Monday, September 30, 2013

Newsroom Diversity: A State of Survival

Erik Opheim

The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) released its annual study of newsroom diversity on June 25th, 2013, and an article printed in the Washington Post, "Newsroom Diversity: A Casualty of Journalism's Financial Crisis" gained a lot of noteriety following its release. The results, which show a 9-to-1 white/minority supervisor ratio as well as a decline of the percentage of minorities in the newsroom (13.76 percent in 2006 to 12.37 percent currently), might cause many to immediately blame the media industry.  However, further research into these specific results paints a different picture.

Here is the actual report.

In our economy, where a majority of people are struggling to simply keep their head above water, how can news organizations attempt to rapidly fix the decline of minority employment?  At what point does the pressure, or even blame for that matter, come off of these organizations? When do the organizations begin focusing on the facts that got them into this situation?

What is happening:  An inevitable dilemma all news organizations are facing in these tight conditions are cutting costs.  Competition to obtain the most readily and professionally available journalists has slowly morphed the minority employment percentage in light of these organizations trying to survive (in their own right).  Layoff policies and union contracts have left unprotected minorities on the front of this list.  Aside from that, and focusing on the economy once again, minorities who on average make less money as it is, are more prone to take buyouts as incentives for companies to cut costs.  These minorities are much more vulnerable to accepting any sort of buyout compromise, as they are literally in a state of survival.

This can be summed up well with the quote journalist Sally Lerhman recalled in an executive saying: "Wondering about diverse voices and perspectives is a bit like wondering about the fate of Mrs. Gardner's rose garden after a tornado has decimated the entire village."

What this executive means is that diversity might not be related to the bigger picture of what is actually happening.  Rather, the lack of diversity may just be a tiny reflection of a greater problem that has occurred.

If news organizations need to make money to survive the same way employees need to make money to survive, wouldn't these minority results change naturally if opportunities were genuinely the same?

Image from
The article by Bob Papper, of the Radio Television Digital News Association, is quoted as saying, "What television stations learned over time is if you want to appeal to the audience in your market, you need to look like your audience."

Well, what if your audience literally (from a numbers standpoint) does not have as many active, qualified journalists applying for jobs at their local news organizations?  Ethnic minority interns have dropped down from 27.2 percent in 2012 to 26 percent in 2013.  Is it even ethical for an organization to go out of their way to hire those that create a more balanced ratio if quality news is on the line?  How is a news organization supposed to consider hiring employees diversely when the pool of journalists to hire from is, in fact, a majority white?

If an organization can't represent their audience in the newsroom due to lack of available journalists, isn't that the economy's fault?  If we lived in a perfect world and equality actually existed, maybe the system would gradually work itself out and equal opportunity would prove itself real.  School costs a lot of money in today's day and age, money that many, maybe even a majority of an audience does not have.  Sadly, this is removing them from the nightly news discussion.

I feel with the economy placing constraints on everyone, we (as a population), as well as news organizations have found ourselves in survival mode.  Until the economy is mended I don't see how this problem can be fixed in one night.  A decline in newsroom minorities is directly related to it's balance with the economy, and until it is fixed problems like this may only continue to worsen.

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