The findings from this year’s annual American Society of News Editors census reflect an all too familiar trend: diversity in the nation’s newsrooms is declining.
From 2008 to 2009, the number of full-time minority journalists dropped from 6,300 to 5,500, a decrease of 12.6 percent. Overall, newsrooms lost 5,200 journalists, or 11 percent of the workforce.
The industry continues to fall behind ASNE’s goals for diversity, but it’s made some progress when you consider the overall diversity trends in journalism. Previous ASNE reports indicate that 1978 was the last time the number of working journalists was close to what it is now. That was the year ASNE began its annual census.
At that time, there were 43,000 journalists, 3.95 percent of whom were minorities. Now, there are 41,500 journalists and 13.26 percent are minorities. The numbers in this loose comparison show that although newsroom diversity hasn’t gained ground in recent years, over the long term it has.
Richard Prince, author of the newsroom diversity column Journal-isms, pointed out that the newspaper industry has a higher standard for workplace diversity than some other industries.
“Unlike a lot of other places, the newspaper industry has a goal of equaling the percentage [of minorities] in the population by 2025, so they might be judged under that yardstick rather than how you might judge some field that does not have that goal in place,” Prince said by phone.
Many journalists have used the ASNE diversity census to prove their argument that budget cuts and layoffs have caused newsrooms to put diversity on the back-burner as they turn their attention toward generating revenue and surviving in these times of change.
But these are changing times for everyone. Abraham Mosisa, a statistician analyst at the Department of Labor, said in a phone interview that the drop in diversity isn’t just a problem in newsrooms. The decline that happened from 2008 to 2009 in fact mirrors the drop in the overall workforce during that time. Mosisa said the over-the-year decline in employment population ratios were largest for Hispanics and blacks.
“Things have gotten worse during the current recession for blacks and Hispanics relative to Asians and whites,” Mosisa said. “Blacks and Hispanics are susceptible to discrimination, which is very hard to measure but possible to discern from looking at the earnings of blacks and Hispanics being lower than their Asian or White counterparts with the same level of education, experience, or same type of occupations.”
Asians, he said, fare better than any other group — even better than whites — in part because of their high level of education.
This is true in journalism, too. ASNE found that since 2001 the number of Asian journalists increased by 4.4 percent, while the number of black and Hispanic journalists fell by 31.5 percent and 7 percent, respectively. The number of Native Americans in newsrooms fell by 20.9 percent.
It’s not necessarily fair to compare diversity in white-collar newsrooms to the diversity in other workplaces, says St. Petersburg Times media critic Eric Deggans. “A good percentage of jobs are in the service sector or in places where people of color might disproportionally work anyway,” he said.
Deggans pointed to the “last hired first fired” argument, saying newsrooms often lay off the last people they hired, namely minorities. Of the journalists who were hired for their first full-time jobs from 2008 to 2009, 16 percent were minorities. The percentage of minority interns, meanwhile, increased from 26.4 percent to 27.4 percent. Daily newsroom employment among minorities peaked at 7,400 in 2007 but has continued to decline since.
Barbara Ciara, president of Unity: Journalists of Color, said she believes some of the ASNE diversity figures are deceiving. She pointed out that only 25 percent of online news outlets sent back their census forms to ASNE and that some of those organizations may not have had much, if any, diversity.
“It’s what you don’t see that is of great concern to Unity,” Ciara said. “A small drop of minority voices in newsrooms has a chilling impact on the diversity of content overall. Statistics that reflect a tremor in the number of working journalists in the white world amounts to an earthquake for journalists of color.”
Online news organizations will no doubt play a growing role in covering our diverse communities. The extent to which they can both recruit minorities and think about how to help them move up in their organizations so that they’re not the “first ones hired, first ones fired,” will be an important part of journalism’s future.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story had a typo in one of the numbers.