Krissah Thompson speaks to students about diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Thompson was part of the 72nd Journalism Ethics Institute, a two-day event for W&L’s student journalists.

Jin Ni

Krissah Thompson came to the Washington Post as a summer intern 20 years ago.

Little did she know that it was a place where she would become the first African American woman to become a managing editor.

Thompson accepted her position as the managing editor of diversity and inclusion at the Washington Post following a newsroom-wide conversation about George Floyd, race and corporate responsibility.

“We wanted to add reporting positions to see around corners,” Thompson said. “We’re not talking about diversity just for diversity’s sake. We want news to cover the nation and the world as it is, and to do that, news stories need to have the depth they should have.”

She spoke to Washington and Lee students on Nov. 16 in a Zoom conversation moderated by Aly Colón, professor of journalism

The conversation was part of the university’s 72nd Journalism Ethics Institute. Over the course of two classes, students in Colón’s journalism ethics class speak to five high-profile journalists on real-life ethical dilemmas they have faced. These conversations are meant to prime student journalists on different choices and conversations of their own that they may need to make in the future.

The webinar was open to the Washington and Lee community as a whole, though many of those in attendance were members of his class, according to Colón. 

Participants were also able to ask questions.

“Do you think enough is being done to diversify news media staff? If not, what more can be done?” asked Naila Rahman, ’24.

Thompson said all media organizations need to do more. 

“Part of that is developing the pipeline of young journalists and thinking more creatively about who we hire for news journalists,” she said. “We also need to focus more on developing our own talent within the newsroom.”

In fact, when Thompson first joined her team, she said a number of her co-workers pulled her aside with concerns that conversations in the newsroom about race and equity were taking place without a journalist of color present.

However, Thompson and Colón acknowledged that most workplaces – newsrooms included – fall prey to inertia.

“In my days, I’ve seen a lot of places say they’ll collaborate, and they’ll listen, and they’ll do the work. But it doesn’t come to fruition. How do you see yourself addressing this challenge so that people not only say they’ll collaborate, but internalize that message?” Colón asked.

That’s a question Thompson said she is still trying to answer. 

“I think many of our journalists, even the hardened ones, are curious people who want to know other perspectives. We want to make sure we’re fostering an environment where we’re encouraging that curiosity, and we’re asking people to ask themselves: what are some things I don’t know that I should know?”

It’s an ethical dilemma as much as it’s a moral dilemma. And for many, the talk brought up more questions than it answered.

“But I think that’s because there is no easy solution,” Rahman said. “If it were easy, we would have solved racism by now. So I think even though it’s frustrating that there aren’t any straightforward answers, it’s important that we have the right people trying to answer it.”