Academic journal article The Journal of Negro History

"... but There Are Miles to Go" Racial Diversity and the American Society of Newspaper Editors, 1922-2000

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro History

"... but There Are Miles to Go" Racial Diversity and the American Society of Newspaper Editors, 1922-2000

Article excerpt

Although receiving little attention beyond its own membership, a meeting in Dallas, October 6, 1990 was a turning point for one of the most neglected diversity encounters in American journalism. At its board meeting, directors of the 68-year-old American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), the largest professional organization of its kind, elected William A. Hilliard, editor of the Portland Oregonian, to the office of treasurer in April, 1991. (1) As such, Hilliard rose on the ASNE leadership ladder to become the Society's first black president in 1993. (2)

To a cynical few, Hilliard's election was yet another example of public relations and tokenism on the part of the predominately white, male society started with five members in 1922 and which has since become a major professional organization for 900 newspaper editors. Similar charges were made when members of the ASNE board of directors elected Katherine Fanning of The Christian Science Monitor treasurer and put her on the leadership ladder to become the first female ASNE president in 1987. For some, the lingering image of ASNE still is the 1950s photo appearing on the cover jacket of a 1974 history (3) of the Society showing dozens of smiling, all-white male editors displaying their hometown newspapers. Eight years later, ASNE president Thomas Winship of the Boston Globe condemned editors for their failure to encourage, recruit and hire minorities.

Our casual attitude toward minority employment is particularly embarrassing because our mission is semipublic and because it is protected by constitutional guarantees. Yet newspapers, with a nearly all-white face, attempt to portray accurately a mixed society. (4)

Nudged slightly by the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on integration of public schools, and the 1968 Kerner Commission's indictment of the media for its contribution to civil disorders, as well as by a handful of members such as Winship, ASNE belatedly exerted its collective influence to create an awareness and challenge to ASNE to provide greater institutional leadership. After a half century of inattention, ASNE eventually became a catalyst rather than a neutralizing agent to encourage its membership toward greater recruiting, hiring and promotion practices to integrate black and other minority journalists into the mainstream of American journalism. In 1998, however, representatives of minority journalism organizations and others charged that ASNE still needed to assume greater responsibility in the diversity effort. (5) At its first meeting of the new century, a report indicated that the quarter century effort to make newsrooms reflect America's racially diverse population had failed to narrow the gap. The ASNE president reported that although progress had been made "there are miles to go." (6) The official Proceedings of the ASNE as well as minutes, correspondence, interviews, addresses by its presidents, and its Bulletin house organ help trace and document the issue which became one of the priorities for ASNE and other journalistic institutions in the last quarter of the 20th century.

This case study attempts to view the issue of institutional inattention and indifference in the context of what historian Ira Berlin describes as "time and place." (7) Using a longitudinal approach, it documents what ASNE president Tom Winship described as the "glacial progress" of ASNE from moral, philosophic and institutional indecision to political and economic reality stationing the foundation for Hilliard to become the first black ASNE president. It documents through the use of proceedings and minutes as well as secondary sources, the role of individual ASNE members and other mainstream newspaper editors, particularly those from the South, who played prominent roles both to advance but primarily detain institutional diversity. It describes how they helped prepare the way for heterogeneity by fighting against segregation and for better educational opportunities for blacks as well as other minority groups and women (8) from indifference and neglect to a strategy of moderation, and finally a sense of urgenc y. …

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