Minority Journalists Push Media to Maintain Diversity Commitment - Higher Education


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Minority Journalists Push Media to Maintain Diversity Commitment

by Michelle D. Anderson

Amid layoffs and buyouts, industry insiders wonder whether diversity will become the “sacrificial lamb.”

SEE ALSO, Study: Shrinking Newsrooms Hurting Papers’ Quality

In a media advisory released earlier this month, the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) had an urgent message for the newspaper industry: Diversity should not be treated like a passing fad and it should continue to be a top priority.

The advocacy organization, where a majority of its 4,000 members are Black print journalists, warned that it would hold the industry accountable if managers did not consider diversity in both their recruiting and firing practices.

The warning comes at a time when newspaper companies are issuing a shocking number of layoffs and buyout packages, leaving many concerned journalists questioning whether diversity will become the “sacrificial lamb” as newsroom managers and recruiters focus on the economy’s impact on newsrooms.

The most jarring layoff announcement came when The McClatchy Co., the nation’s third largest newspaper company, announced in June that it would slash 1,400 jobs — 10 percent of its work force. The company made the decision in an effort to cut costs as its advertising revenues continue to decrease.

“There’s no doubt that diversity tends to take a backseat when newspapers are struggling to survive,” says Randy Hagihara, senior editor of recruitment at the Los Angeles Times. Owned by the Tribune Co., the nation’s second largest newspaper publisher, the Los Angeles Times recently announced that it would cut 250 positions throughout the company, including 150 editorial positions.

According to Hagihara, the paper has maintained a strong commitment to diversity in its newsroom, and that commitment hasn’t wavered, even amid turbulence in the industry.

Hagihara says that the Los Angeles Times decided in April to expand the company’s Minority Editorial Training Program, also known as METPRO. The Tribune Company hosts the highly competitive program, which is a two-year diversity initiative designed to help beginning journalists launch careers in Tribune newsrooms, including the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun.

Formerly, the Los Angeles Times hosted two fellows, but this year the paper will host 12 — nine reporters, two copy editors and one graphic designer, Hagihara says.

Wanda Lloyd, executive editor of the Montgomery Advertiser in Alabama, agrees that diversity has often been pushed aside. She says that as the news industry goes through a transformation, she doesn’t hear the word “diversity” very often in these tumultuous times.

 

“The buzz words I hear most are ‘audience aggregation,’ an attempt on the part of news executives to identify which audiences to target and the products that will be suited to each target group based on a specific set of criteria,” says Lloyd, who was the founding executive director of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, housed at Vanderbilt University. Among its many programs, the institute ran a now-defunct program responsible for training dozens of second-career journalists of color.

She says that while advertisers often focus on women because they make key buying decisions in their families, people of color and immigrants have often been ignored as key target audiences.

“If we don’t think about these diverse audiences now, and work hard to get them, we may risk losing them forever,” Lloyd says.

She adds that diversity staffing and content go hand in hand. “If you are committed to one, you are probably committed to both,” Lloyd says.

The State of Diversity

In April, the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) released its annual Newsroom Employment Census, revealing that newsroom staffs decreased by 4.4 percent and that the number of minority journalists in the industry went up just barely from 13.4 percent to 13.5 percent.

According to its 2008 survey, the Los Angeles Times newsroom consisted of 19.1 percent minorities — 8.7 percent Asian American; 3.1 percent Black; 7.1 percent Hispanic and 0.2 percent American

Indian.

ASNE began conducting the annual survey in 1978 in an effort to measure the industry’s success in recruiting and retaining journalists of color so that the percent of minorities in newsrooms would be representative of the general population and the communities that newspapers cover. ASNE’s decision to conduct the survey came on the 10th anniversary of the well-known federal Kerner Commission declaration, which stated that the poor coverage of inner-city communities facing riots and upheaval at the time was because of a shortage of minority journalists in newsrooms across the nation. This was something many journalists of color had been saying for some time.

Pamela B. Fine, chair of ASNE’s Diversity Committee and former managing editor of the Indianapolis Star, says that many of the editors she knows wish the numbers of minority journalists were higher given the loss of newsroom jobs, but that some seemed to have found solace in the report because the percentage of journalists of color in newspaper newsrooms has increased slightly year over year.

Fine, who recently took a position as the Knight Chair in News, Leadership and Community at the University of Kansas’ William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, says part of ASNE’s efforts to help recruit and retain minority journalists in the industry come through its extensive high school journalism initiative and its training seminars for professionals.

“We need journalists from all backgrounds to ensure we’re fulfilling our public service role and to accurately reflect what’s going on in people’s lives,” Fine says.

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