A year in the quest for news media that look like America
At the end of 2016, the Washington Post announced it was bucking a trend: It was adding dozens of journalists. Yet journalists of color are all but missing from the top ranks of the Post newsroom. In another metro area with substantial numbers of people of color, Allan Lengel was reporting for Deadline Detroit, “The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, which have historically provided a steady stream of news and exposed wrongdoing, continue to lay off editors and other journalists to meet tighter budgets.”
Over the holidays, Tamron Hall and Elaine Quijano, journalists of color, were substituting as anchors on “NBC Nightly News” and the “CBS Evening News,” respectively. But on Christmas, a veteran editor wrote on Facebook, “The NFL Sunday Night Football production crew for NBC… they just showed a photo of the crew during tonight’s game. Why am I not surprised that it is an all-white group?” [See comments section]
And so it went during 2016. Progress, yes, but also setbacks. New York Times public editor Liz Spayd called out the Times for having “one Asian man, two Hispanics and no African-Americans” among its 21 sports reporters and none of color covering the next White House.
However, the Times hired “star” journalists of color and deployed 25 reporters to document periodically how Chicago was grappling with its intractable problem of street violence, in which people of color were both perpetrators and victims.
Channing Dungey, an African American woman, was installed as president of ABC Entertainment, and NPR hired African Americans to join its ubiquitous underwriting and newscasting announcers.
President-elect Donald J. Trump had begun his road to the White House by attacking Mexican immigrants, yet few Latino journalists sat on the panels when Trump was discussed on the political talk shows.
Trump won despite his constant stream of falsehoods, but his supporters did not care. Nor did they trust the news media and their fact checkers. The challenge going forward will be to simultaneously hold the Trump administration accountable and to regain public trust, a key reason for diverse newsrooms.
Our annual accounting of a year in the quest for news media that look like America:
The surprise election of Donald J. Trump came after a campaign in which Trump simultaneously used and demonized the news media. Howard W. French warned in Britain’s Guardian on May 25, “With [Donald] Trump all but certain to be the Republican nominee, all signs point towards a tense and extraordinarily racialised campaign — and one that will pose a severe test for American journalism, which has been as beset by the crisis of race as the society it claims to rigorously examine.”
In a February story for Elle, Mattie Kahn wrote of NBC News’ campaign reporter Kristen Welker, “Sometimes she’ll look around at her peers and see that she’s the only black woman in her row.
“She’ll look behind her. No — she’s the only black woman in the room. So, she keeps moving and meeting young women and showing them that there is space for them on television. She promises. . . .”
Candace Smith, a reporter for ABC News, wrote in November, “As the only black reporter who covered Trump in the field (except for the last week of the election), I lived in a nebulous space.”
The broader issue, some journalists wrote, was reporting not just on the actions of Trump and his surrogates but also their racial context. “Given that Trump’s electoral success has emboldened some white nationalists and racists who endorsed him, news media outlets face the challenging task of reporting on these issues and groups without inadvertently helping them recruit more followers or make their racist views seem more acceptable,” Eric Deggans wrote Wednesday for NPR.
That context, which now carries into a Trump administration, is white nationalism, according to Derrick Z. Jackson of the Boston Globe.
“I don’t know if you read last Sunday’s [New York] Times,” Jackson said on Nov. 16 at a Harvard University seminar. “There was a wonderful column by Nell Irvin Painter, the great historian, who said that the amazing thing about this election was that for the first time in modern memory, this was a campaign [Trump’s] where the heads of it didn’t just happen to be white. They will now be governing as white.
“I think I don’t need to add to the mea culpas that the press has now been flagellating itself with in the last week and a half. I think the most important thing, looking ahead, is will the media, which is mainly white-led, cover the Trump administration, to a significant degree, as a white administration?
“I think the more that it overtly covers it as such, the more accountability the press can reclaim. I think that starts with Stephen Bannon…….I think as long as you have Steve Bannon, the likes of that, as your right-hand person, you must cover that administration as a white nationalist administration. If you don’t, the media will be more derelict tomorrow than it was covering the election itself.”
With “NBC Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt moderating the first of four presidential debates, and Elaine Quijano, a CBS News correspondent, moderating the vice presidential matchup, the Commission on Presidential Debates had chosen as moderators its most diverse group of journalists. But none was Latino, as Hispanic journalists were quick to point out.
On the progressive media watch site Media Matters for America, Cristina López G. linked the failure to include a Latino to Trump’s June allegation that U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, overseeing a lawsuit against Trump University, is biased because of his Mexican heritage.
“With the commission taking into account Trump’s previously levied attacks, it’s not surprising that the commission didn’t include a Latino journalist in their selection of presidential debate moderators,” López wrote. “After all, the candidate is on record saying he believes people with Hispanic heritage might not be objective when dealing with him because he has promised to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.”
Trump skipped the joint convention of the National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists in Washington, but Democrat Hillary Clinton appeared. The Asian American Journalists Association, partnering with APIA Vote, attracted presidential candidates Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, as well as former president Bill Clinton to its Las Vegas meeting.
On Election Day, BET and TVOne offered live coverage. All night, those networks gave voice to the apprehension and downright horror that many of their African American viewers were feeling as Trump piled up leads on electoral maps being displayed on all news channels. “For a lot of people in America, this feels like their get-back,” rapper T.I. told host Marc Lamont Hill on BET at 11:42 p.m., at least two hours before it was obvious that Trump’s victory was certain. “This lets us know exactly where we stand. Don’t keep thinking that because this is 2016, we’re in a better place than we are.”
“No matter who wins the presidency, we have work to do,” Hill agreed.
I was attacked by a group of people and hid from gunshots while reporting this: https://t.co/3iQe0C1CWg
— Aaron Mak (@aarontmak) August 14, 2016
“In a single week, we have seen the spectacle of two black men killed by police and five police officers gunned down at a rally that was being held in response to those deaths,” Jelani Cobb wrote in July for the New Yorker.
Amid it all, the news media had the task of balancing a story that combined racial profiling, homicide, gun violence, politics, personal grief and the weight of the nation’s racial history simultaneously — and to get it right the first time.
They had to balance the ongoing news of the deaths of blacks in police custody with the rarer news of the killing of white police officers, keeping both front and center.
The Pulitzer Prize for national reporting went to the Washington Post “for its revelatory initiative in creating and using a national database to illustrate how often and why the police shoot to kill and who the victims are most likely to be,” the Pulitzer board said. The Guardian also maintained a database.
As more news organizations devoted resources to reporting on wayward law enforcement in their communities, there was a reminder that in communities of color, the news media are often as mistrusted as law enforcement.
A study on the Black Lives Matter movement and online media concluded that the advent of social media has meant that protesters have generally been “able to circulate their own narratives without relying on mainstream news outlets.” That makes more critical the need for mainstream media to staff their newsrooms with journalists whom protesters can trust if the news outlets want the story.
Even before the year ended, it was being remembered as claiming an extraordinary number of celebrities, including Fidel Castro, Muhammad Ali, Prince, David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds and others. An Associated Press story Wednesday by Bernard McGhee chronicled the celebrity deaths. We also lost journalists of color.
A thousand people filled Washington’s historic Metropolitan AME Church on the night of Nov. 18, a Friday, to pay tribute to Gwen Ifill, co-anchor of the “PBS NewsHour,” and 1,373, including first lady Michelle Obama and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr., were there the next morning for the funeral service. Ifill died of cancer at 61.
About 600 people packed Weeping Mary Baptist Church in George Curry’s hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala., in August to pay tribute to the champion of the black press and editor of Emerge magazine, which Curry was attempting to revive. The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton spoke. Curry was 69.
The death at age 32 of Michael J. Feeney, the energetic president of the New York Association of Black Journalists who spent three years at the Daily News in New York, stunned friends and colleagues. He died in January of complications from a staph infection in his kidneys, Christina Carrega-Woodby and Reuven Blau reported for the Daily News. Upwards of 500 people were at Harlem’s First Corinthian Baptist Church to praise Feeney as a mentor and role model.
About 400 filled Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia in February at services for the legendary Acel Moore, the first black reporter at the Inquirer and co-founder of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists. He was 75. Moore was also the first black journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize for reporting and writing, and like Feeney, was praised as a mentor.
In June, Jacinto “Jay” Torres Hernandez, 57, a freelance journalist and real estate agent who was active in the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, was found dead in Garland, Texas. Amid suspicion that Hernandez was killed for his reporting, investigators determined that the killing was related to his real estate operation.
“Minority journalists comprised 17 percent of the workforce in newsrooms that responded to this year’s ASNE Diversity Survey,” the American Society of News Editors announced on Sept. 9.
Accompanying tables showed whites to be 83.06 percent of the newsroom workforce; blacks, 5.33 percent; Hispanics, 5.44 percent; American Indians, 0.39 percent; Asians, 4.25 percent; Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, 0.14 percent; and others, 1.38 percent.
In 1978, ASNE set a goal of achieving parity in newsrooms with the percentage of people of color in the general population by 2000. Twenty years, later, the goal was changed to 2025. As with the previous goal, it is unlikely to be met.
In 2010, Hispanics or Latinos were 16.3 percent of the U.S. population; blacks or African Americans were 12.6 percent; Asians 4.8 percent; Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders 0.2 percent; and Native Americans or Alaska Natives 0.9 percent. The census counted 6.2 percent as “some other race” and 2.9 percent as two or more races.
Countering a practice dating at least to 1997, ASNE released its annual Newsroom Employment Diversity Survey on Sept. 9 without the figures for individual newsrooms, “an attempt to improve response rates after a small number of respondents requested that their data not be disclosed as a condition of completing the survey,” a news release said.
At an ASNE board meeting Sept. 14, editors said some news organizations were embarrassed by their numbers. Still, ASNE reversed its decision, concluding that “the need for transparency outweighed a good-faith effort to improve response rates on the annual survey,” new ASNE President Mizell Stewart III, vice president for news operations at Gannett and the USA Today Network, said in a statement. News organizations that objected would not be identified by name.
In October, Dana Canedy, a champion of newsroom diversity inside the New York Times, said she was leaving the company to write books and work on a movie based on her memoir. Canedy’s departure followed by two months that of Daniel Simpson, companywide senior manager for diversity and campus programs, which in turn followed the 2013 exit of Desiree Dancy, chief diversity officer and vice president, corporate human resources.
“Lack of sincerity on diversity was a key factor in me leaving,” Simpson told Journal-isms. Simpson dealt primarily with the Times’ business side and the company’s upper echelon.
In May, Linda Darnell Williams, senior editor/front page at the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., announced her retirement after 43 years in the news business.
“I’m also disheartened by the slow progress of diversity in newsrooms,” Williams messaged Journal-isms. “After 43 years in the business, I expected to see much more progress. I’ve seen some reports that the losses of minority journalists is about proportionate to the overall reduction in newsrooms. But, I think you have to look beyond the numbers at who was lost. A lot of experienced and very talented minority journalists prematurely left the industry.
“It’s been my observation that the economic strain has hurt the chances of minority journalists getting jobs. In cases when a job is available, I’ve seen managers rush to fill it for fear that the position will disappear from a tight budget. That hurts minority candidates because they are less likely to already be on someone’s radar.”
Among local broadcast stations, “The latest RTDNA/Hofstra University Annual Survey finds the minority workforce in TV news rose to 23.1%,” Bob Papper reported in July for the Radio Television Digital News Association.
“That’s up almost a full point from a year ago … and is the second highest level ever in TV news. The minority workforce at non-Hispanic TV stations also went up to the second highest level ever.
However, Papper also wrote, “Still, as far as minorities are concerned, the bigger picture remains unchanged. In the last 26 years, the minority population in the U.S. has risen 11.8 points; but the minority workforce in TV news is up less than half that (5.3). And the minority workforce in radio is actually down by nearly a point and a half. . . .”
Tying compensation to progress on diversity goals, a strategy known as “pay at risk,” was successfully used by the late Allen H. Neuharth, CEO of the Gannett Co., and supported by Gary Knell, former CEO and president of NPR.
“Bonuses helped at Intel,” Christina Beck reported Nov. 14 for the Christian Science Monitor. “In January 2015, Intel launched a $300 million diversity initiative, which included bonuses for referring diverse applicants. This February, Intel announced that 43 percent of all new hires in 2015 were women or minority applicants, marking a massive success for the strategy. . . .”
- John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable: MMTC Pushes FCC to Do More on Diversity (Nov. 4)
- Adonis Hoffman, the Hill: What Trump means for telecom, media and technology (Dec. 7)
- AP Expands Team Covering Race and Ethnicity (March 17)
- AT&T Merger Considerations: Diversity, Big Media (Oct. 25)
- Black Entrepreneur Buying Two More TV Stations (June 15)
- Facebook Blames Schools for Its Poor Diversity (July 16)
- L.A. Times Revives Race and Justice Beat (March 22)
- 42% of Top Companies Link Compensation to Diversity Goals (June 27, 2014)
“Union-represented minority employees at The New York Times earn 10 percent less than the average wage, and women earn about 7 percent less than what men in the union are paid, according to an analysis of wage data made public on Thursday by the New York NewsGuild,” the Guild reported in May.
The Dow Jones unit of the Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America reported on March 8 that after 25 years, “there has been little progress” in the pay gap between men and women in its jurisdiction, with black or African American women ranking lowest and Hispanic women or Latinas next to lowest.
In October, an analysis by the News Media Guild found that only four of The Associated Press’ 50 highest-paid employees in the editorial unit are people of color.
In August, the National Association of Black Journalists gave its annual Thumbs Down Award “to the Dow Jones & Company, The New York Times and The Washington Post for paying white male employees more than journalists of color, as demonstrated by results of several studies by unions representing staffers at each organization. . . .”
“Richard Prince is a voice of clarity of judgment, objectivity, good old-fashioned reporting, and seasoned reason in a field increasingly allowing its mission to be detoured by ratings. He stands in a long line of great journalists, and we need his work to thrive, now more than ever.”
— Henry Louis Gates Jr., co-founder of The Root.com; director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, Harvard University. (Credit: Chris Pizzello/Invision)
After more than 13 years online, “Richard Prince’s Journal-isms” suddenly found itself charting an independent course in February. In November, it launched a drive on gofundme.com called “Stay Woke!” that in its first month raised $9,585 from 101 people toward a $50,000 goal.
Many people, such as Henry Louis Gates Jr., above, expressed a need for the column. (Journal-isms also appears on TheRoot.com)
Ron Thomas, director of the Journalism and Sports Program at Morehouse College, wrote, “No column exposes its readers to a greater depth of thought among black journalists than Richard’s Journal-isms. It’s so informative that whenever I give news quizzes to my newswriting class at Morehouse College, I always include at least one question stemming from Richard’s column. We can’t afford to lose it.”
The fund-raising message said, ” ‘Journal-isms’ received a heartwarming outpouring of support this year when readers came forward with ideas, suggestions and assistance as it was steered unexpectedly toward an independent path. A strategy committee evaluated business models and continues to do so.
“Now it needs financial support to continue its mission. . . .”
“We are here to stay,” Cheryl McKissack, who has served as chief operating officer since 2013 and will assume the role of CEO of the new publishing entity, told Journal-isms.
Linda Johnson Rice, chairman of Johnson Publishing and daughter of founders John H. and Eunice W. Johnson, said in an e-mailed statement, “This is the next chapter in retaining the legacy that my father, John H. Johnson, built to ensure the celebration of African Americans. I am pleased to continue as Chairman of Johnson Publishing Company and serve as Chairman Emeritus and member of the board of the new African American led media entity, Ebony Media Operations.”
McKissack said it was “extremely important” to sell to an African American firm “because there are not enough African American-owned companies out there left to tell our story. I am thrilled that the company is 100 percent African American-owned.”
The Undefeated, a national digital publication dedicated to the intersection of sports, race and culture, launched May 17 after well-chronicled startup travails, including replacing its original editor, Jason Whitlock, before settling on Kevin Merida, a longtime reporter and a managing editor at the Washington Post.
“We set a high bar for ourselves with our tagline: ‘Not Conventional. Never Boring,’ ” Merida told the Poynter Institute’s James Warren in August. “We try to live by that. And we constantly workshop the notion of an Undefeated story. You will hear our editors and writers say, ‘Is that an Undefeated story?’ Or, ‘What’s The Undefeated angle there?’
“To my mind, ‘Prince Day’ is Undefeated. We turned our entire site purple and most of our content that day was about the late musical genius, including a piece about his hoops game. More recently, we had an entire week, ‘Water Week,’ on Blacks and swimming. It was planned long before Simone Manuel won the gold medal [in the Summer Olympics], and so it looked prescient. . . .”
Among other events, President Obama spoke at an October town hall meeting hosted by the Undefeated at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro. It was aired on ESPN, of which the Undefeated is a part.
In July, Michael Jordan used a letter to the Undefeated to announce grants of $1 million each to two organizations working to build trust between law enforcement and the communities in which they work: the Institute for Community-Police Relations, which was launched in May by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which was established in 1940 to work through the legal system to push for civil rights. It became a separate organization from the NAACP in 1957.
Also in October, the site began a yearlong journalism and research partnership with Morgan State University, the largest of Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities. The newly established Center for the Study of Race, Sports and Culture at Morgan State University was to begin an examination of the pipeline for African Americans to head coaching jobs in college football and the NFL.
Despite the success of this digital entry, in December, Fox News shuttered another: Fox News Latino, its six-year-old independent site dedicated to covering news for the Latino community in English.
- Cindy Boren, Washington Post: Serena Williams: ‘If I were a man,’ I would have been considered the greatest a long time ago
- How the Undefeated Got Michael Jordan Exclusive (July 28)
The National Association of Black Journalists, which projected a 2015 deficit of nearly $380,000, was set to end 2016 with a projected $1 million surplus, the association announced on Oct. 16.
“The projected surplus is a result of disciplined fiscal management and a surge in convention registrations — 3,209 NABJ registrants for the 2016 NABJ/NAHJ Convention, which had a total of 3,890 attendees,” it continued, referring to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. NAHJ had 681 registrants, NABJ executive consultant Drew Berry said.
Meanwhile, Unity: Journalists for Diversity, which includes the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, continued its strategy of holding regional conferences rather than large conventions. Phoenix hosted one April 28-29; Washington, D.C., was the site of Unity’s third Diversity Caucus in June; and Loyola University in Chicago hosted a “regional media summit” in October.
Neal Justin, media critic of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and a member of the Asian American Journalists Association, was elected president of Unity in October, succeeding Russell Contreras. The Unity board endorsed a proposal to allow AAJA, NLGJA and NAJA to hold concurrent conventions in the same city.
Lydia Polgreen, a New York Times associate masthead editor who grew up in West Africa and covered the continent as a foreign correspondent, was named editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post in December in perhaps the most surprising of personnel changes involving journalists of color this year.
“Polgreen, 41, will succeed Arianna Huffington, the news site’s namesake co-founder who left the company in August to launch Thrive Global, a company and website focused on health and wellness,” Michael Calderone wrote Dec. 6 for the Huffington Post. She is editorial director of NYT Global and joins a tiny number of African Americans leading mainstream websites.
For the first time, the directors of the three major journalism fellowship programs will be women, two of them journalists of color.
That same month, Dawn E. Garcia, managing director of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships Program at Stanford, was named director of the program. Garcia is Latina and Clemetson is African American. Ann Marie Lipinski has been curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University since 2011.
In other changes:
- Irving Washington, deputy director of the Online News Association, was named in September to succeed Jane McDonnell as executive director, effective Jan. 1.
- The Daily News in New York promoted Eric Barrow to sports editor in January, raising to five the number of black journalists leading sports sections of daily newspapers.
- In March, Denver Post editor Gregory L. Moore resigned from the paper he led through “a period of tumult and transformation,” the newspaper reported. In August, the University of Colorado Boulder announced that Moore would join the school for the fall semester as a Hearst Visiting Professor of Professional Practice to teach a seminar at the College of Media, Communication and Information. He is also consulting.
- Juan Gonzalez, a columnist for the Daily News in New York and a 29-year veteran of the tabloid, left the newspaper on April 30 to join the faculty of Rutgers University in New Jersey. He continued as co-host of “Democracy Now!,” the Pacifica radio and television show.
- Mizell Stewart III was named the USA Today Network’s vice president of news operations, a new position that involves coordinating news from the Gannett properties, effective June 13. He also became president of the American Society of News Editors. Stewart previously was managing director and chief content officer of Journal Media Group, where he directed content strategy for a team of 700 journalists at 14 publications, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Commercial Appeal of Memphis. He was ASNE vice president.
- In another indication that Gannett Co. is addressing its recent slippage on diversity, USA Today in August named Ron Smith, deputy managing editor for news and production at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as managing editor for news. Smith is African American.
- Elaine Welteroth was appointed editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue in May, becoming the first black woman to head the Conde Nast-owned magazine. She soon began winning accolades.
- Jeff Ballou was elected 110th president of the National Press Club.
- Danielle Belton was named managing editor of TheRoot.com
- Brandon Benavides, running unopposed, was elected president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
- Stefanie Bryant joined cable station Channel 6 in Lawrence, Kan., as news director and anchor.
- Sharon Pian Chan was named vice president of innovation, product and development for the Seattle Times.
- Tina Commodore became news director of KOKI-TV/KMYT-TV in Tulsa, Okla.
- Alejandro “Ali” Danois was named editor in chief of the Shadow League.
- Akili Franklin was named news director at New Orleans NBC affiliate WDSU-TV.
- Oscar E. Garcia was named news director of KIII-TV in Corpus Christi, Texas.
- Kim Godwin was named executive director for development and diversity at CBS News, continuing as senior broadcast producer of the “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley.”
- Kristie Gonzales was named president and general manager at KVUE-TV in Austin, Texas.
- Johnny Green was named news director for WBZ-TV in Boston.
- Princell Hair was appointed SVP and general manager of CSN New England by NBC Sports Group.
- Katrice Hardy was named executive editor of the Greenville (S.C.) News.
- Ben Hart was named news director at WISN-TV in Milwaukee.
- James Hill was named a senior news director at the Detroit Free Press.
- Joshua Johnson was named to succeed NPR’s Diane Rehm as host of the morning talk show, to be renamed “1A.”
- Marc Lacey was named national editor at the New York Times.
- Yvonne Leow, running unopposed, was elected president of the Asian American Journalists Association.
- Publisher Cheryl Mainor and Executive Editor Kai EL’ Zabar resigned at the Chicago Defender.
- Alicia Montgomery was named editorial director at Washington’s WAMU-FM.
- Chris Peña was named senior vice president of local media television news for Univision News.
- Bryan Pollard was elected president of the Native American Journalists Association.
- Akili-Casundria Ramsess was named executive director of the National Press Photographers Association.
- Sudeep Reddy of the Wall Street Journal was named one of two managing editors of Politico.
- Neal Scarbrough was named to the newly created position of executive editor at Fox Sports.
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