WASHINGTON — Newsrooms cut black journalists and supervisors at a higher rate than ever before in 2009 while the minority communities they cover grow larger. As more African American journalists lose their jobs, diversity in newsrooms has taken a back seat according to a study released last Sunday by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE).
“It is a travesty that minority journalists would be targeted disproportionately in staff cuts,” said National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) President Kathy Y. Times. “Despite the economy we must keep our newsrooms and voices at least on parity with the communities we serve.”
Newsroom jobs held by black journalists were slashed by an unprecedented 19.2 percent in 2009, nearly six percentage points higher than the previous year. Since 2001, African Americans have a net loss of more than 30 percent of the positions they occupied in American newsrooms.
The NABJ Board of Directors is scheduled met in the Washington, D.C.-area last weekend to discuss the recent ASNE findings and develop an action plan for improving newsroom hiring and retention of black journalists.
“This is a key goal in NABJ’s mission and we will continue to search for new ways to highlight this gap until it is closed,” said Vice President-Print Deirdre M. Childress. “As the diversity of the American population increases, it is equally important for us to see that change reflected in American newsrooms so that stories can be told from all perspectives.”
The number of newspapers with no minorities on their staff rose to 465 last year, an increase of seven over 2008. Another disturbing finding in this year’s study is the continued decline in black journalists in leadership positions.
Black journalists in supervisory roles dropped by 20.3 percent to just 428 individuals helping decide what is considered news in print and online newspapers across the country.
“It’s about accuracy,” ASNE Diversity Director Bobbi Bowman said of the objective of the census. “Can you accurately cover your community if you have a newsroom that doesn’t look like your community?”
Bowman links the decline in newspaper circulation to the rise in the minority population over the last several years.
“Readers are very smart and readers know whether or not their newspaper is covering news that is important and relevant to them,” she said.
General population trends show that births to minorities are on pace to overcome majority births this year, and that the minority population will be greater than 50 percent of the total U.S. population within three decades. Despite these population trends, news as determined and as covered by the majority continues to increasingly dominate online and print newspapers.
In 1999, ASNE defined as its goal to deliver parity in newsroom representation by 2025. NABJ stands ready to work with ASNE and media companies to reach this goal and promote diversity in the nation’s newsrooms.
“Communities are not of one color and neither should newsroom decision makers,” said President Times. “We’ve made some tremendous gains over the years and NABJ is going to continue to be watchdogs while also seeking new opportunities for members to build their own brands through top-notch training and education.”
An advocacy group established in 1975 in Washington, D.C. NABJ is the largest organization of journalists of color in the nation, with more than 3,000 members, and provides educational, career development and support to black journalists worldwide.