Race and Participation in High School Journalism

By Callahan, Christopher | Newspaper Research Journal, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Race and Participation in High School Journalism


Callahan, Christopher, Newspaper Research Journal


In 1978, the U.S. newspaper industry set an ambitious goal of creating newsrooms that reflect the racial diversity of the country before the year 2000.(1) Since the American Society of Newspaper Editors launched its Year 2000 strategy, the percentage of minority journalists has inched upward each year, from 4 percent in 1978 to 10.5 percent in 1994.(2) But the proportion of minorities in the overall population has gone up at the same time, from 17 percent in 1978 to 26 percent in 1994. And the Census Bureau projects that minorities will make up more than 28 percent of the U.S. population by the turn of the century.(3) With less than four years to go, it seems likely the newspaper industry will fall far short of its racial parity goal. In fact, the industry is doing little more than keeping up with the growth of diversity in the country. (see Table 1)

Table 1: Comparison of minorities in U.S. population to minorities in U.S. newsrooms (1980-1994; 2000 projections)

                   Percentage of        Percentage of
Year               Minorities in U.S.   Minorities/Newsroom

1980                     20.15                  4.89
1981                     20.70                  5.27
1982                     21.10                  5.51
1983                     21.49                  5.60
1984                     21.87                  5.75
1985                     22.27                  5.76
1986                     22.68                  6.30
1987                     23-09                  6.56
1988                     23.51                  7.02
1989                     23.95                  7.54
1990                     24.29                  7.86
1991                     24.78                  8.72
1992                     25.20                  9.39
1993                     25.60                 10.25
1994                     26.00                 10.49
2000 (projected)        (28.37)               (12.89)

(source: U.S. Census Bureau and American Society of Newspaper Editors)

This failure comes despite aggressive minority recruitment programs at some of the nation's largest and most influential newspaper companies. Many of these programs are aimed at the professional level through minority-targeted training programs, job fairs, direct recruiting and retention programs.

Others focus on minority-based scholarships and internships for college students. Few newspaper diversity programs, however, target high school students.

This study looks at high school newspapers to probe whether there are racial inequities at the high school newsroom level that could be hindering the industry's diversity goals by reducing the natural pool of potential professional journalists.

* Is the racial makeup of high schools an indicator of whether a school will have a newspaper?

* Is race a factor in which students run high school publications?

Literature review

The study of high school journalism reaches back to the beginnings of mass communication research. Grant Hyde wrote about scholastic journalism in the second issue of The Journalism Bulletin (later Journalism Quarterly) more than 70 years ago, noting "the amazingly rapid growth and spread of the teaching of `something like journalism' in high schools throughout the country."(4)

But Mary Arnold reported in 1993 that there was "no research on the plight of the inner city school."(5) Her study of inner city high schools showed 85 percent of the schools surveyed had newspapers. But that study was conducted largely by mail questionnaires to school principals. The response rate was 55.8 percent of the 267 selected in a random sample.(6) There was, however, a strong possibility of a response bias since principals at schools without newspapers might have been less likely to fill out a questionnaire about the topic of high school newspapers.

There is little research even on the general question of how many U. …

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