American Newspapers Have A Diversity Problem, And They’re Not Getting Better

Each year, the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) releases a “newsroom census” on the number demographics of American newsrooms. And while it might be reasonable to hope that one would see a steady — if slow — growth in the number of female journalists and journalists of color, this year’s statistics show a troubling trend of stagnation.

Media Matters put together some useful graphs on the data. As they make clear, journalists of color have held between 12 to 13 percent of news staff jobs for the last 11 years, a figure that doesn’t come close to ANSE’s stated goal of having its member newsrooms reflect the diversity of the country:

The problems start at the top, where 90 percent of the supervisors in newsrooms are white, and extends down to the internship level, where only 26 percent of interns are people of color. And the outlook isn’t much better for women, whose presence in the newsroom has hovered around 38 percent for a decade and a half. At the supervisory level, women are still not budging from holding 34 percent of jobs over the same time period. These new numbers hew pretty closely to the abysmal stats that the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport found in sports journalism in a 2012 study. There, too, 90 percent of editors were white, though the numbers were much worse for women, who only held 14 percent of all sports journalism jobs.

There are obvious and immediate ways that newsrooms could try to diversify their staffs. Employers could aggressively seek out women and people of color to fill open positions. They could advertise on site like the National Association of Black Journalists or the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, both of which host job listings. They could require that half of the applicants brought in for interviews are not men.

Or employers could also just look to social media where a great movement by journalists, for journalists, has sprung up to help editors identify non-white, non-male reporters they might like to commission and editors they might like to hire. Hashtags like #womenedswelove and sites like LadyJournos highlight the work of women who are already in the field. Just recently, Jamelle Bouie of the American Prospect and Aminatou Sow of IAVA launched Journos of Color, a site that aggregates the work of non-white journalists.

The notion of ‘quotas’ is often spurned as untouchable, but Chris Hayes of MSNBC instituted a policy of reaching out to non-white, non-male guests for his weekend show Up With Chris Hayes, and he managed to get a hugely more diverse set of panelists than any of the other shows that ran during his weekend time slot. Indeed, Hayes came close to meeting ASNE’s goal of having the people on his panel reflect the population. As Hayes so aptly characterized the system of meeting quotas on his show, “If you don’t do that then the inertia and the tide are so strong, unless you are committed as a priority to actively fight against it, you’re going to end up reproducing what everyone else does.”

Even if employers can’t see the inherent value in having a newsroom staff whose origins and life experiences match that of the populations they cover, they might at least understand that it’s a good business model. When MSNBC made a serious effort to diversify their on-air talent, they reaped the benefit of a 60 percent jump in African-American viewership. Viewers and readers like seeing themselves represented on the screen and page. That’s true even on Fox News, where Megyn Kelly’s vocal support for women’s rights serves as a reminder that you can double down on your existing audience, or build new ones with new voices.