By: Gregory Lee
As an aspiring sports editor, I read with great interest Allan Wolper?s recent E&P column about the lack of blacks in sports-editing positions around the country. Wolper noted that there only five black sports editors at the 1,456 newspapers in America. He questioned whether newspapers have an ethical responsibility to ensure that number of black sports editors reflects the surge in dominance by blacks in major sports.
Wolper did not identify the names of the five blacks that are sports editors at daily newspapers. So I will. They’re Leon Carter at the New York Daily News, Garry Howard at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Larry Starks at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dwayne Bray at The Dallas Morning News, and Jon Stewart at The Courier in Houma, La. There are also minority and female sports editors at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post, the Orlando Sentinel, The Seattle Times, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
This small number of black sports editors should not be treated simply as a debate for media ethicists; rather it should be a significant, industry-wide concern. ?I am ashamed there are not a lot of black sports editors in the country,? said Garry Howard, assistant managing editor for sports at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
All too often in our industry, we are quick to be the reporters of discrimination and any other social ills. In sports sections we report vigorously on the lack of black coaches in college and professional football, but we don?t use the same intensity when it comes to hiring more blacks in sports-editing roles. We are so quick to jump into some else?s home without first cleaning up our own homes in the newsroom.
If the script was flipped and NFL owners and NCAA presidents knew of our problems, they would be asking us the same questions that we ask of them. Unlike those leagues, we would not know how to answer those questions. Those primary questions would be:
There are not enough qualified people in the industry?
How do you increase the pipeline?
How to change the mindset in sports journalism, where the old-boy network remains?
Howard, who at age 34 became sports editor in Milwaukee, believes a problem for aspiring sports editors who are black is that white sports editors don?t have anything in common with them and therefore penalize them for being different.
“You don?t have to be a typical white sports editor,? said Howard, who is the longest-tenured black sports editor with 11 years at the Journal-Sentinel. ?To be successful you don?t have to be like them. You have to walk the way you walk. This is nothing to do with race, if you have talent, ability, and desire. If more editors were to see that, we will be better off.?
One program that is a testament to seeing past color and gender is the Sports Journalists Institute. In 1993, Leon Carter of the Daily News and Sandy Bailey of Sports Illustrated founded a program to train minorities and women aspiring to become sports journalists. At the end of the training the students intern for six weeks in a sports department. Since the program?s inception more than 110 members have graduated.
Associated Press Sports Editors has financially supported the program. Sports editors around the nation have hailed the program as a success.
Still, the problem exists that the pickings are slim with regard to minorities and women for management positions in sports departments. Where does this responsibility fall?
Deanna Sands, president of the Associated Press Managing Editors and managing editor of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, believes the senior editors of newsrooms should be pushing to bringing more diversity to sports departments. ?It is the ultimate responsibility of the senior editors to set the tone to hire and retain,? Sands said. ?They are responsible for saying to managers to have a diverse pool of candidates. It is ultimately the responsibility of the department heads are plugged into groups like NABJ and meeting people. Also they must go to college campuses.?
However, Jerry Micco, president of APSE and assistant managing editor-sports at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, says the challenge lies more specifically with the members of his group. ?It is incumbent upon sports editors to diversify the pool,? Micco said. ?They don?t feel they have to do it a vacuum. They must talk to people with good networks. Still it falls on the sports editor to identify people in the department, to call folks like Dwayne [Bray, at the Morning News] and Garry Howard. We need to get sports editors to think outside of the box.? Indeed, groups like ASNE, APME, APSE, and Association for Women in Sports Media, should get together and develop some initiatives.
These groups have fared well in terms of starting the pipeline for entry-level positions. However, when prospective journalists are recruited for the business, they are never introduced to the management aspects of the industry.
?We need to nurture that interest through high school and college, groom these youngsters through internships and scholastic and collegiate experience, and then hire and develop them in the industry,? said Milton Coleman, deputy managing editor of The Washington Post and diversity chair for ASNE. ?Editing and newsroom leadership need to be shown as real career paths, and mentoring is essential. Moreover, newsroom values need to reflect and embrace the change-oriented views of journalists of color about our profession, not merely expect them to be diverse faces but identical minds. Mentoring is key.?
But sports departments? agendas in terms of coverage and hiring practices are still led primarily by white males. And when sports editors are looking for black candidates, they still cry the same phrase, ?that there are not many qualified candidates.?
What are newspapers doing to increase the pipeline? Are they really serious about coverage reflecting its community? With the number of blacks dominating the sports that receive the most coverage (football and basketball), then why aren?t newsrooms making any strides in diversifying newsrooms? Just look at the games during ?March Madness? and check the color lines there and check the roster of those covering the event.
But in order for any change that needs to be made it has to be set from the top.
?It all starts at the top, and that is why ASNE has established our Diversity Leadership Institute to help top newsroom leaders — specifically editors and managing editors — learn how to create and lead a newsroom in which diversity thrives and accuracy, depth and breadth of journalism improves,? Coleman said ?Nearly five dozen newsroom leaders have gone through the institute during the past year, and we think — and they say — that it is making a difference.?
Howard has noticed a slow change within APSE. He believes the Sports Journalist Institute is ?an eye-opening awareness on a segment of a population they were overlooking. Now they are considering more people of color. Is it fast enough? No. But you have to take it one at a time.?
A pipeline can also be connected when future sports journalists see that they can be a sports editor at a major newspaper just as when a kid sees that it is possible to be a black quarterback in the NFL.
?I have been a positive role model,? Howard said, noting he had ?helped influence the careers? of several journalists. ?It takes hard work, putting your nose to the grindstone. We as black sports editors owe it to ourselves and the industry,? he said, to open the doors for people of color in this industry.”