Unity in numbers

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

‘Journalists of Color’ converge in Seattle

SEATTLE ? Numbers grand and grim propelled the five days of Unity ’99.
Nearly 6,000 minority journalists attracted several hundred print and broadcast recruiters who crowded into 300 job fair booths. Their impetus: minorities make up fewer than 11.5% of newsroom employees at daily newspapers in a nation where racial and ethnic minorities are 28% of the general population.
But when the black, Hispanic, Native-American, and Asian-American journalists associations that make up Unity: Journalists of Color Inc. formally kicked off their joint convention in Seattle, they handed everyone in the audience drumsticks. There were no opening speeches laden with doleful statistics, but poems and music, with drums from Ghana, Japan, Latin America, and the Pacific Northwest.
And despite the constant interviews at the job fair and the lines to copy r?sum?s at the convention center’s Kinko’s, it was Unity’s non-journalists who seemed to spark the most networking.
The publishers and editors of some of America’s biggest papers walked through the convention crowds unapproached, if not unrecognized. Yet Cornel West, the Harvard University educator who wrote the book “Race Matters,” was mobbed everywhere he went. At a National Association of Black Journalists reception, journalists even formed a circle around him chanting “Go, Cornel!” while he danced.
“For me, diversity is not about jobs, it’s not about careerism. Because if it were, you’d just end up with black poor people and black rich folk, and nothing’s changed,” West says in a hallway interview constantly interrupted by well-wishers. “I think more in terms of 25 to 30 years, changing the way this society looks at poor people. What we’re looking for are those prophetic few who go beyond sensationalism.”
One theme echoing throughout Unity ’99 is that journalists are trying harder to overcome the divisions that separate racial and ethnic minorities than their employers are at achieving newsrooms that reflect America’s demographics.
“There is no Unity: Doctors of Color. There is no Unity: Accountants of Color. We’re very proud of what we’ve done,” says Catalina Camia, a Washington, D.C.-based reporter for The Dallas Morning News who is president of Unity and the Asian American Journalists Association.
Both the stories and the numbers at Unity ’99, however, reflect the newspaper industry’s diversity problem. In a new Freedom Forum survey, 55% of minority journalists at daily papers say they expect to leave the newspaper business eventually ? and 40% of those say they will be gone within five years.
It’s not clear how many will actually leave, but retention rates already show journalists of color leave papers at a faster rate than white journalists. The difference is 97% to 93%, says Robert H. Giles, executive director of the Freedom Forum’s Media Studies Center in New York.
“We tracked these numbers back for six years and found that that 4% difference made a big impact. If that 4% difference were not there, the percentage of journalists of color in the newsroom would be 14% rather than 11.46%,” Giles says.
Black daily newspaper journalists also overwhelmingly say they must work harder than white journalists to get ahead. In the Freedom Forum survey, 67% of black journalists “strongly agreed” that was their feeling and another 23% “somewhat agreed.”
Job fair recruiters saw plenty of interested prospects ? as well as some frustrations. “We suffer a hit by not being a major market,” says Jeff Cooper, assistant managing editor at the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald. “I have a lot of copy editor openings, and I haven’t found anyone yet.”
“We’ve been really, really busy, seeing a lot of traffic and a lot of talent,” USA Today’s deputy managing editor for sports, Robert Robinson, says during a break. One problem was too many inexperienced applicants. One nice sign is that veterans now want to work for the national paper.
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site:http:www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher May 22, 1999) [Caption]

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