Struggling News Industry Steps Up Recruitment of Diverse Leaders
(Bloomberg) -- With much of corporate America targeting greater diversity in its management ranks, news companies are taking steps to close the gap, offering a glimpse at what more representative leadership might bring in an industry that has lagged behind.
The Associated Press appointed the first woman and person of color to helm the news agency this month. In Texas, both the Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle named their first Black top editors in July. And in TV, Black women now run the news divisions of ABC News and MSNBC for the first time.
These leaders are taking over to improve coverage and broaden their audiences at a time of crisis in the industry, with about 300 newspapers closing over the past three years and revenue expected to continue to decline. On top of those challenges, some of these editors say they face other obstacles their predecessors didn’t, like a perception they were promoted not because they were qualified, but because of the color of their skin.
Their staffs remain over-represented by White journalists. More than three-fourths (77%) of newsroom employees working at newspapers, broadcasters or digital publishers are White, compared with 65% of U.S. workers overall, according to a 2018 analysis by Pew Research Center.
The newspaper industry’s financial troubles have led to years of layoffs and hiring freezes. That’s long served as an excuse for the failure to hire more Black and Hispanic journalists, despite the benefits they bring in helping outlets better reflect their communities, according to Richard Prince, who runs a website that tracks diversity trends in the news business.
“But where there’s a will there’s a way,” he said.
Of the 20 largest U.S. daily newspapers, about half are now led by a woman or a person of color or both, according to Nieman Lab. In 2014, three of the 25 largest newspapers had women as the top editor and 15% of American newspapers had a person of color in one of the top three newsroom roles.
Path to Growth
For newspapers, more diversity could be good for business. Nearly half of Black adults say they follow local news “very closely,” a higher percentage than White or Hispanics, Pew found. Hiring more journalists of color helps newsrooms get away from homogeneous perspectives that can limit their audiences, potentially leading to subscriber growth, the thinking goes.
Black journalists understand the concerns of the Black community, said Monica Richardson, who was named executive editor of the Miami Herald in December.
“I know what it’s like to drive by a police officer and have that sense of fear on the highway,” she said.
Richardson has been holding “listening sessions” in the Black community around Miami in an attempt to mend fences. Her takeaway: “We have work to do.”
“There was trust that had been broken, either through a story or a lack of presence in covering communities,” Richardson said. “People felt like their stories weren’t being told.”
Many news organizations have pledged to hire more journalists of color. Bloomberg News has initiatives to improve representation in terms of gender, ethnicity and race at every level of the newsroom. Gannett Co. released data last year showing its staffs were often more White than the communities they cover and pledged to make its workforce as diverse as the country by 2025.
“Across the nation, newsrooms continue to struggle with a lack of diversity –– especially in leadership ranks, including some of our own,” said Maribel Perez Wadsworth, president of news at Gannett Media. “We must do better.”
‘Not Good Enough’
The Los Angeles Times published an editorial last year apologizing for its past failures to cover race and vowing to hire more minorities. At the time, the paper said 38% of its journalists were people of color, while Los Angeles County was 48% Latino. “We know that is not nearly good enough,” it said. In May the newspaper hired Kevin Merida, who is Black, to lead the newsroom.
The ability for such leaders to direct coverage is substantial. Dean Baquet, an African American, has run the New York Times newsroom for seven years. Last year Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for the 1619 Project, a series of articles looking at the history of the U.S. through the prism of slavery.
Some observers have taken a pessimistic view of the recent promotions, noting that women and people of color have been given leadership roles only after businesses start to decline.
Black editors say they can bring more racial diversity to their staffs and their audiences. They plan to recruit more journalists of color and make them feel comfortable at the office.
“It’s not only who you hire, but more importantly, what are you doing to ensure your news environments are inclusive?” said Katrice Hardy, who was named executive editor of the Dallas Morning News last month. “Because you could hire me, but the culture and environment will mean that I don’t want to stay.”
In TV news, Black women in the top jobs often take a special interest in mentoring other Black women journalists because “they don’t want to be the last ones in those positions,” said Ava Thompson Greenwell, a journalism professor at Northwestern University. Only 4% of TV news directors are Black, according to a survey of TV stations from RTDNA/Newhouse School at Syracuse University.
But Black women are also frequently the target of micro-aggressions, such as subordinates who question their competence, refuse to take their orders or offer them backhanded compliments, said Greenwell, who interviewed about 40 Black female journalists for her book “Ladies Leading: The Black Women Who Control Television News.”
“The good news is that they are there,” Greenwell said. “The bad news is they aren’t always afforded the deference they deserve.”
At the Dallas Morning News, which named Hardy as its first woman and Black journalist to be executive editor, the newsroom is 64% White while the community the paper covers is 49% White, according to data provided by the paper. Its newsroom leadership is 9% Hispanic, compared with a coverage area that is 26% Hispanic.
“We got these positions because we worked our butts off and we’re really good journalists,” said Hardy, who helped lead the Indianapolis Star to a Pulitzer Prize this year.
“We didn’t get them because we’re Black and Brown,” she said, “although finally the news industry has seen the need to promote people like us.”
In her previous newsroom jobs, Hardy said she was able to call up members of minority communities and “have conversations with folks who frankly had long stopped wanting to deal with us.” She sees such outreach as critical to the industry’s survival.
“If we do not grow a diverse audience of readers,” she said, “we’re going to die.”
Maria Reeve, the new executive editor of the Houston Chronicle, said she would like her promotion to inspire Black journalists.
“I hope younger reporters see what’s happening and can see that there is a path,” Reeve said.
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