TV newsrooms have made small, steady progress in hiring people of color, a new study found

A Radio and Television Digital News Association survey found the percentage of people of color in the TV news workforce increased by .7 points in 2020

September 9, 2020
Category: Ethics & Trust

Local TV stations made slow and slight progress in hiring people of color for the third year in a row. The latest Radio and Television Digital News Association survey shows the percentage of people of color in TV news increased by .7 points.

In addition to the slow progress, critics will surely point out that if you compare the percentage of Black Americans and the percentage of Black TV news employees, local TV stations still have not made much progress in the gap of representation.

“The workforce of color at non-Spanish language TV stations also reached record levels for the fourth year in a row,” the study said. “The percentage of African Americans in local TV news increased the most: 1.3 points. Representation of Native Americans edged up and of Asian Americans held steady. Hispanic representation fell by 0.7.”

The larger the market, the more likely the station is to employ people of color — including in news manager roles. In the 2020 study, 17.4% of U.S. TV news stations employed non-white news directors. But the percentage of newsrooms with Black news directors fell from 5.5% to 3.9%.

About 7% of local TV station general managers are people of color.

The study also examined the progress of women in newsroom and station management.

The study found more than a third of local TV news directors in America are women. “For the fourth year in a row,” the study said, “the percentage of women TV news directors hit a new, record high — up from last year’s 35.3% to this year’s 36.8%.”

81% of the people in the general manager’s office at local TV stations are men. The percentage of women running TV stations dropped 4.4% this year.

Women are more likely to be GMs in smaller markets. One would hope that station ownership groups are cultivating female executives in those smaller markets to take over corner offices in larger markets in the near future.

Bob Papper, adjunct professor of broadcast and digital journalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, conducts the study. Papper has headed RTDNA’s survey for two and a half decades. It is the only annual industry survey to track local TV and radio hiring and salaries in America.

RTDNA’s Annual Newsroom Survey was conducted in the fourth quarter of 2019 and included responses from more than 1,300 local TV stations. The full report, including data on local radio employment and leadership, can be found here. The organization is releasing additional findings from this year’s research every week of September.

RTDNA’s previous surveys are available here. Papper’s decades of research are on this page.

Al Tompkins is senior faculty at Poynter. He can be reached at atompkins@poynter.org or on Twitter, @atompkins.