Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The 4 W's and the "who" of diversity in the media

Emma Morehart

Race, Ethnicity and Student Sources: Minority Newsmakers in Student-Produced Versus Professional TV News Stories by Laura K. Smith

During my student journalist career thus far, I have covered minority/international affairs, but the religion beat has a particularly special place in my heart. I have practiced covering diverse topics, I have studied how to cover diverse topics and I have had countless philosophical, airy conversations with other journalists about diversity in the media. So I thought I had considered it all. But I missed a BIG part. I missed the “who."

I have often considered race/diversity in the types of stories in the news or in how we cover minorities and minority topics, but I hadn’t thought much about who was writing these stories. I am not sure why this is, but I think it is easy for people (OK, or just me) to get into the habit of valuing neutrality so much that a reporter of a particular story takes second place to a story itself. And that is the way it should be. I cannot guarantee this, but I would bet that the most well-known journalists are not the ones who tried the hardest for the byline, but rather for the story. I like to think that a good reporter, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or any other characteristic, will tackle diversity in his or her topics and in the sources interviewed for each topic. But I also recognize that complete neutrality is very difficult, if not impossible.

Smith’s article focuses on the “who” of diversity in journalism, and compares the diversity of topics, sources and reporters in student publications to that in professional work. The general conclusion is that students are using more diverse sources for more diverse stories, but that the number of student journalists who belong to minority groups is low.

Overall, the results seem to be promising, at least in terms of “our future journalists” incorporating diversity into the news. I wonder, though, what is the driving factor in this difference between student and professional journalists. If a similar study had been conducted when the professional journalists questioned were students, would the results have been the same? In other words, is it a “times have changed” problem or is it something else below the surface?

Another interesting point is that most codes of ethics (take the Society of Professional Journalists code, for example) state that journalists should avoid stereotyping based on race, religion or other characteristics. The fine line, though, is between stereotyping in a story and being accused of writing a story about a particular minority just to show that the publication is not stereotyping against that minority. Anyway, that is a slightly off-topic ethics conversation.

In addition, what are the main goals of niche minority publications that focus on one particular group of people or topic. For example, the Religion News Service only covers religion, spirituality and other similar topics, even though it is for different religions. How do niche publications fit into statistics about the media's attention to minorities? Perhaps, they are a separate category altogether.

Although Smith opened my eyes to several aspects of diversity, I am still wary of her statistics (well, of all statistics). Often, sources are not randomly chosen, but are experts in the area, witnesses to an event or other people specifically pertinent to the story. If a topic is applicable to society as a whole, then the quotes used in the story often belong to people willing to talk to the reporter. I would be interested to find out how that relates to student vs. professional journalists (this could even have to do with the types of stories they choose), if that information is even quantifiable.

At the very least, I would like to learn more about the different variables at play (at the university-level, some students from minority groups may not be able to afford tuition; types of stories; if stories are for class or independent publication, etc.)

Making the Business Case for Diversity to Broadcasters

This paper takes an interesting approach. Rather than focusing on the ethical obligations news outlets have to maintaining diversity and neutrality, it makes a “business case” to broadcast outlets. The paper brings up the point that, even though Hispanics, Blacks and Asians are the social minority, they are becoming the media majority.

Even though ethnic groups are less than a fourth of the population, they represent 30-40 percent of the buying power, according to the article (and this makes sense because combined, the minority groups make up the majority of the population). This is a huge opportunity for advertisers and one that is, according to the author, missed by many mainstream broadcasters.

In addition, there is a large market for niche publications and broadcast stations geared toward Blacks and Hispanics. Spanish-language magazines, for example, are not struggling at nearly the rate of other magazines, and the same success applies to Spanish-language radio and television. These multicultural media are “reaching out to the exploding multicultural audiences in ways no other media are” and are seeing “advertising growth at two to four times the growth that other broadcasters are getting,” according to the article.

Most likely, the success is due to the language the outlets “speak.” The article points out that Hispanics have a “unique desire” to retain their language and culture, and that multicultural advertising strategy hones in on that desire. The traditional translation strategy may not be as effective anymore because Hispanic customers are looking for more – specifically, more of an emotional connection with the advertiser that can only come from a stronger grasp on the Spanish language and culture.

In sum, the industry theme is clear: Media outlets that stick to traditional methods are missing golden opportunities. This applies to platform, “new media” use, advertising strategy, content and, as states this article and many others, diversity of content. As society changes and improves, population growth shifts and skews and people’s desire to buy and buying power changes, the media must keep up.

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