By: Nu Yang
Q: According to recent reports, women and minorities still lag behind Caucasian males in occupying newspaper executive positions. How would you suggest publishers balance the playing field?
Kacey Gardner, 21, Senior, California State University, Chico
Gardner is a journalism major and current editor-in-chief of The Orion, the university’s award-winning independent student newspaper. This summer, she interned for the copy desk of The Sacramento Bee.
A: I am a woman and editor-in-chief of my university’s newspaper, and many of the paper’s other top positions are held by women and minorities. This summer, I interned at The Sacramento Bee, whose editor and publisher are both women. So it’s strange and scary to read diversity reports and realize that this is not the norm in newsrooms across the country. It’s difficult for me to fathom that once I graduate and get a newsroom job, I may not have the same opportunity to rise through the ranks simply because of my gender, and my friends because of their race.
I think most people now realize that a newspaper is benefited greatly by executives and staff members who can provide different points of view and reflect the diversity of the community they serve.
To get people of diverse backgrounds in the newsroom, and eventually in decision-making positions, I think publishers first need to make diversity an explicit part of their mission. Policies and strategies may differ from newsroom to newsroom, but every publisher should invest in some sort of effort to recruit female and minority applicants for all positions. Even with budget constraints burdening many news businesses, I don’t think diversity recruitment is an area they can afford to sacrifice. It may help to create relationships with organizations that provide support for women and minorities in journalism as avenues for awarding internships or jobs, or to reach out to individual university programs.
It seems to me that if a newsroom is diverse enough and breaks through the initial barrier of white male control, talent becomes the factor that separates staff and pushes them toward promotion. No one wants to feel like anything other than their work earned them success, but it’s clear that women and minorities still need help in getting a fair shot at letting their work speak for itself.
Joseph H. Zerbey IV, 70, President/general manager, Toledo (Ohio) Blade
Zerbey has served the Blade since 2004. He spent 18 years with Media News Group as president and CEO of Newspaper Agency Corp. (Media One Corp.) Before that, he was president and CEO of York Newspaper Co. in York, Pa. Zerbey started his newspaper career at the Bristol (Conn.) Press in advertising sales and remained there for 25 years, the last eight of which he was publisher.
A: First of all, stop making excuses. Over the last 40 or so years I have heard them all: “Well, there just aren’t enough of them qualified for that job.” “As soon as I hire a female, they take maternity leave.” “They just aren’t the fit the team needs.” “There aren’t enough minorities down in the ranks to bring along.” On and on it goes along the comfortable route, where the guys gather at staff meetings and, you know, be “the guys.”
They are out there. You have to work at it to find the right person, with the right fit, with the credentials and the work ethic to make it work. It is not an easy task. As I write this, there is not one female on our senior director staff. There was, but no longer is there one, and I am not happy with that. We do have some very good, very bright women in the number two and three positions scattered across the 342-employee company. They will be ready to fill the top seats when the time presents itself.
One of the routes I take is to look for interns from local colleges and universities that might engage us after graduation. The key is to connect them with an internal mentor who watches their progress, ensures the proper training takes place, and keeps them in front of the department head and senior management. If they want advancement, they need to show it by taking on all assignments, showing a high level of work ethic, and being able to work with a team.
Another key to hiring women and minorities is being dedicated to that goal. One has to get past the criticism of hiring them at the “expense” of Caucasian males equally or better qualified. You have to make a conscious decision to look for and hire talented people — that must include women and minorities without excluding anyone. In other words, build the talent pool for the position needed, and be certain women and minorities are represented for the interview process. If there is a measure of equiponderance apparent, then don’t hesitate to choose the woman or minority. It’s not unethical. It’s not illegal. It is the right thing to do for the newspaper and for the people it serves.