With ASNE Diversity Numbers Again ‘Dismal,’ Minority Orgs Shift Strategy

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

In a significant change in strategy on newsroom diversity, the leaders of the principal organizations of minority journalists on Sunday declared the newspaper industry’s goal of parity by 2025 dead, and declared they would concentrate their efforts on getting journalists of color into senior management.

In a conference call as the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) prepared to release its annual census of the ethnic and racial diversity of daily newspaper newsroom, the presidents of the associations of black, Hispanic, Asian American, and Native Americans, plus their umbrella Unity organization, unanimously agreed that there is no way the industry will employ journalists of color in the proportion as the communities they serve by 2025 at the rate it is going now.

“I 100% believe that the goal is not going to be reached,” said Jeanne Mariani-Belding, president of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), and editorial/opinion editor of The Honolulu Advertiser.

The census, which was to be released later on Sunday, shows that daily newspapers employ about 300 fewer journalists of color than they did this time last year.

Because of the waves of layoffs across newsrooms, however, the percentage of minority journalists in newsrooms increased slightly, to 13.52% of all journalists from 13.43% last year. In the U.S. population at large, people of color comprise about one-third of the population. In four states, including California, the percentage of non-Hispanic whites has fallen below 50%.

“One thing that is clear is that our efforts to advance diversity in the newsroom are simply not working,” said Karen Lincoln Michel, president of Unity: Journalists of Color Inc., and Madison bureau chief of the Green Bay (Wisc.) Press-Gazette.

“The numbers are dismal — and there’s a growing gap between the numbers of people of color in the newsroom and in the general community,” she added.

“We’ve got to increase the urgency,” said National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) President Rafael Olmeda, assistant city editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“Let’s stop setting dates, and if we’re going to keep setting dates — let’s set it at 2009,” he added. “I don’t see why we’re going to have to wait and wait and wait, and do nothing but pat ourselves on the back when the number ticks up because of some anomaly.”

What the minority journalist associations have decided to do is concentrate their efforts on encouraging newspapers to retain journalists of color — and prepare them to enter senior management.

“Meaningful change starts at the top,” Unity’s Michel said.

The minority journalists association leaders also adopted a more corporate tone in their reaction to the numbers, stressing the notion that diversity is good for business at a time when the newspaper industry is struggling.

And while that idea is given wide currency by mainstream industry leaders when they talk about diversity, the journalists of color said they want to see specific steps taken to implement diversity as a strategy for business growth.

“We’ve heard this rhetoric for years and years, and now it’s time to prove it,” NAHJ’s Olmeda said. “Let’s start showing exactly why this is so. We can’t just say this is good for business. It’s been clear in other industries that it works.”

The minority association leaders say they are not giving up on the themes they have sounded in the past — including the idea that newspapers cannot truly report fairly and accurately if its newsroom doesn’t reflect its community.

“But given the reality of the difficult business situation in newspapers, we’d be remiss not to discuss it,” said AAJA’s Mariani-Belding. “We know there are many, many reasons diversity is good for newspaper. This business model is one.”

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