Benet Wilson, who chairs the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) digital task force, believes the issue of minority representation is
exacerbated by a loss of diversity leaders. As senior diversity champions have left newsrooms, she explains, the minorities who stay have
felt they have no voice at the top.
There's "a loss of management, a loss of older reporters, a loss of diversity champions -- people who had the title officially or unofficially," says
Wilson, who left Aviation Week in 2011 and now works for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
The consequences have been less diversity advocacy around issues of training, media partnerships and community coverage, she says. "You've
got to cut somewhere, and you cut where there is the least amount of squawking. There's no one left to say, 'you can't do this.' The stone starts rolling
down the hill, and you can't stop it."
Diversity efforts, Woods adds, generally "resided in an individual who left, got reassigned, retired, or who was laid off." In other cases, diversity was
part of a specific outreach initiative that ended with the loss of a grant or project.
Minority journalist conferences, once a key source of revenue for diversity projects and a major recruiting tool for newspapers, have plummeted in
attendance. Luther Jackson, former executive officer for the San Jose Newspaper Guild, remembers strong partnerships between newspapers and minority
journalist associations starting in the 1980s, which began to taper off in 2001.
The Business Case
The problem, fundamentally, has been reconciling diversity with newsroom business models. "Most media companies look at diversity as a cost center," says
Paul Cheung, President of the Asian American Journalists Association. "They see it as something nice to do." Few, he says, actually connect the dots and
make it into a business case.
Cheung believes this has contributed to the industry's financial losses. Diversity is not just "a nice thing to have--it's crucial for a company's survival
in the future," he says. "More than 50 percent of Americans by 2050 will be non-Caucasian."
Why does it matter, from the business perspective, if newsrooms don't reflect society at large? Because publications need readers. Robert Hernandez, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Southern California, attributes a
decline in reader engagement to the fact that so many people don't see themselves reflected in coverage. "When I left The Seattle Times, I was the
last Spanish speaker on staff," he says. "There would be crime stories-- and I'm the web guy-- and they called me over to translate interviews in Spanish."
Radio, Television, and Online News
The broadcasting industry has faced similar challenges. The Radio and Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) reports that in the last 22 years, the
minority population in the U.S. has risen 10.4 percent, while the minority workforce in television news is up only 3.7 percent, and the minority workforce
in radio is up 0.9 percent.