Efforts to track diversity in journalism are lagging

Oct 14, 2021, 6:15 AM | Updated: Oct 16, 2021, 2:50 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — More than a year after George Floyd’s killing focused attention on efforts to diversify newsrooms, the ability to measure real progress is proving elusive.

The News Leaders Association, a journalism trade group, extended the deadline for responses to its survey about employment practices at news organizations for two months, after expressing disappointment about how few are willing to reveal the diversity of their staffs.

The group hopes for as much participation from an estimated 5,900 newsrooms across the country as possible but has had fewer than 250 responses, said Meredith Clark, a Northeastern University professor who is running the survey.

“As a researcher and a journalist, I am deeply discouraged that the journalism industry isn’t as transparent about its workforce in the way that it expects other industries to be transparent about theirs,” Clark said.

There have been tangible signs of progress for the industry, most notably in diverse hires for some major journalism jobs: Kevin Merida, the second Black executive editor of The Los Angeles Times after Dean Baquet; Kim Godwin and Rashida Jones, both Black women, as presidents of ABC News and MSNBC; Katrice Hardy and Monica Richardson, the first Black executive editors at the Dallas Morning News and Miami Herald; and Daisy Veerasingham, the first woman and first person of color appointed as The Associated Press’ president and CEO.

Newsrooms throughout the Gannett chain, The New York Times, The Washington Post and NBC News have publicly revealed statistics on diversity hiring. There have been large-scale reckonings about past bias in reporting in newspapers like the Kansas City Star and Los Angeles Times.

Despite these steps, the overall diversity picture remains blurred.

First through a precursor, the American Society of News Editors, a newsroom diversity survey has been conducted since the mid-1970s, following a Kerner Commission report that described the absence of Black journalists as “shockingly backward.” News organizations were given a goal of having staffs that reflected their communities by 2000.

“The more diversity you have in your newsroom, the better you are able to capture what is going on in your community,” said Myriam Marquez, executive director of the news leaders group, which includes executives at newspapers, websites and media groups.

A lack of diversity can reveal itself in many news decisions: To many critics, the attention paid to the story of Gabby Petito, a young woman found dead after a cross-country trip with her fiance, reflected a long-time concern about journalists paying more attention to missing white women than minorities in similar situations.

Despite some improvements, the 2000 goal wasn’t reached, and concerns about diversity faded with the industry’s financial collapse over the past two decades. Participation in the annual survey also became spotty, to the point where it was suspended in 2019 after only 293 responses were received.

Clark was hired to create a more thorough and modern questionnaire, and to seek ways to get more participation, since internal peer pressure is proving insufficient.

This year’s effort got off to a slow start because much of the group’s contact list was initially out-of-date. The survey asked for more information than in past years, and that proved time-consuming. Some organizations expressed concern about violations of privacy for staff members, but organizers insist that shouldn’t be an issue.

“It might be in some cases that people, frankly, know if they fill it out that the current state of their news organization doesn’t look like what they’d hope it would look like,” said Hardy, newly-named Dallas editor and head of the NLA’s diversity committee. “I always think that’s a factor in any year, but especially after a year of social unrest.”

Since organizations are being asked to volunteer information — as opposed to a random sample being taken — it also stands to reason that organizations making progress toward meeting diversity goals would be most likely to participate, lending doubt about whether the survey will truly reflect what is going on.

Nearly 90 of the returned surveys are from Gannett newspapers, which has been particularly aggressive in boosting diversity and last month had editors at all of its newspapers report to their readers on progress reaching goals. Gannett as a company set 2025 as a goal for their outlets to reach racial and gender parity with their communities.

As an example, the Arizona Republic said that in July, 38% of their journalists were people of color, up from 20% five years earlier. The goal is 44%. Executive Editor Greg Burton told readers how reporting and editing duties had changed to cover equity issues.

Hardy said she isn’t concerned the news leaders’ report will present false progress.

“I don’t think any of us are happy with where we are,” she said.

It may be a more long-term solution, but the group is considering asking foundations and others who provide funding for news organizations to require participation in the survey before getting a grant. Same thing with journalism prizes: If you want to enter the competition for a Pulitzer, show you’ve filled out a survey.

Clark said her goal was to have 1,500 responses to produce a statistically solid report. It seems doubtful they’ll get there by the end of October, the new deadline. But George Stanley, NLA president, said there’s a baseline of participants including Gannett, McClatchy newspapers, ProPublica, Buzzfeed and The Associated Press — the latter for the first time — that the information will be worth releasing.

“I think these participating organizations, by proving their commitment, will gain a recruiting advantage and that will encourage others,” said Stanley, editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The New York Times said earlier this year that the percentage of non-white staff members had increased from 27% in 2015 to 34% last year. At the Times, Washington Post and USA Today, a majority of the newsroom staff are women.

The AP reported that 76% of its full-time news employees in the United States are white, 8% are Latino, 7% are Black and 6% are Asian. News management is 81% white.

When he began as head of news at NBC Universal last year, Cesar Conde publicly set a goal of a staff that is 50% minority and 50% women, although he gave no deadline. Since then, monthly hires have averaged 48% people of color and 63% women, the network said. The division’s percentage of minorities has increased from 27% to 30%.

Hiring minorities is important, but so is keeping them, said Doris Truong, director of training and diversity at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank. The news industry is seeing a generational shift among young staff members less willing to wait for attitudes to change, she said.

“There is no pipeline problem,” said Robert Hernandez, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “We are producing diverse students. The reality is they’re not being hired, they’re not being retained, they’re not being promoted.”

Hardy said retention is a real issue, and impatience about advancement isn’t something unique to a younger generation.

She hopes the prominent leadership hires of the past year help usher in real change.

“It is a passion we have,” she said. “It is something we have lived and breathed and discussed and wanted to have a hand in helping over the years. The buck stops with us, frankly.”

____

This story corrects that Kevin Merida is the second Black executive editor of the Los Angeles Times, quote by Robert Hernandez and changes reference to diversity goal in graph 11 to 2000, not 2020.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Olaf Scholz, SPD Chancellor-designate speaks at the SPD party conference at Willy Brandt House in B...
Associated Press

Scholz’s party approves deal for new German coalition govt

German Chancellor-designate Olaf Scholz’s center-left party gave its overwhelming approval Saturday to forming a new government with environmentalist and pro-business parties — the first of three such decisions needed for Scholz to take office next week. Scholz’s Social Democrats narrowly won Germany’s Sept. 26 election and launched negotiations with the Greens and the business-friendly Free […]
7 hours ago
FILE - Drilling rigs and workboats operate at the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gul...
Associated Press

BP oil spill fund: $103M to projects in 3 Gulf states

Alabama, Florida and Mississippi are receiving more than $103 million in BP oil spill settlement money for new and continued coastal projects. “These projects, combined with existing investments, continue to advance our goal of protecting and restoring species and habitats impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of […]
7 hours ago
FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, file photo, Stacey Abrams speaks to Biden supporters as they w...
Associated Press

2nd Stacey Abrams governor bid sees new tests, intrigues

ATLANTA (AP) — Stacey Abrams announced a long-awaited second run for Georgia governor this week, but with Democrats facing a sour national environment and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp facing challenges within his own party, the 2022 campaign will look different from 2018. Abrams’ narrow loss, highlighted by her claims that Kemp used his prior post […]
7 hours ago
FILE - Allen Toussaint performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans, Satu...
Associated Press

New Orleans: Push to rename Lee boulevard after Toussaint

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A member of the New Orleans city council is pushing to change a street currently named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and replace it with one the city’s most famous musicians, Allen Toussaint, who died in 2015. Councilmember Jared C. Brossett introduced an ordinance to rename the street that goes […]
7 hours ago
In this courtroom sketch, defense attorney Jeffrey Pagliuca, left, confers with Ghislaine Maxwell a...
Associated Press

Scenes from Week 1 of Ghislaine Maxwell’s sex-abuse trial

NEW YORK (AP) — The first week of the sex-abuse trial of Ghislaine Maxwell saw the first of her four main accusers taking the witness stand to give emotional testimony accusing the British socialite of coaxing her — at just 14 — into sexual encounters with financier Jeffrey Epstein. The jury at the federal trial […]
7 hours ago
Dawn Neptune Adams holds a copy of the Phips Proclamation of 1755, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, in Bango...
Associated Press

Penobscots don’t want ancestors’ scalping to be whitewashed

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Most Americans know Native Americans endured atrocities after the arrival of European settlers: wars, disease, stolen land. But it’s far uglier than that. Members of the Penobscot Nation in Maine have produced an educational film addressing how European settlers scalped — killed — Indigenous people during the British colonial era, spurred […]
7 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Facebook Photo/NHTSA)...
Sweet James

Upcoming holiday season is peak time for DUI arrests

The holiday season may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the most dangerous time of the year to be driving. That’s why it’s important to remember to call Sweet James Accident Attorneys if you’re injured or arrested because of a DUI accident.
...
DISC DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

What you need to know about spine health

With 540 million people suffering from lower back pain, it remains the leading cause of long-term disability. That’s why World Spine Day on Oct. 16 will raise awareness about spinal health with its theme, BACK2BACK. “BACK2BACK will focus on highlighting ways in which people can help their spines by staying mobile, avoiding physical inactivity, not overloading […]
...
PNC Bank

3 cool tips to turn everyday moments into learning experiences for your child

Early brain development has a crucial impact on a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school and life. Research has shown that 90% of a child’s brain is developed by age five.
Efforts to track diversity in journalism are lagging