Home » Front » News coverage biased by all-White newsrooms—By Charles Hallman, Staff Writer

Bob Butler -Photo by Charles Hallman

The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) has renewed its call for television stations to better diversify their newsroom management staffs. A 2011 NABJ Diversity Census released in August shows little change since its last report in 2009.

The 2009 NABJ census found that management diversity at most of the approximately 770 television stations with news departments in the United States falls far short of the 34 percent diversity of the nation’s population. That report featured two local stations — CBS-owned WCCO, and KMSP, owned by Fox — that have never had any person of color in top management.

It found that 74 stations owned by some of the U.S.’s largest media companies have only 12 percent people of color in top management positions, and 43 stations had no diversity at all in such positions as general manager, news director, assistant news director, managing editor, assignment manager or executive producer.

“This is our fourth year looking at diversity in the newsroom,” NABJ Vice President of Broadcast Bob Butler told the MSR shortly after the report was released in August, “because we wanted to see who was calling the shots behind the scenes at TV stations. It’s important to know who is calling the shots, because that affects news coverage. These are the people that can hire and set the news agenda.”

The stations studied are owned by Belo Corporation, Lin Media, Nexstar Broadcasting, E.W. Scripps, and Post-Newsweek. Out of 339 executive producers, assignment managers, managing editors, assistant news directors and general managers:  298 are White (88 percent), 19 are Black (six percent), 17 are Latino (five percent), four are Asian (one percent), and none are Native Americans. Only two news directors are Black; there are two Latino news directors and two Latino general managers.

A reporter at KCBS Radio in San Francisco, Butler referred to a video aired by the Chicago CBS affiliate that showed a four-year-old boy “who said he wanted to get a gun. What the station did was edit out what the boy said, that he wanted a gun because he wanted to be a police officer, turning a potentially great story into a negative story about a young African American boy.”
Butler fully believes that this occurred due to the fact that the station lacked any persons of color as news managers.

“You don’t expect to find many people of color in Salt Lake City — I have no problem with [a lack of] diversity in management,” continued Butler. “But if you’re in places like Philadelphia or Hartford [Conn.], Chicago or Washington, D.C., it’s very difficult to make the case that it is OK to have no diversity on the management staffs there.

“We have had fewer African Americans in newsroom management in the first place — to lose just one person could be a very large percentage. But when you look at this report overall, 88 percent of the managers are not people of color,” said Butler, adding that diversity should not be sacrificed in the name of staff cutbacks due to financial issues.

Since NABJ started this report in 2008, some media companies “do reach out to us” for assistance in recruiting talented newsroom leaders of color, said Butler.

The public can use the 2011 NABJ report to see how diverse their local TV stations are, Butler pointed out. “You can look at that report and find every station in Minneapolis, and you can look and see which of those have color and which one doesn’t. Let me see what WCCO is like — oh, they don’t have anybody of color in management.  I can ask for a meeting with them and ask them what they are going to do about diversity in management.”

The MSR recently asked a Black person currently employed at one local station (their identity as well as that of the station withheld by request) if there were any Black managers. The longtime employee said that their newsroom, and those of other Twin Cities television stations, have been all White for as long as they have employed there.

“I think it’s important for people to understand that we’re a watchdog organization,” said Butler of NABJ. “We will continue watching.”

A complete report, including a diversity update for stations owned by ABC, CBS, Cox, Fox, Gannett, Hearst, Argyle, Media General, Meredith, NBC and Tribune that were studied in 2009 and a print census, is expected to be released later this year. The 2011 NABJ Diversity Census, Volume I can be downloaded and read at www.nabj.org.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]

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