September 20, 2012

The National Association of Black Journalists’ 2012 Diversity Census examines management of newsrooms across the country. It paints a grim picture: NABJ found that African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics and other people of color are represented in mid-level ranks but not in the upper echelons of TV news management.

According to the 2010 United States Census, non-Whites comprise nearly 35% of the U.S. population but the study finds that people of color fill only 12% of the newsroom management positions at 295 stations owned by ABC, Allbritton, Belo, CBS, Cox, Fox, Gannett, Hearst, Journal, Lin Media, Media General, Meredith, NBC, Nexstar, Raycom, Sinclair, E.W. Scripps, Post-Newsweek and Tribune.

ASNE’s annual census found thatjournalists of color make up about 12 percent of print newsroom staffs.

However, the NABJ survey’s methodology is extremely unusual:

Information for all 295 stations was gathered by examining Google, individual station websites, Facebook, NewsBlues, and by talking with industry insiders familiar with the respective markets and stations. Some of the information was gathered by calling stations directly and some came during conversations with current or former employees of the respective stations.

“While we may have missed a few people, one cannot dispute the fact that the management diversity at most of these stations is far from the estimated 35% diversity of the nation’s population,” the study, authored by NABJ Vice President/Broadcast Bob Butler, says.

Missing “a few people” seems like a fairly epic caveat, especially when you’re counting people at small newsrooms. NABJ President Gregory H. Lee Jr. told Poynter in an email: “Many companies will not share their information with us. Unlike ASNE where most newspapers participate in the annual census, the broadcast industry really doesn’t execute in the manner that ASNE does. By our nature we are reporters, so we use a variety of methods to find out the critical information about who are leading the networks and local stations.”

Reached by telephone Thursday, Butler said he starts collecting information on individual stations by finding their general manager’s name, for instance, then digging in. “You can talk to the people themselves,” he said. “but you need to find a number of sources.” So he’ll look at news reports, talk to people who know the people involved, and so forth. He says since the report began in 2007 no one has challenged its determination of anyone’s race.

“When you start talking about methodology, the presumption is you’re just throwing this stuff out there, but we’re not,” Butler said. “It’s investigative reporting at its best.”

Butler follows up each finding with a letter to stations’ ownership requesting comment. “Most times I don’t get a response from the company,” he said.

On NPR’s “Tell Me More” Wednesday, host Michel Martin talked about the survey’s methodology with Butler:

Martin: But, you know, Fox News did not respond with data at all, so you didn’t include them. And, as I understand it, that ABC News did not confirm your data. You sort of offered your data and you asked the networks to confirm its accuracy and they didn’t confirm. So how is this a valid study, then, when you have these two key players missing?

Butler: Well, see, what we do is get the information ourselves and then we ask the companies to verify it. ABC has not verified it, but we have – you know, we’re reporters. That’s how we get the information. Fox has been – last year, I sent a request to Fox, basically asking for the names of the vice presidents and the senior producers, executive producers for all their shows, and we’re still waiting.

NABJ says the Federal Communications Commission is charged with collecting the data that NABJ compiles, “but they haven’t done it since ’96 and Congress is not asking them why not,” Butler said on the show. Butler and former NABJ President Kathy Times met with FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn Wednesday. The FCC didn’t commit to gathering the information, Butler said. “Let’s just say that I believe there are those at the FCC who would like to collect this information, but that cannot be done in a vacuum.”

Raycom Media receives a lot of praise from the NABJ report: “Raycom Media comes the closest to meeting NABJ’s diversity index with thirty-one (17%) of its 179 television newsroom managers being people of color. Twenty of the company’s 32 stations have at least one person of color in station or news management.” Raycom, the report also notes:

approached NABJ in 2011 for help in improving its overall newsroom diversity. Raycom executives and staff, including NABJ Region III Director, Dedrick Russell, started a conversation that resulted in Raycom becoming a convention sponsor, participating in the student projects and holding a reception at the convention in order to meet prospective news managers.

Since the convention, Raycom has hired two Black assistant news directors, including who served as the executive producer of the student projects.

“This is what NABJ hopes all companies would do,” said NABJ President Gregory Lee.

“We have the ability to help any company. All they need to do is ask.”

RTDNA’s annual diversity survey counts all employees, not just managers, and says 21.5 percent of all TV station employees are journalists of color, up from 20.5 percent last year. Its numbers don’t easily translate to NABJ’s due to methodology — it groups together network owned-and-operated stations, for instance, with affiliates, while NABJ breaks those out separately.

Bob Papper, who has done the RTDNA survey for years, explains his methodology:

Every Q4, I send out (paper) surveys to every TV station that does news and a random sample of radio stations.  I do at least 3 follow-up emails encouraging news directors to fill out the paper survey or use the url I send them for the online version.  Near the end, I do a geographic analysis of where the surveys have come from. The one part of the annual survey that’s geographically sensitive is ethnicity, so I need to make sure the distribution is right.  If it’s off, I then  add a random sample of additional stations by state. Those stations get emails and calls until the mix is correct.

The RTDNA study “is a survey in which they send out a questionnaire and they base their answers on the responses from TV stations,” Butler said. Papper, he said, “spends a lot of time compiling it,” and “while his report is very valuable while understanding the trends in the industry, it’s overall.”

Butler says he’s personally verified the information about every person referenced in NABJ’s report, from the general manager of WWL-TV in New Orleans (a black male) to the hispanic female weekend manager at KPRC in Houston.

“One thing you learn in reporting is you don’t put something out there if you don’t know it’s accurate,” he said.

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