Newspapers fall short of diversity goal
April 24, 2002 11:47 PM   Subscribe

Newspapers fall short of diversity goal : "The people who report for and edit the nation's newspapers look less like the people who make and read the news than a decade ago. If newspapers are a mirror that a community holds up to itself, the reflection is mostly white." Is it unfair to assume that a newspaper writer (or other media outlet) should share some sort of heritage in proportion to the population it covers to get the full feel of their stories? Or should it just be focused solely on merit without a cultural component?
posted by owillis (9 comments total)
Newspapers are businesses, not implements for the redress of the inequities of civilization. However high-minded the impulses of individual writers, editors, and publishers, if the ad dollars aren't coming in, the paper, ahem, folds. It's democracy in it's purest form. To put pressure on businesses for the purpose of social engineering to the detriment of their financial health starts a chain reaction that leads to an exacerbation of problems due to capital fleeing the area where unprofitable conditions have been imposed. The impetus for the economic, and therefore political, advancement of any definable sector of the population must come from within the definable sector itself. Attempts to impose equality of situation as opposed to equality of opportunity are invaribly self defeating, and only serve to make rather epemeral political hay for the politicians and activists.

It's the same old story. People with strongly held convictions but lacking the ability or energy to amass the financial resources to effect change corresponding to their philosiphies confer upon themselves the moral authority to extort money from people who don't share their views. As long as the extortionists don't provoke their victims to the point where they fight instead of pay, the extortionists can build comfy little empires for themselves, but all the while they betray their stated cause by hardening the hearts of their victims against the very precepts that are meant to be promoted.
posted by BGM at 12:51 AM on April 25, 2002

if race doesn't matter stop paying attention to it.

from the article: The hidden variable may be motivation to change.

That seems like a rather obvious key variable, considering it's an totally arbitrary, meaningless change to begin with. You could characterize this lack of motivation as due to either racial bias or racial blindness, but each person's characterization is more likely to resemble their own racial attitudes than anything else. People who think it matters that newspapers be "diverse" will probably think that they aren't because the editors are prejudiced. People who think race is irrelevant as a signifier of merit or competency will see these diversity quotas as lame political posturing and recognize the lack of motivation as pragmatically avoiding unnecessary expenses to achieve some froo-froo demographic roster breakdown.

If a person demands diversity because people of other ethnicities cannot represent and serve that person's viewpoint and they need someone like themselves to do it, then they need to either get a clue or go live in a fucking isolationist ghetto enclave somewhere with the rest of their ignorant, racist kind, whatever that "kind" may be. The rest of us will read whoever can write, buy the best deal, vote for the least sleezy politician, and hire whoever can do the job - and not give a crap what each other's skin looks like...
posted by techgnollogic at 12:59 AM on April 25, 2002

Does anyone here believe that there is a single halfway-skilled African American journalist in America who cannot get a job with the newspaper of his or her choice? The old honored African American newspapers in my town have been put together by casual employees, students and amateurs for the past couple of decades (and are awful), simply because any real journalist of African American descent with even a scrap of talent can now write his or her own ticket in the mainstream.
posted by Faze at 7:40 AM on April 25, 2002

*nod* As an ex-journalism student, I can confirm that it's a lack of diversity in the pool of available workers. My first journalism classes were almost all white - there were two hispanics, and being recent immagrants, they didn't have a good enough command of english to pass the entrance exams. I realized that it was too much work to get into the program, and decided to go for a computer science degree instead...

And BGM, thank you for explaining Economics 101 to the liberals in the crowd.
posted by SpecialK at 8:07 AM on April 25, 2002

Only four people have posted here, now five. That's a "crowd?"
posted by raysmj at 9:22 AM on April 25, 2002

Does anyone here believe that there is a single halfway-skilled African American journalist in America who cannot get a job with the newspaper of his or her choice?

That's a bit overstated, in that skilled minority journalists can't exactly choose their destination in many cases. But the larger thrust is true. The aggressive recruitment of minority reporters to fill diversity quotas has made skin color a ticket to the big leagues for average newspaper talent.

Top-tier newspapers duke it out with carrots like cut workweeks and signing bonuses - unheard of in other cases for regular newsroom personnel.
posted by sacre_bleu at 9:37 AM on April 25, 2002

I'm white and I've been a journalist for 16 years, and I know that lack of racial diversity is a problem at newspapers.

At the daily paper that I used to work for, the editors met twice daily to discuss upcoming stories and how they should be played -- what gets front-page treatment, what doesn't. Usually these meetings were attended solely by middle-age white men who lived in the suburbs of the city where the paper was based. They were white-collar college graduates editing a paper in a blue-collar city. They didn't understand the lives of their typical readers. It never occurred to them to wonder what life would be like if they were black. They were unaware of black-oriented TV shows. They weren't interested in the lives of single mothers. I covered education for a while, and I did a story about the problems working mothers had finding childcare on teacher inservice days. It was a good story, but relegated to an inside page. Had a woman been in that day's editorial meetings, perhaps she would have informed them that my story would strike a nerve among a big segment of our readership.

Having been brought up by a widowed mother, I easily grasped that that story would be of interest. But I've never had a lot of black friends, and neither did the paper's editors, and so we all suffered a blind spot when it came to stories that would be of relevance to black readers. The editors, who didn't deal with black sources every day, didn't even realize that blacks were suspicious of our newspaper.

Yes, diversity in newsrooms is an important issue. It helps a newspaper if there's an editor or influential reporter of color who can point out holes in stories or gaps in coverage or let white colleagues know that they're making invalid assumptions about readers. To acknowledge this problem isn't "social engineering," BGM. Diversity is important but that doesn't mean that the editors I worked with are prejudiced, technognollic (and I don't need to "get a clue or live in a fucking isolationist ghetto," either. Sheesh.). And I've been known to whine, like SpecialK and Faze, about how easy it is for competent blacks to get jobs in this industry. It's true, but it's whining nevertheless.

Lack of diversity in newsrooms is a problem. Instead of finding someone to blame, or attacking the motives of those who identify the problem, why not acknowledge that it exists and look for ways to encourage more minorities to get into journalism?
posted by Holden at 10:09 AM on April 25, 2002

I cannot think of any problem better solved by the market then this. If a newspaper is leaving an audience underserved, another newspaper, or other media, will fill in the gap. If nobody bothers to fill the gap, then it is the underserved, not the media serving the customers they are pursuing, who are to blame.
posted by MattD at 10:52 AM on April 25, 2002

Um, MattD, and the advertisers who actually pay for the paper? What if they don't buy ads because they're using other media? Blame the "underserved" then? I can think of no problem better undersolved by a simplistic ideological answer. And they call liberals ivory towers types.
posted by y2karl at 11:20 AM on April 25, 2002

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