Dear Network Executives and Editors:
As Scott Pelley replaces Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News and Glenn Beck prepares to leave Fox News Channel, a question looms. Where is the diversity?
People of color comprise more than a third of the U.S. population. The 2010 Census shows the minority population is growing from coast to coast, and the majority of children in the U.S. will be minorities by 2050. So, there’s a strong case to be made that news media is running in the wrong direction of its audience.
The Big 3 networks and cable news channels have undergone a series of rare changes behind the desk. While the replacements are all seasoned journalists, what is glaringly missing in the flurry of changes is the failure to elevate African Americans to any of these positions.
The National Association of Black Journalists finds this troubling – particularly since there are dynamic African Americans poised to ascend to these coveted positions. For nearly four decades, NABJ has worked tirelessly as advocates for diversity, calling out those guilty of maintaining the “status quo.”
As America inches toward a world that is more black and brown, corporations are adjusting their cultures to embrace diversity because they know it makes good business sense. But too many network executives are ignoring this reality.
Russ Mitchell of CBS News, Lester Holt of NBC News, and CNN’s T. J. Holmes are weekend warriors who possess charisma, journalistic heft, and the handsome qualities to front a prime-time show. Mitchell’s poise and professional bearing as he commandeered the historic announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death surely put to rest any doubt about his prime-time readiness. Holt has been the go-to guy as a substitute for vacationing “stars,” but his primary shift is the weekend.
While we are encouraged by Ann Curry’s promotion as co-anchor of the Today Show and Natalie Morales’ selection as the news reader, NABJ still has serious concerns about a lack of diversity during prime time. Robin Roberts is a veteran on Good Morning America. MSNBC’s Tamron Hall and CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux have their own slots, but not in prime time.
On the print side, NABJ applauded The New York Times for its recent decision to promote an African American, Dean Baquet, to managing editor of news. Unfortunately, black editors are becoming an “endangered species” in the midst of layoffs. For example, daily newspapers in Houston and Savannah have staffs that are disproportionately white. Yet, the communities they serve are overwhelmingly of color. The Houston Chronicle does not have a single black metro editor deciding what gets covered on a daily basis.
The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) reports that the percentage of African American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American journalists continues to decline in U.S. newsrooms for the third consecutive year. Astoundingly, there were “929 fewer black journalists in the 2010 survey than were recorded in 2001,” a drop of 31.5 percent.
This horrifying report strongly suggests that the perspective and unique insight that black journalists, in particular, and minority journalists, in general, bring to their newsrooms and communities are being marginalized and devalued – and, by default, so is the paying readership.
While the recession and digital revolution can be attributed to some of the dip, NABJ believes that the downsizing decisions should be proportionate to the populations served by each newspaper.
As you buck the trend, newspaper bundles get thinner; the network viewership tics downward; advertisers abandon you, and readers increasingly turn to other outlets, online destinations and bloggers for news and information.
Because some news organizations don’t “get it,” NABJ will continue to push for diversity and accountability. Failing to respond to your entire audience will be at your own peril and will most certainly threaten your ultimate survival.