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America’s Newsrooms Still Lack Representation

If the role of media is to communicate to its people, why then are only certain people allowed to speak up?

The media is meant to provide the public with unbiased accounts of the stories that matter most. Whether if be the latest update on White House matters, or food writing during the holidays, these pieces should represent the general beliefs of the public inform them in an unbiased manner.

According to the Census Bureau, racial and ethnic minorities comprise almost 40 percent of the U.S. population, yet they make up less than 17 percent of newsroom staff at print and online publications and only 13 percent of newspaper leadership.

Unless newsroom leadership is open to accepting journalists of ethnic and racial minorities, they will never get the representation in the media that they deserve as being a part of the American public.

The impact that a biased publication can have on its listeners, readers or viewers can be disastrous. For one, an older white man, a Hispanic millennial, and a middle-aged African-American woman will have different ways of telling the same story. Take, for instance, a burglary in a low-income neighborhood, committed by a young black man. As unbiased as he wishes to sound, the white older white man will likely put emphasis on the fact that the man is, in fact, black. As for the African-American women, she’ll be most likely to read into the black man’s motive, finding out the man was struggling after his wife unexpectedly passed away, leaving him with three children to feed on his own. Everyone tells a story differently, picking the parts that they want viewers to see, and omitting anything that goes against their claim, thus creating bias. If newsrooms are mainly composed of middle-aged, white males, the public will only digest their tainted stories. It’s just as writer and educator Jelani Cobb asks in his “Missing the Story” article in the Fall 2018 edition of the Columbia Journalism Review:

“What happens when the demographics of the Times—and American newspapers in general—look nothing like the demographics of the communities they serve?”

While this problem still seems to run rampart through every publication in the U.S., efforts have been made to diversify the American newsroom and achieve overall representation. The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) even pledged to have the minority percentage in newsrooms equal that of the population of the United States by the year 2000. Not much has changed since this bold claim. Newsroom leadership is still supremely white, and they haven’t worked their hardest to hire journalists of ethnic and racial minorities. What efforts have been put forth are put their halfheartedly, and tokenism becomes common in the journalism market. For instance, a publication will hire a few people of color, and put one of them on their editorial board, just to look good, however their opinion goes unheard in the real conferences that take place. Tokenism, and I cannot stress this enough, is not inclusion. Korsha Wilson, a food writer at TASTE explained it like this:

“They want me to be the face of it, but when it comes time for me to tell it from my point of view, they’re like, no, no, we wanted you tell it how we would tell it, but black.”

The problem itself is easy to fix, but do newsrooms want to fix it? The mastheads of publications can simply work to offer minorities equal opportunities and consider their fresh stories from new perspectives. It doesn’t take much to network with organizations like the National Association of Black Journalists, which gives away scholarships to African-American college students looking to major in journalism. Reaching out to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to gain information on real diversity and inclusion doesn’t take much time or money. It’s simply a matter of whether newsroom leadership is up to the task of integrating America’s publications. Dodai Stewart, a deputy Metro editor at The New York Times and a vocal advocate for diversity in media, puts it like this:

“It’s not up to people of color to do this work alone. The people who have the power are the ones who need to fix this.”

Photo: Steffi Achilles

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