Diverse Approach Benefits Media Groups

Posted March 25, 2009 at 3:09pm

Media outlets these days are no longer just reporting the news. They have become the news — experiencing job cuts, bankruptcy and even closures.

But there’s hope. A group called UNITY: Journalists of Color Inc. believes there’s a way news organizations can abate becoming the subjects of gloomy headlines: diversify.

UNITY, the umbrella organization for journalists of African-American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American descent, argues that diversity in the newsroom is the reason ethnic newspapers are surviving — and in some areas thriving.

“The fact that we are in a crisis,— said UNITY’s executive director, Onica Makwakwa, is because “newsrooms no longer serve the minority.—

Darrell Williams, publisher of TheLoop21.com, an online publication that tracks economic and political issues from a minority perspective, said the low proportion of minority journalists is hurting media companies’ bottom lines.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation’s minority population reached 102.5 million in 2007, or 34 percent of the total population.

However, TheLoop21.com reported that the number of minorities working in the media does not reflect the diversity in the population. In 2008 one study showed that, of the 52,600 employees in daily newspapers, only 13.52 percent, or 7,100, were journalists of color.

“The traditional news outlets are losing viewership or readership … because of the inability to speak to a broader audience,— he said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.

Williams explained that, unlike the manufacturing sector, the news industry depends so much on who is writing and producing it.

“The information that’s being produced is affected by the amount of diversity or lack thereof in the newsroom,— Williams said. Being an African-American, Williams said, gives him an insider take on issues concerning black people. In contrast, “I don’t think I have a broad perspective of other minority groups,— he said.

But diversifying newsrooms does not necessarily mean adding new people. It “does not mean that the newsroom has to be larger, that it should be. You just have a different mix,— Williams said, adding that some 10,000 journalists of color have the sufficient skills and talents to do the job.

As they downsize, media companies are also becoming less diverse in terms of age. Makwakwa said most, if not all, newsrooms prefer to retain young reporters who are arguably more capable of multitasking: writing stories, taking and editing photographs and videos, uploading news content on the Web, and blogging and Twittering. Because of this, newsrooms lose longtime reporters whose reporting might have a better sense of context and history.

“Newsrooms are losing the veteran journalists,— Makwakwa said. “There’s value in having the baby boomers and the Gen-Y people in newsrooms.—

Makwakwa also pointed out the lack of diversity in the issues that are being covered these days. “Media organizations have become more focused only on areas that readers want to consume, leaving behind certain communities,— she said. “Fewer and fewer people are covering community-based issues like the school board or the fire department. This is why the media are losing public support.—

But another reason media organizations are losing public support, these groups say, is because they no longer pay attention to a class of white, poor, uneducated people.

“That’s the demographic that we just do not talk about,— said Mark Williams, author of the book “The 10 Lenses: Your Guide to Living & Working in a Multicultural World.—

“This is why the Joe the Plumber made headlines in the 2008 presidential election. He became the poster child for the silent class of people that media have ignored,— Williams said. (Joe the Plumber is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, who questioned then-candidate Barack Obama about his tax policy for small businesses.)

More than variety in race or age or culture, newsrooms should have people with different points of view, Williams said. “Look at Barack Obama and Al Sharpton. They are both black but they differ in the point of view,— he said.