Are students of color getting the inside scoop on what it takes to become news editors and producers?
Chasing the breaking news story. Writing the thoughtful, definitive
piece that will effect the course of history. Getting that byline and
the name-recognition that could lead to fame and fortune. These are
just a few of the lures that attract students to journalism schools and
careers as reporters.
As enticing as these may appear, the real power in journalism is in
editing — and according to the numbers, too few people of color
currently sit on these thrones of power.
“The critical thing is that editors are the folks who make the
decision on what stories are assigned, how they are covered, what the
play will be in the newspaper, and what the priorities of the
newspapers are,” says Veronica Jennings, diversity director of the
American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE). “So certainly, you want
as much diversity as possible from the people who are making those
“It’s hard to convince people that the real power [in television
news] is in producing and not in front of the camera,” she says. “But
if you want to be wielding significant power in this business, you need
to be thinking about editing.”
According to ASNE’s 1998 Newsroom Census, 9 percent of newsroom
supervisors are minorities, up from 1 percent in 1978. Minorities also
comprise 10.2 percent of copy and layout editors, up from 3 percent in
1978. (see Incredible Whiteness, page 40, for more newsroom
“The numbers are disappointing,” says Todd Beamon, senior editor of
BET Weekend Magazine. “And there is no particular excuse for that, when
you have so many [minority] journalists who have good educations — who
have excellent educations — and who are well-experienced. There is
simply no excuse. They are there, and they are available.”
Getting On Track
While the current number of African American, Latino, Asian, and
Native American editors may be small, most experts agree the future
health of the news industry requires a more diverse management
demographic. Achieving this goal may very well require concomitant
change in the way the nation’s schools of journalism prepare students
“J[ournalism] schools need to talk about the career paths necessary
to get on the management and editor track,” Jennings says. “Students
need to be getting the special skills in copy editing and leadership
that will help them be identified as potential editors.”
But where are aspiring editors supposed to get the necessary
training? Some journalists — like Vanessa Williams, president of the
National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and a reporter for The
Washington Post — believe that editors are trained after they get out
of journalism school.
“Many of the experiences that you need to be a good editor are hard
to find in school,” says Williams, adding that the best editors have to
spend at least some time in the trenches. “For an editor to manage a
journalist, it makes sense that he or she understands what it’s like to
be out there on the streets to find a story, confronted with the
various ethical and technical difficulties that might come into play.”
“I am not an advocate of getting a master’s in journalism, unless
you want to get into management,” Jennings adds. “Getting a master’s in
journalism theory and philosophy won’t necessarily help your career;
getting reporting and editing experience will. But it: you do get [an
advanced degree], get it in something that will elevate you on the
Beamon sees it a little differently. He graduated with a degree in
journalism from Marquette University in 1980, and though he does not
have an advanced degree, he advocates getting one.
“Advanced degrees are necessary [in journalism] because technology
is changing anti the world is changing, becoming a global marketplace,
very quickly,” says Beamon. “Some of the things I learned at Marquette,
while they are not obsolete, have to be quickly adapted because there
have been so many changes in such a short time.”
Beamon worked at publicaions in Duluth, Minnesota, and Richmond,
Virginia, before doing a six-year stint as a full-time copy editor at
The New York Times. From there, he became a business editor at both
Philadelphia Daily News and The Washington Post.
Ritchie, however, disagrees about when the training of newspaper editors should begin.
“To get managers, you have to have people who are really good. They
have to know how to write, how to edit,” she says. “Students have to
start thinking about long-term management [in journalism] as
undergraduates. [When you] get on the management track after
graduation, [the people at tine media outlet which hired you] tend not
to teach you what you needed to learn in undergraduate school.
“Our goal is to have them think about the news decisions they are
making now and apply them to a professional setting,” Ritchie
continues. “It’s not a natural connection to make. Many students think
being on a college newspaper is like playing journalism. But we insist
that they don’t take this as a game. And, we encourage them to start
their internships early.”
Addie Rimmer, deputy managing editor for news at The Detroit Free
Press, decided editing was for her after an experience at the Columbia
Graduate School (if Journalism.
“In the spring semester, people decide on a specialty…. I had
decided to pursue newspapers. We rotated different positions on the
paper,” relates Rimmer, who graduated from the program in 1978. “On the
week that I was reporting, I had done extensive work on a story that
involved a complex issue in Brooklyn. But after I saw how badly the
editor butchered the story, I decided that no one would ever be in the
position of cutting my work like that again. I wanted to be the one
doing the cutting.”
Rimmer, who graduated from the City College of New York with a B.A.
in English, has also worked at The Wall Street Journal and The Miami
Herald, and has taught journalism at Columbia and the University of
Arizona. Additionally, she has directed the Robert C. Maynard Institute
for Journalism Education in Oakland, California.
For Dana J. Thompson, a copy editor at The Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky, the choice was made by the situation.
“I fell into editing accidentally. A paper I was going to intern
for — The Florence Times-Daily in Alabama — ran out of reporting
slots and the only position available was copy editing, so I took it.
Then I found out that I liked it and have been doing it ever since.”
Jennings says that there is no better way to start an editing
career than through copy editing — the art of making a story readable.
“When they are talking about a career in papers, copy editing is a
great entry point. That gets you onto the management rung and into the
newspaper,” she says. “You need to take some classes geared towards how
to manage people and edit copy. Get on the campus paper and learn how
to run a newsroom. That way you can develop a long-term career and that
first job is not the just the first stop along the way.”
And Thompson adds, “With copy editing, there are more job
opportunities. [Newspaper recruiters] are always saying how they have a
hard time finding students who want to be editors.”
Training and Leadership
Dr. Louise Ritchie, who is the faculty advisor for The Famuan,
Florida A&M University’s student newspaper, believes that HBCUs
offer an excellent training ground for aspiring Black editors.
“For [African American] students with an interest in editing, HBCUs
have an advantage,” she says, “because in order to be an editor [on the
college newspaper], you don’t have to fight the battle of prejudice and
racial discrimination” that you would have to fight at a college
newspaper at a traditionally White institution.
However, studying journalism at an HBCU can have its disadvantages
as well. For instance, there are several traditionally White college
newspapers that come out daily. Getting used to the pressures of daily
“newspapering” is something that is not available at HBCUs.
“There is a lot of difference between being the manager of a
college daily and the manager of a paper that comes out maybe forty
times a year,” says Ritchie, who adds that beginning in the fall, The
Famuan will be printed every Thursday and two Mondays a month.
She adds that journalism schools must do a better job of
encouraging students of color to think beyond getting their first
“We want them thinking about what they can do to be running a section and managing a newspaper,” Ritchie says.
Experience has taught NABJ’s Williams the value of interpersonal
and intergroup skills in an editor. Even copy editors need personal
relationship skills, she says.
“They need [to develop] confidence and they need to be sensitive
enough to be able to figure out how to make a reporter feel that this
[process of reporting and writing a news story] is a collaborative
effort. An immature editor and an immature reporter can be an ugly
Despite her belief that on-the-job experience is of the utmost
importance, Williams thinks colleges and universities can do more to
improve minority preparation for careers in editing.
“I think that the thing that [journalism schools] can do is …
teach them to be better thinkers, to be broader thinkers. They should
be encouraged to study other cultures, other countries, other
disciplines. It’s helpful if journalists know things about other areas
and other issues,” she says. “If you’re going to edit, you need to be
able to help [reporters] think through their stories. You need to be
able to help them find the people, places, and resources that they’ll
Sentiments which echo Rimmer’s: “They need to develop as broad a
base as they can. They need to study history, socioloy, economics, the
arts. As an editor, you come across situations and people from all
walks of life, so the broader based the background the more effective
Jennings offers yet another suggestion for minority undergraduates who seek careers as editors.
“If you’re interested in newspaper management, go to business
school,” she says. “It certainly will not hurt in any way. But if you
have the goal of running a newspaper or a magazine, or of being a
publisher, someday you will need that business training.”
RELATED ARTICLE: The Incredible Whiteness of Editing
According to the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ (ASNE) 1998
Newsroom Census — a survey of 957 of the 1,462 daily newspapers in the
United States –people of color comprise 11.46 percent of newsroom
employees. Additionally, the number of newspapers that employ minority
newsroom professionals has risen from 33 percent in 1978 to 58 percent
in 1998. Which means that 42 percent of newsrooms in the United States
have no minority presence at all.
On the editing side, the survey reports that 9 percent of newsroom
supervisors are minorities, up from 1 percent: in 1978. Minorities also
comprise 10.2 percent of copy and layout editors, up from 3 percent in
According to Chris Schmitt, ASNE’s finance and membership manager,
in March 1998, 5.77 percent of the society’s member were minorities.
ASNE is composed of 870 directing editors of daily newspapers.
RELATED ARTICLE: American Society of Newspaper Editors Statement on Newsroom Diversity (April 23, 1998)
The following is a draft statement. The American Society of
Newspaper Editors’ board will decide the final language of the
statement at its fall meeting in Miami,
Newsroom diversity is essential to the newspaper’s responsibility
in a democratic society and success in the marketplace. To accurately
and sensitively cover the community, newsroom staffs must reflect
society as a whole. The newsroom should be a place in which all
employees contribute their full potential, regardless of their race,
ethnicity, color, age, gender, sexual orientation, physical disability,
or other defining characteristic.
To drive the quest for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, the American Society of Newspaper Editors will:
* Encourage and assist newspapers to reach newsroom parity with
minorities in the population. As a benchmark, the representation of
journalists of color should reach at least 20 percent industrywide by
2010. At a minimum, every newspaper should employ journalists of color
and every newspaper should reflect the diversity of its local
* Monitor year by year the employment of Asian Americans, [B]lacks, Native Americans, and Hispanics in the newsroom.
* Advocate diversity in content as a journalistic core value.
* Commit a significant portion of the Society’s energy and resources to fostering newsroom diversity.
* Encourage collaboration on diversity among various groups.
If you would like to express your opinion or give input about the
draft, please contact Veronica Jennings, ASNE’s diversity director, by
Jennings, Diversity Director, ASNE, 11690B Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston
VA 20191-1409) so there, is a written record of your correspondence.
(+) This section of the statement has been reworded since it was first released to clarify the boards intent.
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