When anchor jobs open up in cable news, people of color too often left out

Despite his history as an aggressive and sometimes fiery advocate, outgoing CNN analyst Roland Martin is surprisingly reserved when discussing the cable newschannel’s decision not to renew his contract after six years as a high-profile analyst, often speaking on black issues.

“I get this; I’ve run three newspapers,” said Martin, who once guest-hosted the 8 p.m. timeslot on CNN years ago, with an eye toward earning a full-time anchor job. “I know what it means to have your own vision ... I now have the freedom to explore and do more things, especially in the digital space.”

Martin, who has been one of CNN’s highest-profile African American analysts, said he learned in December that the newschannel likely wouldn’t renew his contract -- a decision that was confirmed in a later meeting with newly-hired CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker, who has talked with the National Association of Black Journalists about diversity at the network.

Martin told his Twitter followers on Tuesday that his last day would be April 6. That will come about a week after the departure of Soledad O’Brien, CNN’s highest-profile anchor of color, has said her last day hosting the newschannel’s morning show "Starting Point" is March 29.

(O’Brien had previously announced plans to develop longform documentaries for CNN through her own production company, softening the news that she was leaving the morning program.)

The optics, as some might say, are not great. Just as Zucker steps forward with a new vision for CNN -- which includes a new show featuring former ABC correspondent Jake Tapper and a new morning program built around former ABC anchor Chris Cuomo -- two of the channel’s best known non-white on-air staffers are leaving the network.

And it’s not just at CNN. MSNBC has had its own set of anchor changes in recent weeks, so far centered only on white male anchors. And Fox News Channel, which hasn’t substantively changed its primetime lineup in many years, features no people of color as anchors in those timeslots.

Which raises the question: When big anchor jobs open up in cable news, why are people of color so often left on the sidelines?

CNN also announced Monday the hiring of three correspondents, two of whom are non-white, George Howell and Alina Machado. But Tapper notwithstanding, in today’s cable news world, correspondents often don’t make it to the anchor chair, and CNN has been criticized in the past for failing to slot anchors of color into high-profile weekday jobs.

MSNBC offers the most diverse anchor lineup among the big three cable newschannels. But its recent moves so far have focused on white males, moving Ed Schultz from his 8 p.m. weekday slot to weekend evenings, handing weekend host Chris Hayes the task of competing against CNN’ Anderson Cooper and Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, beginning April 1.

Steve Kornacki of MSNBC’s afternoon show "The Cycle" will take Hayes’ job hosting "Up" weekend mornings. Some fans still pine to see ace analyst Ezra Klein given a shot to join the newschannel’s anchor lineup.

More than anything, the lack of diversity in some anchor shuffles may speak to a lack of development for anchors of color in general. Maintaining diversity in the face of shrinking resources and cost-cutting often requires specific effort; if people aren’t being groomed for bigger jobs, they may not be ready when those prime positions open up.

Fielding a diverse slate of anchors at the highest levels can ultimately help diversify content, and it reflects America’s increasing diversity. Opportunities remain for developing talent. Despite rumors that Erin Burnett may be paired with Cuomo, the official shape of CNN’s new morning show hasn’t yet been revealed, and Kornacki’s departure may leave an opening at "The Cycle."

For his part, Martin says he expects to develop new opportunities on his own, including two book projects. He will continue to host "Washington Watch," his Sunday politics show at black-focused cable channel TV One, along with his syndicated column and appearances on the nationally syndicated radio program the "Tom Joyner Morning Show."

Martin remains convinced that mainstream media outlets can profit by offering anchor lineups that feature more diversity.

“African Americans are very loyal customers, and during coverage of the presidential elections (in 2008), we had tremendous African American support (at CNN)” he said. “Every broadcaster needs to pay attention to that now.”


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