Revised study: White journalists wrote 93% of front page presidential election stories, but…

The 4th Estate has released a corrected version of its study tracking the number of front-page presidential election stories written by journalists of color.

The overall numbers were more or less correct. The original version -- which was published Thursday morning -- said white journalists wrote 93 percent of the stories, while Asian Americans wrote 3.3 percent, African American journalists wrote 2.9 percent and Hispanics wrote .7 percent. The new version, published Thursday evening, lists these figures as 93 percent, 4 percent, 2.1 percent and .9 percent, respectively. Many of the percentages for individual newspapers, however, were incorrect.

The 4th Estate’s Michael Howe took the blame for distributing the study before consulting with the team that compiled the data. “I come from the fast-paced social media world and I put it out there," he said by phone. "Others were much more cautious."

Howe admitted there were some flaws in the methodology. The team tried to determine each reporter's race by looking up biographical information online. If they couldn't determine it, they excluded the reporter from the study. Howe said that 4th Estate team members realized Thursday that the published figures weren't entirely accurate and tried narrowing down the group of excluded reporters to get a more accurate count. In doing so, they learned that some papers had more diverse front page bylines than they had originally uncovered.

Take the Miami Herald. The original version of the study said that none of the Miami Herald’s front-page election stories were written by Hispanic journalists. That seemed surprising, given that the latest ASNE census says Hispanics make up 27 percent of the Herald’s newsroom.

Before talking with Howe and learning that the 4th Estate was planning to release a revised version of the study, I reached out to Miami Herald Managing Editor Rick Hirsch to find out if the study’s findings were true. He said they weren’t, and called them “misleading.” (He's right: The revised study says that Hispanics wrote 6.1 percent of the Herald's front-page election stories.)

Hirsch pointed out that the Herald’s government and politics reporter, Patricia Mazzei, has written several front-page elections stories this year. He also said the paper’s state/politics editor -- Sergio Bustos -- is Hispanic. The 4th Estate study only looked at bylines, not editors.

“The role that editors play in overseeing coverage isn’t visible in the byline that appears on the front page, but they certainly play a significant role,” Hirsch said by phone Thursday. He also wondered whether the study counted double bylines.

Howe said the team counted only the first byline in double bylines; if a minority journalist's byline appeared second, then it wasn't counted. “I think we should explore what percentage of articles are affected by double bylines. Not sure when exactly we will or how we would use that information,” Howe said. “I believe this affects a small number of the overall article count.”

Both versions of the studies said that the San Francisco Chronicle didn’t have any front-page election stories written by minority journalists. When I asked Chronicle Assistant Metro Editor Kristen Go about this, she didn’t dispute the findings.

“I took a quick look at the report and I think -- based on the stories they reviewed -- it is true,” Go said via email. “We have just two reporters who cover national politics and neither are minorities. When it comes to the state and local political stories, we do have more diversity.” The paper's staff is about 12 percent Asian American, 5 percent Hispanic and 1 percent African American, according to ASNE.

Studies like this are a reminder that newsrooms still need more diverse staffs. But these studies can’t be rushed, and journalists reporting on them need to take the methodologies into account. Last month, the National Association of Black Journalists came out with a newsroom diversity census that had “an extremely unusual” methodology suggesting there may have been some holes in the findings.

Thursday afternoon, Howe said he hadn’t heard from any news organizations about the study. The 4th Estate, he said, doesn’t usually hear from news organizations.

“I think some in the traditional media perceive us as yet another watchdog group that is out to bite their ass,” Howe said. “Some of our infographics might make us out to appear like that, but internally that is really not how we view ourselves. We really do see ourselves as believers and supporters of the 4th Estate.”

  • Mallary Jean Tenore

    As managing editor of The Poynter Institute’s website,, I report on the media news industry, edit the site’s How To section, and moderate the site's live chats. I also help handle the site's social media efforts, and teach social media sessions on the side.


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