The Fading Complexion of the Fourth Estate
Similar to employees of color in countless different industries, many journalists of color feel their talent and skills are not valued and that their employers are not committed to nurturing their professional growth. So, when they get fed up, they leave, and I mean leave the field altogether.
Recent reports from the American Society of Newspaper Editors show that the number of journalists of color has fallen for the first time in 23 years. And not just among African American journalists, though this is the second consecutive year that the number of Black journalists has declined, but among Latino, Asian American and American Indian journalists as well.
“The industry should be horrified,” says Will Sutton, outgoing president of the National Association of Black Journalists (see page 28). I completely agree. I have witnessed, firsthand, how some news organizations give lip service to a commitment to newsroom diversity, while their actions tell another story.
Having journalists of color in the newsrooms of the country’s newspapers, magazines and television and radio stations is essential to the media’s efforts to produce fair and balanced coverage. How many times have you read a headline, or come across an article or broadcast that impressed you as racially insensitive or even offensive? I often think to myself that if just one editor, reporter or producer of color had scrutinized those articles or news scripts before they went public, the outcomes might have been different.
Journalists of color offer a different point of view. They bring different experiences to the editorial table. When an editor writes an insensitive headline or a photo editor makes the decision to run a photo that might be unflattering or stereotypical to a particular ethnic group, journalists of color are often the only ones in the newsroom to notice.
So when I hear that minority journalists are leaving the field, it concerns and saddens me, because journalism is a field where more people of color are desperately needed to make significant and tangible contributions to the way our world is covered.
Some news organizations, indeed, are taking steps to train and attract minorities to the field of journalism. For example, the Freedom Forum, an international foundation committed to free speech and a free press, has established an Institute for Newsroom Diversity in Nashville, Tenn., where they will work to bring people of color into the profession and then train them for journalism careers. In addition, the Scripps Howard Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation have given money to Hampton and Florida A&M universities respectively — all in efforts to train minority journalists. More colleges and universities that offer journalism degrees should seek similar opportunities to partner with the industry, thereby helping to increase diversity in our newsrooms (see page 18). Of course, higher education must also look to increase the number of journalism professors and deans of color on their campuses.
All news organizations are aware of recent census projections that predict a Browner face for America in the future. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the media to not only help train and recruit journalists of color, but to work equally, if not harder, to retain those who are already in the field.
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