A Faltering Picture of Diversity: Minority Journalists Don't Have to Consult Industry Surveys to Know That Their Representation in the Newsroom Falls Far below Parity. (Focusing on Diversity in Journalism)

Article excerpt

Catalina Camia remembers how stunned she was when at a banquet for an Asian American community group in the late 1980s, a lawyer she had been speaking with for 15 minutes complimented her on her English and asked how long she had been in the country. After all, she was well known in city government circles as a Dallas Morning News beat reporter whose stories often landed on the front page.

Whether they began working in journalism three years or three decades ago, most minority newspaper editors and reporters can offer firsthand testimony about an atmosphere that was unwelcoming when they entered the profession.

"You're constantly battling for a sense of who you are and what you can do," says Camia, now a regional editor who oversees congressional and national security coverage at Gannett News Service. "You're constantly battling against people who have preconceptions of who you are and perhaps even stereotypes and that's hard to do."

Minority journalists don't have to consult industry surveys to know that their representation in the newsroom falls far below parity, and many say this won't change until newspapers focus as much on retaining and promoting minority hires as they do on simply bringing them in the front door.

In April, the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) released its annual survey of minority journalists, showing little positive change over the previous year. U.S. newspapers saw an increase of just 40 Black journalists nationwide, or just 0.04 percent, after two years of decline. Minorities held just 12.5 percent of all newspaper jobs, the survey found.

The percentage of minorities in management positions fell from 20 percent to 19 percent, according to the survey. The report also showed that the percentage of minority interns fell in 2003 to 30.6 percent of all interns, down from 31.1 percent last year. Almost 40 percent of responding newspapers said that they had no journalists of color working for them, representing mostly small and midsize papers.

INDUSTRY EFFORTS TO INCREASE RANKS

"Despite the numbers, there is lots and lots of evidence that the industry is trying to accomplish this thing called diversity with honorable speed and urgency," says Keith Woods, resident expert on diversity issues and coverage of race at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. "But we still wind up with an industry that doesn't know how to handle it when it gets it, so we're losing people because of that."

Woods is the group leader for reporting, writing and editing at Poynter, which offers training and resources to journalists. Its staff also consults with industry groups.

The Freedom Forum, an international foundation committed to free speech and flee press, sponsors several programs whose goal is to increase diversity at American newspapers. Last year it launched its Diversity Institute at Vanderbilt University, offering 17 mid-career professionals three months of training in journalism before placing them in positions at their local sponsoring newspaper (see Black Issues, Aug. 16, 2001).

The Freedom Forum also administers the ASNE/Associated Press Managing Editors Diversity Fellows program, begun in fall 2000. The organization committed $1 million to fund up to 50 minority journalists who agree to work at newspapers with a circulation of 75,000 or less for up to two years in return for a $5,000 stipend every six months. The program's goal is to enable smaller newspapers to compete for minority journalists despite the low salaries they offer.

"Editors are very, very receptive to programs that the Freedom Forum has because it doesn't cost them a lot, but when it comes to training programs and spending money on (diversity efforts) ... I don't see newspapers spending a lot," says Wanda Lloyd, executive director of the Freedom Forum's Diversity Institute.

But the Freedom Forum's largest diversity program to date has been the Chips Quinn Scholars program, which since 1991 has given more than 800 minority college students a week of training in journalism, placement at news internships and a $1,000 scholarship. …