The racial tensions in Ferguson highlight once again the need for diversity in the media, and an excellent post by Gabe Rosenberg shows that newsrooms have made few advances in hiring a more diverse workforce.
As the Pew Research Center has shown, the percentage of minority (a word that really no longer fits in California where “minorities” are now the majority) journalists in America’s newsrooms has stayed at about 12% since 1994.
Having worked in newsrooms for much of our professional lives, we can attest to the concerted efforts to hire journalists who are not all white and male. But it’s not been an easy path to create a more diverse workforce in an industry that still cherishes some hidebound traditions and points of view.
As some of the early women in newsrooms can attest, sexism in the workplace was rampant. Some older male editors were known to award plum assignments to females who kept them company after hours. A few male news sources sometimes did the same with juicy tidbits of news. (One boss once suggested that we could get a job we wanted if we would come sit under his desk.)
As the number of women in the workforce grew and women moved into management, the sexist comments waned. Diversity training proliferated, and actions were taken against people who violated workplace rules.
Even though their percentage plateaued at about 35% in the late 1990s, they have found themselves more often on equal footing with male reporters. (While we know several very strong female editors, especially at The Sacramento Bee, women in top management still lag behind men in management positions.)
News organizations actively recruit “minorities.” But the chances for advancement may not be clear to job applicants when they’re interviewing with a primarily white leadership team. Moreover, the desire to enter journalism is clearly on the wane among most savvy college graduates because of the uncertain future of the enterprise. More outreach, as Lam Thuy Vo recommends on her blog, is clearly the answer.
But even more important will be strengthening journalism to ensure that newsrooms are a place where the most talented contenders will want to work and will feel their work will have meaning.