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Saturday, July 11, 2009
Diversity Toolbox

Economy shouldn't trump diversity

By Pueng Vongs

First there were rumors and whispers.

In the torrent of cutbacks and layoffs slamming media outlets across the country, some wondered whether minority journalists were the first to lose their jobs.

Inquiries and questions of concern have come in steadily to SPJ’s Diversity Committee over the past several months. Readers bemoaned the loss of popular Asian-American columnists at a Northern California paper. And recently, the Columbus Association of Black Journalists in Ohio released a statement about the negative impact that cutting established African-American journalists in print and broadcast would have on area coverage.

A new American Society of News Editors survey finally gives us a gauge of what is truly going on across the country.

The annual study of newspaper outlets confirmed that black and Asian journalists are losing their jobs at a faster rate than other ethnic groups. Overall, in 2008 the percentage of minorities in newsrooms fell 0.11 percentage points to 13.41 percent since the previous year. But the biggest declines were among blacks and Asians — 13.6 percent and 13.4 percent respectively — compared to an overall 11.3 percent decline in total newsroom employment.

This trend threatens to further reduce the quality of news coverage and weaken the democratic institutions that depend on comprehensive and fair journalism.

Diversity in hiring is critical, so that newsroom staffs are more reflective of the overall population they are serving. Recent cutbacks have hurt decades of diversity initiatives. According to ASNE, in this decade there has been a net increase of Latino, Asian and Native American journalists and a net decline of black journalists.

“The loss of journalists is a loss for democracy,” ASNE President Charlotte Hall said in response to the study. “The loss of people of color from our newsrooms is especially disturbing because our future depends on our ability to serve multicultural audiences.”

To ensure fair and accurate news coverage, we urge journalism organizations to redouble their commitment to diversity initiatives and multicultural newsrooms despite the trying economic times. In uncertain times such as these, our nation is in even greater need of the benefits from comprehensive coverage.

The bright spot in the study was a small increase in the number of minorities who were working solely online. Of the 2,300 online-only journalists in 2008, 19.6 percent were minorities, compared to 16 percent of 1,900 in 2007.

As a result of the ASNE study, UNITY: Journalists of Color is conducting a summit on Aug. 14 in Boston during the Asian American Journalists Association convention to discuss the negative trends. They have invited industry organizations such as SPJ to help find ways for newsrooms to achieve diversity goals.

The topics of discussion are:

• Steps newsroom leaders and publishers should take to ensure diverse staffs and coverage.

• What’s the role of publishers, station general managers and parent companies to balance bottom-line needs with diversity?

• The role of unions in prioritizing diversity in contract negotiations.

• What can companies do to greater train employees so their skills match constantly changing needs of the marketplace?

• What can companies do for employees who have recently been laid off?

The goal is to come up with specific recommendations for the industry. SPJ representatives will be present at the meeting. But you don’t have to wait to begin thinking about these ideas in your newsroom.

Resources:

American Society of News Editors

www.asne.org

UNITY: Journalists of Color

www.unityjournalists.org

Asian American Journalists Association

www.aaja.org

National Association of Hispanic Journalists

www.nahj.org

National Association of Black Journalists

www.nabj.org

Native American Journalists Association

www.naja.org

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