As Chuck Stone of the Philadelphia Daily News, founding president of the National Association of Black Journalists, wrote in 1988:
"Since the Kerner Commission, the number of minority journalists has inched up with all the speed of a one-legged tortoise climbing a hill in a hailstorm."In his article, Why Should We Care About Diversity, Edward Pease of Utah State University noted how:
When the Kerner Commission chastised the newspaper business 20 years before for its failure to inform the society about issues in black America, more than 99 percent of U.S. newspaper reporters and editors were white. Now, almost a quarter-century later, the proportion of racial "minorities" in the population still outstrips the proportion of minorities in newspaper newsrooms by three to one. At the end of 1990, 8.72 percent of newsroom professionals -- reporters, copyeditors, desk editors, photographers and graphic artists, etc. -- were minorities. The country, however, is more than 24 percent nonwhite, and is projected to be 32 percent "minority" by the year 2010; by the middle of the next century, whites no longer will be the numerical majority in this country. But where will news organizations be?Other interesting details:
It is not only fatally short-sighted, but morally wrong for the press that covers America not to employ the people of America. And even if it weren't morally wrong, it is economic stupidity in a nation where 87 percent of the population growth between now and the year 2000 will be people of color. Even now, 119 languages are spoken in New York City, and the non-Anglo populations in the states of Texas and California are approaching 50 percent. ... At the start of the 1990s, many in this country thought racism had in fact grown even more prevalent than it had been in the 1960s, when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement forced the nation to acknowledge the injustice of a society that systematically excludes citizens because of race or ethnic background. Much has changed since the 1960s, but people of color still are largely excluded -- or included only as second-class citizens -- from both newsrooms and news content. Although most large U.S. newspapers circulate in urban areas where the nonwhite population ranges into the 50 percent range and higher, a variety of scholarly studies of news media performance show that coverage of minorities by those large metropolitan newspapers tends to account for only about 3 percent of their total news coverage. Further, more than half of white journalists and more than 70 percent of minority journalists surveyed in an national 1991 study said their own newspapers covered minority communities marginally or poorly.
From these examples, it is apparent that the news industry still systematically excludes people from the media mainstream because of their race or cultural origins. The news industry is not keeping up with demographic change in this country, either in terms of employing people of diverse backgrounds as information gatherers and gatekeepers or in terms of providing content and coverage of people who are not white.
After being motivated by the message of the Pease article, which was published in 1991, I gave my college Communication 101 students an assignment.
They were to provide five references to essentially update the Pease piece. Their references needed to be within the last five years.
I thought it would be fun. After all, aren't we in the age of Obama? Surely there would be interesting findings from our new sources, including progress. And of course, can't someone turn on the television any day and see men and women of color anchoring the major networks, as well as other popular shows?
The results made me realize just how limited my perception of progress was in this critical arena.
In an answer to Pease's question above, where he cites the year 2010, one of my students offered this reference:
“At that time…1978…, there were 43,000 journalists, 3.95 percent of whom were minorities. Now, there are 41,500 journalists and 13.26 percent are minorities. The numbers in this loose comparison show that although newsroom diversity hasn’t gained ground in recent years, over the long term it has.” (Mallary Jean Tenore, 2010).Since "Why we should care?" has effectively addressed, let me move to other questions.
Why hasn't newsroom diversity hasn’t gained ground in recent years?
Do news outlets cover minority communities any better than they did in 1991?
How far have we really come?