Diversity in Newsrooms: Still A Major Concern

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In the mid-1960s, a major civil unrest broke in the United States gaining a nationwide coverage. This was sparked by the unequal treatment of minorities in various sectors across the country. Following this, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders was constituted. Their primary job was to find out the cause of this unrest and to suggest solutions to avoid such situations in the future. Several recommendations related to improved civic facilities and policies were presented. But the strongest insight presented by the committee related to the representation of general population in media bodies. They wrote,

“Fewer than 5 percent of the people employed by the news business in editorial jobs in the United States today are Negroes.”

Since then the American society has seen several revolutions and today it has an African American president. Even after such changes there has not been a great improvement in the plight of minorities in the newsroom.

Dean Banquet climbed the career ladder at The New York Times to reach the peak and in May 2014, he was appointed as the executive editor. His story is quite inspiring and gives a feeling that the industry is open to all who are ready to work their way up. But the statistics of employment over the years tell quite a different story. The 2015 census found minorities at 10% – 17% across various designations in the American news industry. This is in great contrast to the fact that minorities make up 35% of the adult population. This might be due to the fact that not enough minorities enroll for these courses at the university. But again, the statistics from 2000 to 2009 show that almost 24.2% of all journalism and communication majors belonged to the minorities. Also, the number of minorities graduating with bachelor’s degree in journalism and communication stood at 21.4%. The employment data reveals all the secrets, where a clear distinction is observed between the probabilities of employment for minorities and majorities. The minorities had almost 20% lesser chances for employment across various positions in the newsroom as compared to the majorities.

The recent report by Phew Research Center illustrates that entry into smaller newspapers is tougher for minorities as compared to the larger bodies. The minorities had a 22% share of total newsroom employees for a paper with a circulation equal to or more than 500,000 while the same reduced to only 6% for a paper with a circulation of 5,000 or less. First-time professional hires for minorities, in these circulation band, also decreased from 43% to 12% respectively.

This pattern also holds good for the newsrooms; lower employment of minorities in smaller markets is commonly observed. The top 25 markets have a fair share of 29% minorities while the lower markets have only 14% minorities. Also, the top markets are more liberal in promoting minorities to higher positions with 26% minorities acting as news directors. The same in the case of smaller markets is only 9% which is a 6% gap from the overall minorities employed. This difference is larger in moderately sized markets with a maximum of 12% difference observed in the markets ranking 25-60 and the same is observed for markets ranking 101-150. This might be indicative of the fact that the employees who pass through the struggles of smaller markets perform well in the bigger markets. But the huge difference in numbers of total minority employees and news directors for moderate markets still remains unexplained.

minorities in newsroom

An investigation into the causes for the low employment of minorities revealed a couple of striking remarks. First is that the minorities don’t have enough participation in the campus newsrooms. This leaves them without any practical experience which is one of the primary skill sets looked for by the recruiters. The second factor is that they belonging to economically weaker sections in most of the cases can’t afford to take unpaid internships. Again they lose out on the experience part. The third reason is that they lose out on the networking opportunities which is one of the key influencers in the hiring process. These are major deterrents to entry level positions in the newsroom.

All these factors hint at one of the age long problems – a very strict mindset towards the complete hiring process. With several advancements in the industry, it would be highly probable that companies are not interested in spending much of their time in training the new hires. Instead, they want them to take over the job from day one. In such situations, they go for candidates with prior experience in universities or internships and look for personal recommendations too. It would be a revolutionary step to take an open approach and try out candidates with different skill sets before offering jobs. This will help increase the diversity both in terms of culture and skill sets.


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