By Lewis W. Diugid
kansas city star
Opening most publications or turning on the TV today would make many think people of color have left the planet.
Minorities are appearing a lot less in the media as journalists, newsroom managers, experts, commentators and actors despite the nation’s black president and the U.S. surging toward majority-minority demographics. Those were key points of an American Prospect magazine article and a National Association of Black Journalists 2011 diversity census report. The article, “The Right Messengers,” said the American media “does a terrible job of covering racial issues — and having a president of color has done little to change that fact.”
The black journalists’ census adds that it’s partly because minorities only fill 12 percent of the newsroom manager positions at stations owned by ABC, Belo Corp., CBS, Cox, Fox, Gannett, Hearst, Lin Media, Media General, Meredith, NBC, Nexstar Broadcasting, E.W. Scripps Co., Post-Newsweek and Tribune.
More than half of the stations had no diversity in management, and many only had one manager of color.
The jobs are important because “these are the people who set the news agenda and make coverage and personnel decisions,” the black journalists report said. Having no minorities in management lessens the likelihood that people of color or issues affecting that part of the population will be reported.
The American Prospect article quotes a 2010 Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism study, “Media, Race and Obama’s First Year.” It said the “mainstream media gives little substantive attention to issues of concern for or about African Americans.
“Furthermore, when mainstream media outlets do cover black news, it is ad hoc, typically when an unusual incident captures the public’s attention. Of the 67,000 mainstream television, Internet, newspaper and radio news stories scrutinized for the report, only 643 — less than 2 percent — were ‘significant’ to the African American community.”
Keep in mind that blacks are 13 percent of the U.S. population. Latinos were worse off.
Hispanics are nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population of 308 million people, but the article said that of “more than 34,000 news stories, only 1.8 percent dealt with issues of importance to the Hispanic community or reflected those concerns to a larger audience.”
In Crisis Magazine this year, Jabari Asim wrote this age of 24-hour media “can often seem more oppressive than enlightening.” There are so few minorities in programming, and when they do appear, stereotype depictions dominate.
In the same Crisis issue, Laura D. Blackburne, wrote: “Study after study shows that African Americans view more hours of television and movies than any other racial group. Yet, African Americans are less than 8 percent of the on-camera actors and even less than 3 percent of the behind the scene, writers, producers and other key positions in the production and marketing of movies and television.
“The way in which we view ourselves as well as how we are viewed by the rest of Americans and the world are shaped by these distorted images.
“Other racial groups tend to form their views of African Americans based on what they see on television or in the movies.”
The media white-out of minorities overflows into society. People of color are in fewer news jobs and positions in other industries. The black journalists association recently voiced concern over cable news companies passing over African American talent in prime time programming.
The American Prospect adds that recruitment efforts for journalists of color have been scaled back or eliminated. Also, newsroom jobs held by blacks were cut by more than 19 percent in 2009 compared with an 11 percent overall drop in newsroom jobs.
“Black journalists are ignored and in turn, black communities get shortchanged in the coverage of important issues,” the black journalists association noted. The effect is further isolation and increased alienation of people of color.
What’s troubling is the Kerner Commission report after the 1960s riots partly blamed the news media for the violence because of a lack of coverage of minorities’ concerns. The media haven’t learned from the past. Now they’re dragging the U.S. into repeating the mistakes.