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Diversity in newsroom staffing makes slight gain

04.28.04

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Minority employment inched higher in 2003, the American Society of Newspaper Editors announced April 20 at its annual convention. But the 12.94 percent minority representation on the staffs of U.S. daily newspaper newsrooms lags far behind the 31.7 percent minority representation in the U.S. population.

The percentage of journalists of color increased about one-half of one percent, from 12.53 percent in 2002.

"We've been at this a long time, and we're not succeeding," Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman and publisher of The New York Times Company, told attendees at a National Association of Minority Media Executives awards banquet during ASNE's convention. By not becoming more diverse, Sulzberger said, "We are risking the business and profession we love." Sulzberger received NAMME's catalyst award for print.

The number of journalists from each minority group increased during the year, while the overall number of newsroom journalists declined by about 500 to 54,200.

The increase of a half percentage point was the third consecutive increase of that size.

In a roundtable discussion with ASNE's diversity committee and representatives of journalists' organizations, ASNE President Peter Bhatia acknowledged frustration with the lack of significant increases in minority staffing.

Bhatia, editor of The Oregonian in Portland, said ASNE remains dedicated to diversity, which he called essential to journalism. "Everyone needs to reach out to others and bring them into the conversation."

ASNE's mission statement calls for newsrooms to reflect "the racial diversity of American society by 2025 or sooner. At a minimum, all newspapers should employ journalists of color and every newspaper should reflect the diversity of its community."

Karla Garrett Harshaw, editor of the Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun and incoming ASNE president, chose "connecting with community and cultures" as the theme for her presidency. In her first address to editors, the first woman of color to lead the group encouraged editors immediately to go home and hire one journalist of color. "You have the power and the authority," she said.

David Yarnold, editor of the Mercury News in San Jose, Calif., and chair of ASNE's diversity committee, said that although there was limited improvement in the numbers "a lot is happening." Yarnold announced the organization's new Diversity Leadership Institute at the convention.

As important as the numbers are, Yarnold said, he would encourage editors "to encourage their staffs to bring all of themselves to work" to ensure that news judgment and content reflect the whole community.

The results of ASNE's annual Newsroom Census were met with frustration by organizations representing minority journalists.

"The industry says all the right things, but every year we find that we're no better off than the year before," National Association of Black Journalists President and Newsday Reporter Herbert Lowe said in a release. "This is far too important for baby steps."

Said Ernest R. Sotomayor, president of UNITY: Journalists of Color, "While we welcome even a slight increase in representation by people of color in newsrooms at a time that overall employment fell in the industry, the progress remains too slow in the face of much greater diversity in our population."

One encouraging statistic was the increase in Native Americans on newsroom staffs. In 2003, 313 Native Americans were employed, an increase from 289 the year before.

Matt Kelley, a member of the Native American Journalists Association and an Associated Press reporter, said, "Still, we remain the most under-represented group in American journalism. Having so few of us in the newspaper business — including none in the Washington press corps — is unconscionable."

The Asian American Journalists Association and NABJ expressed concern about the number of minority supervisors.

The number of African-American supervisors decreased last year. Of the 2,938 African-American journalists working in daily newspaper newsrooms, 572 are supervisors — a decline of 15 from the year before.

AAJA encouraged editors to consider naming Asian Americans to supervisory positions. Asian Americans make up 2 percent of newsroom supervisors.

"When we talk about stories that accurately and fairly reflect the needs and interests of the communities and when we talk about reaching parity between the percentage of Asian Americans in the newsroom and the percentage of Asian Americans in the U.S. population, an important strategy in achieving these goals is ensuring that Asian Americans have a seat at meetings where newsroom decisions are getting made," Mae Cheng, AAJA president and an assistant city editor at Newsday, said in a release.

Leaders from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists voiced concern about the lack of growth in the number of Hispanic journalists and encouraged ASNE to report separately the number of Hispanics working in Spanish-language publications owned by mainstream media companies.

"We are dismayed and perplexed by the continued lack of significant progress in the overall hiring of Latinos last year," NAHJ President Juan Gonzalez, a New York Daily News columnist, said in a press release. "Given all the attention newspaper chains are devoting to new publications geared to the Latino community, we expected a big increase in the numbers of Latinos now more than ever. What happened?"

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