Where is the Diversity in Network News?
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Posted by: Aprill Turner
The following is an open letter to network executives and editors from
the President of the National Association of Black Journalists, Kathy Times on
the lack of diversity in news.
Dear Network Executives and Editors:
As Scott Pelley replaces Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News and Glenn Beck prepares to leave Fox
News Channel, a question looms. Where is the diversity?
People of color comprise more than a third of the U.S. population.
The 2010 Census shows the minority population is growing from coast to coast,
and the majority of children in the U.S. will be minorities by 2050. So,
there's a strong case to be made that news media is running in the wrong
direction of its audience.
The Big 3 networks and cable news channels have undergone a series
of rare changes behind the desk. While
the replacements are all seasoned journalists, what is glaringly missing in the
flurry of changes is the failure to elevate African Americans to any of these
The National Association of Black Journalists finds this troubling
- particularly since there are dynamic African Americans poised to ascend to
these coveted positions. For
nearly four decades, NABJ has worked tirelessly as advocates for diversity,
calling out those guilty of maintaining the "status quo."
As America inches
toward a world that is more black and brown, corporations are adjusting their
cultures to embrace diversity because they know it makes good business sense.
But too many network executives are ignoring this reality.
Russ Mitchell of CBS News, Lester Holt of NBC News, and CNN's T.
J. Holmes are weekend warriors who possess charisma, journalistic heft, and the
handsome qualities to front a prime-time show. Mitchell's poise and
professional bearing as he commandeered the historic announcement of Osama bin
Laden's death surely put to rest any doubt about his prime-time readiness. Holt
has been the go-to guy as a substitute for vacationing "stars," but
his primary shift is the weekend.
While we are encouraged by Ann Curry's promotion as co-anchor of
the Today Show and Natalie Morales' selection as the
news reader, NABJ still has serious concerns about a lack of diversity during
prime time. Robin Roberts is a veteran on Good
Morning America. MSNBC's Tamron Hall and CNN's Suzanne Malveaux have their
own slots, but not in prime time.
On the print side, NABJ applauded The New York Times for its recent decision to promote
an African American, Dean Baquet, to managing editor of news. Unfortunately,
black editors are becoming an "endangered species" in the midst of
layoffs. For example, daily newspapers in Houston and Savannah have staffs that
are disproportionately white. Yet, the communities they serve are
overwhelmingly of color. The
Houston Chronicle does not have a single black metro editor deciding what gets
covered on a daily basis.
The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) reports that the
percentage of African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American
journalists continues to decline in U.S. newsrooms for the third consecutive
year. Astoundingly, there were "929 fewer black journalists in the 2010
survey than were recorded in 2001," a drop of 31.5 percent.
This horrifying report strongly suggests that the perspective and
unique insight that black journalists, in particular, and minority journalists,
in general, bring to their newsrooms and communities are being marginalized and
devalued - and, by default, so is the paying readership.
While the recession and digital revolution can be attributed to
some of the dip, NABJ believes that the downsizing decisions should be
proportionate to the populations served by each newspaper.
As you buck the trend, newspaper bundles get thinner; the network
viewership tics downward; advertisers abandon you, and readers increasingly
turn to other outlets, online destinations and bloggers for news and
Because some news organizations don't "get it," NABJ
will continue to push for diversity and accountability. Failing to respond to your
entire audience will be at your own peril and will most certainly threaten your
Kathy Y. Times