(FinalCall.com) – The fight to increase diversity in newsrooms received a stunning blow April 16 when the American Society of News Editors annual newsroom census revealed U.S. newsrooms became less diverse in 2008 from the year before.
The percentage of Black, Asian, Hispanic and Native American journalists in the nation’s newsrooms dropped from 13.5 percent in 2007 to 13.4 percent in 2008. The percentage of these same journalists in supervisory positions also declined, from 11.4 percent in 2007 to 11.2 percent in 2008 despite efforts to influence their retention rates in newsroom management.
“Industry layoffs affect people of color disproportionately and destroy the gains we have made during past years,” said Rafael Olmeda, president of UNITY president, an alliance of four national associations representing more than 10,000 journalists of color. “The small two-percentage point increase in online journalists of color is the one encouraging point in the results.”
“It is disheartening that the vision articulated by ASNE is still such a distant goal after years of benchmarks, committees and commitments,” Mr. Olmeda said.“We are not a luxury.Part of the reason the industry is suffering is because it has not grown the audiences to support it.”
Black and Asian journalists received the hardest hits and are losing jobs at a faster rate than Whites and other minorities, setting back progress made over decades through diversity initiatives.
Newsroom jobs held by Black journalists were cut by an alarming 13.5 percent in 2008, making them the single most targeted group for job losses in newsrooms across the country, according to the ASNE study.
“While NABJ recognizes the current economic downturn, newspapers must stop the bloodletting of Black journalists now,” said National Association of Black Journalists President Barbara Ciara. “It is unconscionable that this industry is willing to jeopardize the accuracy, integrity and bottom line of its publications. Diversity is not only good business but it inspires diversity in content too.”
In all, nearly 400 Black journalists lost their jobs in 2008, representing the largest drop in all minority employment and reducing progress toward diversity in newsrooms to 1998 census levels.
Four-hundred fifty eight newspapers still have no minorities in their newsrooms and this number has been growing since 2006.Only 111 out of 633 newspapers surveyed have achieved parity with the minority population in their communities.
“Newsrooms without Black journalists are unacceptable,” Ms. Ciara said. “NABJ calls on industry leaders to re-commit to making diversity a priority–even in this difficult climate.”
The decrease in minority representation in newsrooms runs counter to general population trends, which project the United States will become a “majority minority” country by mid-century.
“This is about social dominance,” said Gary Howard, founder and president of the REACH Center for Multicultural Education.Mr. Gary has 35-years of experience in diversity leadership and training.“It’s a system of privilege and preference reinforced by power that favors certain groups over others.A key piece is who gets to construct what’s real, even if it’s not true.
“The issue of dominance is all over the media.Fewer and fewer small companies exist while larger companies give us the news.When you lose journalists of color you lose a different race lens.The media is a hugely dominant influence in our lives.When you have social dominance over the media you’re in trouble.”
UNITY is inviting industry organizations, including ASNE, to a summit this summer to address specific and realistic recommendations that can help newsrooms achieve their diversity goals.
American daily newspapers lost 5,900 newsroom jobs last year, reducing their employment of journalists by 11.3 percent to the levels of the early 1980s.
The overall job loss was the largest one-year decline in employment in the history of the ASNE census and followed a drop of 2,400 a year ago. Since a peak of 56,400 reported in 2001, newsroom jobs have decreased by 9,700. The highest employment level in the survey’s history was 56,900 reported in 1990.
“The loss of journalists is a loss for democracy,” said ASNE President Charlotte Hall. “The loss of people of color from our newsrooms is especially disturbing because our future depends on our ability to serve multicultural audiences. ASNE is committed to keeping newsroom diversity on the front burner even in tough times.”
In this decade, there has been a net increase of Latino, Asian and Native American journalists and a net decline of Black journalists.