By: jodi b. cohen
THE PERCEPTUAL GAP separating white and minority journalists is so gaping that their views are sometimes almost reverse images of each other, according to a study commissioned by the Associated Press Managing Editors association and conducted by Minnesota Opinion Research Institute (MORI).
African Americans “stand out consistently as the least satisfied,” MORI President Kristin McGrath said at the annual APME conference in Denver.
The survey polled 531 newsroom professionals, including 202 whites, 115 African Americans, 105 Asian Americans, 92 Hispanics and 17 Native Americans. (The Native-American journalists provided a fairly representative sample, because only 39 were identified in all, McGrath explained.) Of those surveyed, 53% were men, 47% women.
Former presidents of the minority journalism groups, as well as Belinda Stubblefield, vice president of Nestle’s USA Workforce Diversity, aired their views in a panel discussion.
“Three words to sum up how I feel today: frustrated and very frustrated,” said Arthur Fennell, past president of the National Association of Black Journalists. “There needs to be more compromise and more open mindedness. That’s the hard part ? because compromise does not come easily, because you have to give up something. I hope we can begin to get the point and give up this defensiveness found throughout the study.”
The study looked at ten areas:
u Hiring, Promotion. “White women (11%) were the only group in the survey who expressed optimism about their chances for advancement in their paper or in the newspaper industry,” said McGrath. “Others surveyed felt other people in other groups were more likely to advance than people in their own groups.”
Whites emphatically (67%) say race and ethnicity are an advantage when being considered for advancement. African Americans (48%) say they’re not. Whites (40%) say standards for promotion are lower for minorities, while 75% of minorities say standards are higher.
Whites (72%) feel affirmative action has no effect, while 39% of minorities say it has actually slowed hiring and advancement.
“The affirmative action issue has misrepresented a lot of fronts,” Fennell said. “African Americans don’t want their hand held. They want to be included in the process so they can compete. Don’t give us something because you feel I am unqualified, give it to the person who is, but give me a chance to show you if I am qualified or not.”
Fennell talked about African Americans leaving one newsroom in the hope that another will offer the chance to participate and advance.
As one African-American told pollsters: “I hit the glass ceiling 10 years ago. There’s no hope for advancement. Even though I am at the top of my game and very productive, the white boys still make more.”
u Career Success. While 63% of whites believe that minorities spend the same time or less in entry-level positions, 66% of minorities think they spend more time at the bottom of the ladder. And while 83% of whites think opportunities have improved for minorities, only 43% of minorities feel their lot has improved.
“I have been at this newspaper for two decades,” a Hispanic journalist told surveyers. “It took 10 years to move from entry level up one notch and another six years to go one more step. I don’t believe most Hispanic reporters are valued for their skills or talents.”
u Equal Treatment. Among the minorities, African Americans (48%) and Hispanics (45%) feel their daily performance is judged by harsher standards than whites face.
The current catch phrase, from pole vaulting, is “raising the bar.”
“But the bar is lowered in favor of reporters who are white, and raised for those outside the loop, which are minorities,” said McGrath. “Nevertheless, all surveyed tended to feel their job evaluations have been fair.”
u Hiring Criteria. Most surveyed perceive newly-hired minorities to be as qualified as their white counterparts, but African Americans and whites with an opinion about favoritism are at opposite poles.
40% of whites say standards for promotion are lower for minorities, while 66% of minorities say they face higher standards.
Thirty-four percent of whites say minorities are less qualified, while 36% of blacks find minorities more qualified.
“Strong majorities of those surveyed said that white journalists (55%) believe that minority journalists are hired as management goals or directives,” said McGrath.
As a white male respondent put it: “Our paper has bent over backwards to hire blacks and women for high-profile jobs at the expense of equally or more qualified white males.”
u R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Both groups feel similarly about getting respect. Minorities and whites feel they are accepted by the people they work with, and their supervisors respect them. Both groups also feel their accomplishments are not appreciated.
“I would like to point out that African-American women are less likely than any of the other groups surveyed to either feel respected by their supervisors or to feel that their accomplishments are appreciated,” said McGrath.
u Racism.Fourty-four percent of African Americans say they have personally experienced or witnessed overt racism in the newsroom, compared to 17% of whites. Fifty-nine percent of minorities sometimes feel racial tension or subtle prejudice. Among whites, 46% say racial tension in the newsroom has improved, while 33% of African Americans say it has gotten worse. Other minority groups tend to be divided on the issue.
u Diversity Commitment. On a key issue, minorities (71%) are considerably more likely than whites (10%) to sense a lack of commitment from supervisors. Minorities do not agree that diversity has been been overemphasized, but they are pretty well divided on this issue.
“I think the top editors at my paper do care about diversity,” said a minority respondent, “but they don’t understand the reasons why it’s important. They hire a lot of young minority journalists, myself included, pat themselves on the back and then virtually ignore us until they require your assistance.”
The person went on to say that managers fail to take advantage of the skills minority reporters bring, such as the ability to speak a foreign language or to understand different cultures.
Most minorities also said their newsrooms don’t cover minorities well.
Most African Americans (67%) and Hispanics (54%) feel their newsrooms are divided along racial lines, while whites are divided on the issue. Minorities (43%) feel a lack of full and open debate about racial issues, while most whites think just the opposite. However, both feel they can discuss race relations with their colleagues.
Minorities and whites agree that race does play a role in how minority-related stories are covered. Both groups agreed that race does in fact play a role in deciding who covers race-related issues, but whites are more likely than minorites to feel that race should play a role in assignments.
“My newspaper editors go overboard in coverage of weekend cultural events and ethnic events in an effort to get pictures and quotes from minorities in the paper,” said a white respondent.
u Satisfaction. Whites and minorities agree that “the work is satisfying and makes good use of your skills and talents.” However, whites are nearly twice as likely as minorities to express satisfaction with their jobs.
u Plans. Native Americans, Asians and African Americans are least likely to remain in their current positions. Hispanics are more likely to stay at their papers, but not at the same position. Whites are the most likely to expect to work for the same newspaper in five years, and most want the same position.
Asian Americans are most likely to want to work for a different newspaper five years from now. One Asian American said: “I am treated as though I am white, so there is no bias, but no appreciation of ethnic issues or how whites respond to these issues.”
Dinah Eng, past president of the Asian American Journalists Association, said Asian Americans are treated as if they were invisible. She also cited cultural differences and language as among the problems they face on the job.
“When I talk with my mother, she speaks Chinese, [and] I answer her in English,” Eng said. “Chinese is my first language, but when I hear the words, my mind is processing them in English. In a similar way, I think minorities and non-minorities, from a cultural viewpoint, the words may be in English, and we think we are saying the same thing, but we are all not hearing the same thing.”
Native Americans and African Americans are the most likely to move to another medium or to leave journalism altogether.
As one Asian American journalist said, “People are just overworked, underpaid and are losing the ideal for which they became journalists in the first place.”