Differential Employment Rates in the Journalism and Mass Communication Labor Force Based on Gender, Race, and Ethnicity: Exploring the Impact of Affirmative Action

Article excerpt

This paper examines whether gender, race, and ethnicity are associated with employment in the journalism and mass communication labor market and-if discrepancies in employment exist-what explanations might be offered for them. The data show strong evidence that race and ethnicity are associated with lower levels of employment among journalism and mass communication graduates. These discrepancies in success in the job market are explainable in highly specified situations by factors normally associated with hiring, such as type of training, type of institution offering the training, or qualifications such as internship experience and level of performance in the classroom.

Anti-discrimination laws and affirmative action procedures theoretically have leveled the playing field in employment. Race, gender, and ethnicity are supposed to no longer have a role in hiring, and, as a consequence, employment rates for the powerful and less powerful groups in society should be indistinguishable.

Because of the supposition that race, gender, and ethnicity no longer play a significant role in hiring, affirmative action-though not antidiscrimination legislation-has come under severe attack in recent years. Affirmative action is often termed a form of reverse discrimination that ought to be outlawed by the anti-discrimination legislation and policy that preceded-and in many ways-spawned it.

Debates within the communication industries have mirrored those in society at large. Media industries are considering the need for continued affirmative action in a period of high employment overall and supposed equality of access to jobs in the economy.

Does discrimination continue to exist in the journalism and mass communication labor force? Is there evidence that anti-discrimination legislation and affirmative action policies on the part of media and related communication employment sectors have eliminated race, ethnicity, and gender as criteria in hiring? This paper examines that question in detail by documenting, first, the rate of employment of those seeking entry-level jobs in the field of journalism and mass communication and then attempting to explain why discovered gaps in employment rates exist.


Until the U.S. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, it was legal to make hiring decisions based on race, ethnicity, and sex. At that time, it was common to use these characteristics in selecting employees and in assigning them to work tasks once they were hired. Such decisions might have made short-term economic sense, given past practices and existing prejudices in the society. They certainly were accepted practice in U.S. industries, including those in the communication sector.

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act made race- and sex-based segregation in the workplace illegal. Affirmative action resulted from the recognition that outlawing discrimination in hiring would not, of itself, result in equal access for women and members of racial or ethnic minorities to all segments of the labor force. Affirmative action requires employers to do more than refrain from making decisions based on race and ethnicity. It requires pro-active activities to promote equal employment opportunities to groups traditionally discriminated against in employment. Hiring is one of the important pro-active activities. Reskin, in her review of the effects of affirmative action on employment, says that the 1964 Federal law banning discrimination in employment curtailed the most blatant forms of discrimination but had little effect on the discrimination that stemmed from the ways that organizations went about recruiting, screening, and evaluating workers.l She continues: "Custom, habit, self-interest and people's aversion to the risks that change entails all favor the status quo. In pursuing ostensibly neutral recruitment, hiring and promotion procedures that were customary before the passage of anti-discrimination regulations, establishments continued to exclude groups of workers from many lines of work. …


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