American newsrooms should employ more people of color, annual ASNE survey finds

September 11, 2019
Category: Business & Work

Fewer people of color are employed in America’s newsrooms than organizers of a well-known newsroom diversity survey had hoped.

Unveiled Tuesday in New Orleans, the American Society of News Editors’ 41st annual Newsroom Diversity Survey showed legacy print newsrooms’ diversity numbers have held steady since last year, still trailing the U.S. population with 22% of staffers being people of color, and even fewer holding leadership positions (just 19%).

The overall population of America is 24% people of color.

The diversity of online-only organizations is improving, however: about one-third of their full-time staffers are journalists of color.

The data collected between May and August from 429 newspaper and online-only newsrooms comes on the heels of dismal participation in last year’s survey, which some respondents said was too time-consuming. This year, 1,883 news organizations were contacted for inclusion, resulting in a 23% response rate, vs. last year’s 17% response rate.

University of Virginia professor Meredith Clark conducted the survey and said Tuesday that she recommends the survey be done every few years instead of annually. Clark said the additional time would help show larger trends as well as give news organizations more opportunities to report their data.

“The metrics we’ve created do not match the reality that we see in the newsrooms,” Clark said in calling for flexibility to track job types and measures of diversity that go beyond race and sex. She said disability and socioeconomic backgrounds of journalists also are important measures of whether they represent the audience.

Clark said this year’s survey retained questions about biographical data but had only two open-ended questions to ask for best practices and specific examples.

Adjusted to count only full-time newsroom employees, last year’s survey found 21.8 were journalists of color. In this year’s survey, representation stayed essentially unchanged at 21.9.

Women — who have been two-thirds of graduates from journalism and communications programs in recent years —  have not increased their newsroom representation. Across organizations in this year’s survey, women made up 41.8% of staff.

This year’s survey expanded to include self-reported data from individuals who identify as LGBTQIA.

ASNE, which officially merged with Associated Press Media Editors to form the News Leaders Association during this week’s joint convention, will continue to offer leadership training through its Emerging Leaders Institute. Interim executive director Teri Hayt said the incoming NLA board will consider Clark’s recommendations and that the organization remains committed to continuing the survey in some form.

Doris Truong is Poynter’s director of training and diversity. She can be reached at dtruong@poynter.org.