Minority Journalists a Rarity in Newsrooms


By Todd A. Smith

            Many in the Black community have joked for years that when a news reporter interviews a person of color they usually opt for the most inarticulate and uneducated minority they could find.

            The stereotypical images of African Americans that many see is usually atypical of the Black professionals that I come across on a daily basis.

            The lack of Black representation in many of the top newsrooms across this great nation is the main culprit in the negative images we see of our brothers and sisters in newspapers and television screens everyday.

            “The newspaper industry must stop treating diversity as just an effort, but a vital business imperative,” said Barbara Ciara, President of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ).  “These veiled attempts to convince journalists of colors otherwise fall on deaf ears as hundreds of our colleagues are forced out, leaving little to no opportunity for advancement.  While we applaud the few newsrooms that are making a difference, more action and less promises need to be made.”

            According to the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), newsroom staffing declined for the fourth consecutive year, making diversity efforts virtually impossible to achieve.  Journalists of color left 300 media positions, lowering the number of minority journalists to 7,100 based on the figures released at the ASNE annual convention in Washington, D.C.

            African Americans comprise the largest number of minority journalists with 2,790 or 5.3 percent of the entire workforce.

            Statistics show that minorities make up only 13 percent of the workforce in print media, while making up 36 percent of the United States population.  It is the goal of the NABJ and ASNE to have the nation’s newsrooms reflect the diversity of the country by 2025.

            This effort will prove to be a crucial task over the next couple of decades because the media continues to be filled with negative portrayals of African Americans and other minority groups, which unfortunately will be detrimental to young children of color.

            When I watch television networks like Black Entertainment Television (BET) and MTV, I am constantly bombarded with images of African Americans promoting violence, drugs and promiscuous sex.

            Many of these media conglomerates are White-owned, including BET, and have very little minority representation in their boardrooms to show them the many facets of Black life. 

            Major decisions on how Black culture will be depicted are based on stereotypes and are made by some people who have not had any significant encounters with professional African Americans and are not qualified to make such decisions.

            Unfortunately, their only exposure to Black life is what they see on the evening news or read in the newspaper.

            It is imperative that we have people of color in the boardrooms that stress the importance of having positive portrayals of African Americans; not for other races of people to understand us but for the younger generation who need to see positive role models who look like them and come from the same environment that they come from.

            Often young disadvantaged minorities believe that all options are not available to them because they do not see positive examples on a daily basis.  They are surrounded by negative influences and are bombarded by negative images in the media.

            We need more decision-makers at the top to show the young brother giving back to his community or the single-parent working two jobs to keep her family above water.  We need the media to show them that there are alternatives to a negative lifestyle.  However, that will not happen until we have more black and brown faces in newsrooms all across America.

            The Grand Forks Herald, The El Paso Times, and the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group were honored by ASNE for their commitment to diversity.

            Nevertheless, ASNE reported that 423 newspapers reported having no journalists of color.

            We have to do better!

Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.

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