A high-level editor once told me that of all the journalistic values he thought were critical to running a top-notch newsroom, racial diversity ranked, like, fifth on his list.
For him, the more traditional principles of “excellence,” “truth,” and “integrity” took precedence.
Frankly, I was shocked–not because of his honesty, but because of his ignorance. There can be no excellence, truth, or integrity in covering the news without a diverse newsroom.
That’s what the Kerner Commission concluded in 1968 when, as the nation moved toward “two separate societies–one black and the other white,” it warned that “the journalists’ profession has been shockingly backward in seeking out, hiring, training, and promoting Negroes. . . . ”
Forty-three years later, the industry faces the same uphill battle in identifying, hiring, and retaining minority journalists. Certainly, there was no shortage of discussions on the topic among members of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), which wrapped up its annual conference this weekend in Philadelphia.
One obvious question came up over and over again:
At a time when news industries continue to downsize and, in fact, are struggling to survive, how can they possibly keep diversity a priority?
A look at the numbers says they haven’t. According to the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), the percentage of minorities in newspaper newsrooms slipped for the third straight year, to 12.79 percent. Even more alarming was that 441 newspapers reported zero minorities on their full-time staffs.
On the broadcast side, NABJ and the NAACP have blasted CNN for having all white anchors and hosts on its evening prime-time programming. It’s no secret that most minority anchors are relegated to weekends on national broadcasts.
Diversity still matters. And while the media have a responsibility to cover the news with excellence, accuracy, and integrity, they also have an obligation to report with cultural authority if they want to stay relevant to the communities they cover–and to themselves.