|DIVERSITY IN THE NEWSROOM|
August 23, 1999
The NewsHour Media Unit is funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
TERENCE SMITH: This is the sound of unity -- Unity '99, a multicultural summer gathering of native American, Hispanic, Asian and black journalists. Some 6,000 strong, their convention in Seattle was billed as the largest assembly of American journalists ever, minority or majority. (Cheers and applause) At the opening ceremony, they bonded to a festive beat and a caustic view of the mainstream media.
|"Who will tell our story?"|
CATALINA CAMIA, UNITY, Journalists of Color: Today we stop asking the question, "Who will tell our story?" Because we know that we will tell our story.
KARA BRIGGS, Native American Journalists Assoc.: Will we miss the celebration shout at the end of apartheid, slavery, and broken treaties? Will we let the American media blind us to the world it still can't see?
TERENCE SMITH: The complaint voiced by speakers at the conference was that despite the progress of recent decades, America's newsrooms still don't look like America itself. Alicia Gooden is one of three black journalists at the Galveston Daily News in Texas.
ALICIA GOODEN: That same, old sorry excuse that, "We can't find any qualified, you know, journalists of color," is bull. You can find them. You're not looking in the right places.
TERENCE SMITH: Veteran journalist Earl Caldwell is also skeptical about mainstream editors' assertions that they are trying to achieve a better racial balance on their staffs.
EARL CALDWELL: They say they believe in diversity. They say they believe in telling the stories from all sides of town, but they don't do it.
TERENCE SMITH: Forty percent of American newspapers have no people of color on staff. Roughly 28 percent of the American population is black, Hispanic, Asian American and Native American. But according to the latest studies, minorities hold only 11.5 percent of newspaper jobs. Dinah Eng, a copy editor at Gannett News Service, is the only Asian-American with a nationally syndicated column. She sees limited progress towards diversity.
DINA ENG: We have reached a point, certainly in entry level, where we look very hard for reporters, and we're beginning to look harder for people in mid-management, and we want to promote them up higher up the ranks, but there's a very clear glass ceiling.
|A missed goal|
TERENCE SMITH: Twenty years ago, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, also known as ASNE, recognized the problem and set themselves a minority staffing goal: parity with the general population by the year 2000. Meeting again last year, the editors were forced to admit that they had missed the mark by a mile.
Former Milwaukee Journal Editor Sig Gissler is a member of ASNE. He argues that the liberalization of immigration quotas has nearly doubled the nonwhite population, making it more difficult for the editors to reach their goals.
SIG GISSLER: The goal of parity was set before the immigration laws were changed and the surge of immigration occurred in this country, which really changed the whole demographic profile and really raised the percentage that the industry had to shoot for.
TERENCE SMITH: Acknowledging the difficulty of the problem, the editors postponed their proportional goals, not for a year or two, but for a quarter century, to the year 2025. Dinah Eng:
DINAH ENG: When we talk about postponing things or changing numbers, sometimes people can get upset at that, and I tend to look more on the long term, that we have made progress, that we're continuing to make progress, but that we mustn't stop setting goals for ourselves.
TERENCE SMITH: Recently, the editors said the issue goes beyond ensuring equal opportunity in newsrooms. They concluded in a report to their members, that under- representation of minorities on their staffs virtually guaranteed distortion in their coverage.
DAVID YARNOLD: For years journalists have been told that diversity is good business. It is. We've been told that it's morally right. It is. And still newsrooms have been slow to change. So by reframing this as an issue of accuracy, we think we hit a nerve.
TERENCE SMITH: David Yarnold is executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News, a newspaper that serves an ethnically diverse area of California.
DAVID YARNOLD: Hiring goes hand in glove with credibility and accuracy. Every journalist needs to be able to see through various lenses. Being able to bring people together with different cultural backgrounds is going to make our reports more authentic.
|Developing "Rainbow Rolodexes"|
|DAVID YARNOLD: Every newsroom in America received this tool
TERENCE SMITH: Yarnold helped organize a week of workshops, a national time-out that was called at 140 newspapers around the country to focus attention on diversity.
MERCURY NEWS REPORTER: What I don't think we should do is if you need... if you want to talk to Hispanics, if you want to talk to Indians, go to East San Jose for Hispanics, because I don't think Hispanics only live in East San Jose.
TERENCE SMITH: The Mercury News is covering a community that has been transformed in recent decades by waves of immigration. At their time-out session, the staff tried to come up with what they call "Rainbow Rolodexes."
JANICE ROMBECK, Mercury News reporter: At the risk of looking like I'm at a McCarthy hearing, I do have in my hand... (Laughter) ...the names of 92 San Jose neighborhood groups -- all have contacts, all have phone numbers -- and another 50 ethnic groups.
TERENCE SMITH: Editor David Yarnold recalled how diversity on the staff has paid editorial dividends.
DAVID YARNOLD: In the project we ran recently about piecework in Silicon Valley, workers taking work home, which is illegal and/or unsafe, having two Asian-American reporters clearly won the trust of many of the sources of those stories and made the series a whole lot deeper and a lot more honest.
TERENCE SMITH: Across the country in the ethnic stew that is Miami, Florida, managing editor Larry Olmstead has broken the glass ceiling. His Miami Herald staff of 300 included 56 Hispanics, 42 blacks and 5 Asians at last count.
LARRY OLMSTEAD: I came here two and a half years ago and you would walk into the morning news meeting or the page one meeting, and I would walk in and I would be the only black person in the room. Does it make a difference to have even one black person in the room? Yes, it does.
TERENCE SMITH: The Herald has made a determined effort to diversify, adding columnists like Cuban-born Liz Balmaseda.
LIZ BALMASEDA: Some days I wake up and I go, "I am Swedish today." (Laughter) "I'm not Cuban today. I can't take this anymore, and that's it."
TERENCE SMITH: At the Herald's time-out session, Balmaseda and columnists Bob Steinback and Fred Grimm talked to colleagues about how the paper should handle diversity.
BOB STEINBACK: We can't assume that one group or any group that looks a certain way is going to think a certain way on every issue. On some issues they might, on some issues they won't. I mean, a middle-class black community is going to think differently from a poor black community.
TERENCE SMITH: Columnist Fred Grimm offered a dissenting note.
FRED GRIMM: I don't question the goal. It's just... it's just so... can be so ham-handed. If you're not careful, you build up a certain amount of resentment along the way.
TERENCE SMITH: Even Bob Steinback acknowledged that the focus on diversity can produce a backlash.
BOB STEINBACK: I think there's a point where people who have really honestly tried to get out of the old mindsets and get into a more pluralistic sort of mindset are also now getting a little "cultured out"-- you know, where they're starting to say, "All right, already, I mean, I've tried... I've been to all the diversity training; you know, I didn't object when my daughter went out with a black guy. Haven't I arrived yet?" You know... (Laughter)
TERENCE SMITH: Liz Balmaseda is bilingual. She believes that helps her give voice to Latinos, including these Mexican migrant workers celebrating their high school graduation.
LIZ BALMASEDA: When you have reporters and writers living in diverse communities, they're living in these small communities, they are going to bring their lives into the pages of the paper.
TERENCE SMITH: Back at Unity '99, some employers went buses unloading to great lengths to boost morale of minority staff. Media conglomerate Knight Ridder sponsored a five-hour dinner cruise.
Editor SIG Gissler, who recently conducted a study on newspaper diversity
for the Columbia University School of Journalism, took some encouragement
from the number of organizations recruiting at the job fair.
SIG GISSLER: Well, it's a small proportion of the total daily newspapers-- we have over 1,400 of them-- but I think it's a very good representation of newspapers in multicultural markets, and I think that's a very positive development.
TERENCE SMITH: Earl Caldwell says that whatever diversity has been achieved in today's newsrooms, it has been a long time coming. He recalled how he broke into New York City newsrooms when white editors found they needed black reporters to cover the urban riots of the 1960's.
EARL CALDWELL: These voices were coming at them from out of nowhere. They were like foreign countries sitting dead up in the middle of these cities, but they were like foreign countries. They didn't know what was going on there, and when they found these explosions to come, they couldn't cover them, because when they sent the reporters there, they got beat and they got sent out. Crowds would scream, "White reporters out!" That probably did more... those three words created a demand for journalists of color. That's the door that pried the door open that we came through.
TERENCE SMITH: Despite the obstacles he encountered in his own career, Caldwell is cautiously optimistic about the future of young minority journalists he met at the Unity conference.
EARL CALDWELL: They see a vision of what the coverage ought to be like. It's just this giant step forward. The only problem is there is not enough of them.
TERENCE SMITH: The huge turnout at the unity conference and the intense recruiting at the job fair suggested that the industry is in fact changing, no matter how slowly.
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