re going to push really hard, you should be very right. And that means validating with colleagues, friends, research and ideally with data. The best thing you can do to win over an editor is data. When the editor says, ‘I think most people don’t do x or don’t believe in y,’ you say, ‘Well, the latest survey shows this.’
This probably sounds a little more Machiavellian than it should, but it’s not about winning the daily battle. That’s important — and I know how it feels when you’ve lost the daily battle, you feel terrible and want to go and have a drink after that — but it’s the long game that you should be playing. There’s one other trick, which I think is very helpful, which is to come at it from an audience perspective. It’s not fighting about who’s right and who’s wrong but fighting about who’s doing best for our audience.
What impact do you hope to have for other trans journalists or future editors?
Within Reuters, I want us to think about more diversity of the stories we write. Yes, I want diversity in the newsroom, and I want the newsroom to be representative of the world, but I think that’s only halfway there. Really what matters is what we write and how we reflect the world in the words, pictures, videos, graphics that we put out.
When people transition, we put a lot of attention on them for their stories and their courage and visibility, but we don’t pay a lot of attention to the people around them. I think that it’s really important for us as we write about trans people to spare a moment for the support for the people around them who have a fairly challenging time as well.