While diversity in newsrooms is stagnating, not plummeting, there are still concerns

The news industry’s cost-cutting techniques during the financial crisis have slowed diversity growth in newsrooms: That’s the argument Riva Gold, a graduate of Stanford’s journalism program, makes in a recent Atlantic article.

In its most recent survey, the American Society of News Editors found 90 percent of newsroom supervisors are white. White men were also most likely to appear on broadcast networks and CNN, according to Media Matters.

Although the 2013 census wasn't available when she interviewed her sources, Gold said the latest numbers show little change in minority employment in the news industry this year.

Her article presented findings from the 2012 ASNE census, which reported minority employment at daily newspapers dropped 5.7 percent compared to general newsroom employment, which was down 2.4 percent. The 2013 census shows minorities make up 12.37 percent of employees at daily newspapers compared to 12.32 percent in 2012.

The percentage of minority employment has stayed consistently between 12 to 14 percent in the last decade. "It's not an enormous downward trend," said Gold, who I graduated with at Stanford. "But the point is, it's supposed to have gone up. When numbers don't move, it's either stagnation or regression relative to minorities in the U.S. population."

Considering minorities make up about 37 percent of the U.S. population, Gold said diversity organizations were falling short of their goals for parity. ASNE had "set a goal of staff parity with America's minority population by the year 2000," according to Nieman Reports. This year's numbers show the news industry isn't even halfway there. "We're nowhere near as diverse as an industry as we predicted we would be by this point in time," Gold said by phone.

Layoffs and buyouts partly explain the downward trend in diversity. But just as important are the loss of diversity leaders and the disproportionate lack of minorities in senior positions.

“'Last in, first out' -- that was the most common answer I heard,” Gold said. “As diversity efforts have been rolling out progressively, especially through the '90s," minorities tend to be "less senior. They have less job protection.”

Keith Woods, vice president for diversity in news and operations at NPR and former dean of faculty at Poynter, suggested to Gold that shrinking budgets have reduced the number of diversity leaders in management. “Senior people are expensive. So a lot of them take buyouts,” Gold added. “They were offered a pretty decent chunk of change and knew that their jobs were very vulnerable.”

Many of these leaders were in charge of diversity programs. Without them, there is “less diversity advocacy around issues of training, media partnerships and community coverage,” said Benet Wilson, chair of the National Association of Black Journalists digital task force, whom Gold interviewed for her article.

The cuts weren’t limited to small local publications with fewer resources. The Philadelphia Inquirer let go of some notable journalists who included minorities due to financial pressures.

Bob Papper, who runs a study on diversity at the Radio and Television Digital News Association, told Gold that to appeal to their audience, television stations need to “look like” their audience.

“If you don't have people who can speak Spanish, you're going to have a hard time covering events, issues and people who speak that language,” Gold said.

But the pressure news organizations face just to stay afloat, Gold admitted, could explain the lack of movement. “Especially if you're in a smaller town, this is something one of my resources mentioned, it can be very hard to find a diverse applicant if the actual community that you're covering isn't that diverse."

Diversity organizations such as the Freedom Forum“are creating a large database of minority journalists" that contain their locations, specialties and qualifications to serve as a resource for newsrooms looking to diversify their staff, Gold said.

It’s a step forward, but she is unsure how much impact it will have. “Do we look at political diversity and diversity of opinion?” she asked. "It's important not just to reduce it to a question of race or gender but making sure that newsrooms really reflect diverse experiences.”

Related: Having diverse newsrooms won't always prevent errors like KTVU's, but it would help

  • Anna Li

    I write articles and produce multimedia for Poynter.org, focusing on how tech intersects with journalism. I'm interested in digital media and virtual communication. I'm also one of the first Google Journalism Fellows and the 2013 Naughton Fellow.


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