By: Lucia Moses
Proponents of newsroom diversity last week hailed as a giant step forward the Scripps Howard Foundation’s creation of a new media school at historically black Hampton University in Hampton, Va.
The Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications, set to be dedicated Sept. 25, is believed to be the first industry-created j-school at a historically black college and the biggest dollar commitment going to a single racial-diversity program.
The $10-million commitment from the E.W. Scripps Co.’s philanthropic arm comes as minority journalists are still few and far between at daily newspapers. After decades of diversity efforts, the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) reported in April that the percentage of minority journalists at dailies rose to only 12.07% last year from 11.64% the year before.
In funding the Hampton j-school, Scripps Howard cited a shortage of blacks studying journalism. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 6.2% of the 11,127 undergraduate journalism degrees awarded in 1999 went to blacks. “We felt key to making a significant impact would be to partner with historically black colleges and universities to provide journalism degrees,” said Judith G. Clabes, CEO and president of the Cincinnati-based foundation.
The commitment includes a new building and support for faculty, scholarships, and broadcast facilities. Already, 292 j-students have enrolled for the fall. Hampton, founded in 1868, has more than 6,000 students overall.
Other diversity-aimed efforts by the industry have come in the form of smaller grants given over the years. The Freedom Forum, for one, expects to spend $20 million over the next few years on programs to promote racial diversity, including its newly opened Freedom Forum Institute, a training center. And the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s targeted diversity efforts include nearly $6 million worth of grants over the past eight years to benefit students at historically black colleges, and around $4 million a year to programs specifically targeting racial diversity in newsrooms.
For the Scripps Co., the hope is to bring more racial diversity to its properties, which, as small to midsize outlets, often have difficulty attracting minorities. They make up 10% of the officers, managers, and professionals in Scripps’ newspaper division, which includes the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., and The Knoxville (Tenn.) The News-Sentinel.
Gregory Moore, chairman of ASNE’s diversity committee, praised the effort, saying, “What this does more than anything else is get them [black journalists] in the pipeline.”
But Lee G. Becker, who studies journalism graduate and employment trends, says the industry’s problem is not a shortage of minority j-school graduates, but rather a shortage of job offers. Retention is another challenge, with minorities leaving papers in greater numbers than before, according to a 2001 ASNE study.