2012's Greatest Diversity Hits
A look back at the memorable moments of the last 12 months.
Diversity's Greatest Hits, 2012
A year in the quest for news media that look like America.
When the presidential campaign of 2012 finally ended with the reelection of President Obama, among the Election Day surprises was the demographic composition of the losing Republican base.
". . . When it comes to audience, the American newspaper industry looks a lot like the Republican Party," Ken Doctor wrote two days later for the Nieman Journalism Lab. "Consequently, its business reversals parallel the deepening Republican national electoral woes. The newspaper audience looks remarkably like the arithmetic that put Mitt Romney on the losing end Tuesday and is forcing Republicans to self-assess how to move forward. . . . The daily industry is doing okay with older, white people — mildly overperforming in print, digital, and combined.
"Among all other ethnic groups except Asian-Americans — off the charts with high overperformance for online news usage — newspapers are underperforming. They, like Mitt Romney, aren't getting their share of the fastest growing population slices in the U.S. . . ."
Perhaps not coincidentally, the news media underestimated Obama's ability to turn out the very groups underrepresented in the news media.
In October, the 4th Estate, a nonpartisan project to aggregate data around the 2012 elections, showed that more than 93 percent of front page articles on the presidential election were written by white reporters.
During the presidential debates, white journalists asked the questions. When the journalist of color organizations protested, the commission agreed to forward their questions to the debate moderators, but none were asked.
Univision's televised forums with Obama and Romney in September provided the only comparable forum for journalists of color to grill the candidates. Under questioning from moderators Maria Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos, Obama acknowledged " . . . my biggest failure so far is we haven't comprehensive immigration reform done . . ."
Mainstream news organizations undertook enterprise reporting on one of the biggest issues for people of color: the attempt to restrict their votes through voter ID laws. In July, the Associated Press found that under such laws valid votes had been tossed, and in August, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University found that the rationale for such laws — election fraud — was infinitesimal. Still, thoughtful assessments of the record of the nation's first black president — and the role that race might have played during his presidency — were far outweighed by coverage of the horse race.
Racism hit home for one member of the media. Patricia Carroll, an African American CNN camerawoman, was assaulted with peanuts and called an animal by two attendees at the Republican National Convention. The perpetrators were never identified.
CNN correspondent Soledad O'Brien won plaudits for holding interviewees' feet to the fire as they tried to spin the facts.
News organizations rushed to embrace social media as a way to publicize their brands, but were not always prepared for the controversy that might result. For journalists of color, many of the controversies had racial overtones.
In February, CNN suspended commentator Roland Martin indefinitely over tweets that the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation denounced as anti-gay. Martin denied that the tweets were homophobic but acknowledged that they were intended to be "over the top." Some Martin supporters framed the issue as white gays vs. a black journalist. Martin's suspension was lifted after a month.
FoxSports.com columnist Jason Whitlock apologized in February for what the Asian American Journalists Association called an "unnecessary and demeaning tweet" about NBA phenomenon Jeremy Lin's private parts.
Joseph Williams, who joined Politico in 2010 as deputy White House editor after five years as deputy bureau chief of the Boston Globe's Washington bureau, left Politico in June. On MSNBC, Williams had suggested that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney was comfortable only around white people. The conservative website Breitbart.com ran the video and flagged a series of tweets from Williams that made fun of Romney. "After rummaging through some 3,000 tweets, they cherry-picked ones designed to prove their flimsy case: that I was biased against Romney, a racist against whites and a representative of my employer's slant against conservatives," Williams wrote.
Sunni Khalid, managing news editor at the Baltimore NPR affiliate WYPR-FM, was reportedly suspended for posting a comment on Facebook about U.S. policy toward Israel. A reader characterized it as inflammatory. In March, Khalid was fired.
In December, the story of Rhonda Lee, a black female meteorologist, went viral after she was fired from the ABC affiliate in Shreveport, La., because she responded on the station's Facebook page to a viewer who questioned her short Afro hairstyle. The station said the response violated its social media policies.
At its annual convention in August, Michele Salcedo, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, asked a student journalist to stop live tweeting the board's deliberations. Nadia Khan, who was reporting for the student convention news project, was told that she could stay but not live tweet. She left. On their first day on the job, the NAHJ's new leaders voted 6-5 to reverse the no-tweeting policy.
ESPN, too, reversed course. In March, citing the network's social media policies, ESPN warned staffers who tweet not to post photos of themselves wearing hoodies in solidarity with Trayvon Martin, the unarmed 17-year-old black Florida youth slain in a confrontation with a neighborhood watch volunteer. After two days, ESPN " . . . decided to allow this particular expression of human sympathy," but its decision was not universally praised. The Poynter Institute's Kelly McBride wrote that ESPN was right the first time.
The Feb. 26 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black Florida teenager, galvanized African Americans and ultimately the nation as it slowly reached public consciousness via the efforts of black journalists and black talk radio.
First came the debate over racial profiling, then the polarization. In April, media writer David Carr wrote in the New York Times, "All over the Internet and on cable TV, posses are forming, positions are hardening and misinformation is flourishing. Instead of debating how we as a culture are going to proceed, an increasingly partisan system of news and social media has factionalized and curdled."
The controversy over Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which essentially allows a person who feels threatened to shoot, prompted investigative reporting. In June, the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times found that people who killed a black person walked free 73 percent of the time, while those who killed a white person went free 59 percent of the time. In addition, the law "is being used in ways never imagined — to free gang members involved in shootouts, drug dealers beefing with clients and people who shot their victims in the back," the newspaper reported.
In December, George Zimmerman, who said he shot Martin in self-defense, sued NBC for airing a 911 call he claims was edited to portray him as a racist and predatory villain.
"Besides NBCUniversal Media, defendants in the suit include Lilia Rodriguez Luciano, an NBC correspondent based in Miami, and Jeff Burnside, a Miami-based reporter, both of whom were reportedly fired over their Zimmerman coverage. It also names Ron Allen, an NBC correspondent . . . , " Tim Molloy reported for the Wrap.
The Unity alliance held its first convention without the National Association of Black Journalists in Las Vegas in August, the smallest Unity conference since its first in 1994. The coalition also fell $200,000 short of its sponsorship goals, having sought $1.25 million.
NABJ left the coalition in 2011, citing financial and governance issues. Unity then invited the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association to join. NLGJA, in turn, urged the coalition to drop "Journalists of Color" from the group's name. Without consulting their constituents, the Unity board members quickly complied, 11 to 4 with one abstention. Joanna Hernandez, the Unity president, said at the time, "I got teary-eyed. I was immensely sad" after the vote. "I did urge them not to take a vote now," she told Journal-isms, but said she was told she had no choice but to allow one.
As a result of the name change, opposition to rejoining Unity hardened within NABJ, which won support for its view even from some members of the groups that remained in Unity. The two men credited with the idea for Unity, Will Sutton of NABJ and Juan Gonzalez of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, said separately that they disapproved of the name change. "UNITY has lost its way," Gonzalez wrote. DeWayne Wickham, who as NABJ president in 1988 convened the first joint meeting of the boards of NABJ, NAHJ, the Asian American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association, said of the change, "I think it amounts to a final divorce decree. . . . "
NLGJA brought 115 people to the Unity convention, Unity board members said, compared with the 2,386 registrants that NABJ attracted to its own, separate conference in New Orleans. Unity registered 2,385 people, compared with 7,550 attendees at the 2008 Unity convention in Chicago on its final Sunday, though that figure includes sponsors and others who were not registered. No presidential candidates appeared at the Las Vegas gathering. Then-candidate Barack Obama had been in Chicago.
In December, members of the four journalism associations in the reconstituted Unity coalition each voted for "UNITY: Journalists for Diversity" as the name to succeed "Unity: Journalists of Color," as more members said they were pleased to have NLGJA in the coalition. The Unity board has not announced its final choice.
It's unlikely that any of the journalism associations ever saw a campaign like this year's for the leadership of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Attack videos appeared even when there was only one declared candidate for NAHJ president. The target of the videos was candidate Russell Contreras, an Associated Press reporter who was NAHJ's chief financial officer and vice president for print. Contreras claimed credit for helping to return NAHJ's finances to the black, but the organization's leadership had developed a reputation among many for secrecy, bullying and vindictiveness, qualities the attack videos highlighted.
Hugo Balta, a coordinating producer at ESPN, eventually joined the race and won the election, receiving 154 votes, or 61 percent, to 95 for Contreras, or 31 percent, according to the NAHJ tally.
Balta promised a change in tone from the previous two years. "The NAHJ leadership will be clear and inclusive. We will have an open-door policy to have the voices heard and respected," he said in his acceptance speech.
Among Balta's first acts was arranging for NAHJ to join the Radio Television Digital News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists at the annual Excellence in Journalism Conference in 2013 in Anaheim, Calif. Balta also sought to have the questions from journalists of color included in the presidential debates even though only white journalists were chosen to moderate.
The latest newsroom census from the American Society of News Editors showed 1,650 Hispanic journalists at dailies, a decline of 443 over 10 years.
In theory, the employment picture for Latino journalists should be looking up, as major media companies continue to seek their share of the growing Hispanic market. ABC News and Univision News are jointly planning a new news and lifestyle network and hired Miguel Ferrer, the onetime managing editor of the English-language HuffPost LatinoVoices and Spanish-language Voces sites, as its first executive producer, digital. In August, MundoFox was launched. It is a joint venture between Fox International Channels (FIC), News Corp.'s international multimedia business, and RCN, the leading Latin American television network and production company.
The loss of journalists of color in newspaper and online newsrooms outstripped the decline of journalists overall in 2011, according to the annual diversity census of the American Society of News Editors, released in April.
"The total newsroom employment at daily newspapers declined by 2.4 percent in 2011, while the loss in minority newsroom positions was 5.7 percent," ASNE said. Ronnie Agnew, who co-chairs ASNE's Diversity Committee, said in announcing the results, "It's not just the numbers that are going down, there's a nuance that's going to be missed . . . with the shortage of people" lost to "this wonderful, wonderful profession."
One slice of the pie drew the attention of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, which studied the opinion pages of the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. "Latinos were granted less than half a percent of the op-ed bylines over the two-month study period — writing two columns in the Times, one in the Wall Street Journal, and none in the Post. None of these papers has a Latino among their staff columnists," it said.
In the broadcast news media, the latest survey from the Radio Television Digital News Association and Hofstra University reported, "As far as minorities are concerned, the bigger picture remains unchanged. In the last 22 years, the minority population in the U.S. has risen 10.4%; but the minority workforce in TV news is up 3.7%, and the minority workforce in radio is up 0.9%."
Would-be journalists received mixed news. A survey of 2010 graduates of the nation's journalism and mass communication programs showed that "once again faring worse than anyone in the job market were racial and ethnic minority graduates, according to the University of Georgia's James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research.
Last year, however, "There was . . . a notable rise in the percentage of minority graduates in 2011 who found full-time work — 58.7%, up from 49.9% a year earlier. Even so, that rate of hiring lags well behind the non-minority level of 69.9%," the researchers reported in August.
Advocates of broadcast ownership by people of color looked to the Federal Communications Commission to address bleak numbers. In November, the FCC reported that as of 2011, whites own 69.4 percent of the nation's 1,348 television stations. That's up from 63.4 percent in 2009, when there were 1,187 stations.
While white ownership increased, most minority ownership decreased. Blacks went from owning 1 percent of all commercial TV stations in 2009 to just 0.7 percent in 2011. Asian ownership slipped from 0.8 percent in 2009 to 0.5 percent last year. Latino ownership increased slightly, from 2.5 percent to 2.9 percent.
Was it intentional that seven of the 13 recipients of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University announced in May would be people of color?
"I don't know if 'intentional' is the right word," James R. Bettinger, director of the program, told Journal-isms then by email. "We worked very hard to broaden our outreach to journalists of color, especially those involved in untraditional news media ventures, and I would say we benefited from that."
The Nieman Fellowship program at Harvard University announced an incoming class with no African Americans, two self-identified Hispanics, an "Asian-American and white/Caucasian."
Suzette Hackney, a staff writer at Detroit Free Press and an African American, became the sole U.S. journalist of color in the Knight-Wallace Fellows program at the University of Michigan for the 2012-13 academic year.
NBC News is planning to pay its interns starting in the spring of 2013, a well-placed source at the network told Journal-isms in November. The decision addresses a long-held contention that requiring interns to work only for the experience or for college credit amounts to favoring students with well-to-do parents.
Although NBC News in general has not paid its interns, ABC News and CNN do, and CBS News and Fox News have arrangements for the college to offer course credit.
The change at NBC News comes none too soon. In December, Steven Greenhouse reported for the New York Times, "Charlie Rose and his production company have agreed to pay as much as $250,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by a former unpaid intern who claimed minimum wage violations.
"This is the first settlement in a series of lawsuits brought by unpaid interns who asserted that they had suffered minimum wage violations. Other such lawsuits have been filed against the Hearst Corporation and Fox Entertainment — both companies deny that they failed to comply with wage and hour laws regarding their interns. . . ."
Meanwhile, in December, veteran journalist Will Sutton was named director of the Dow Jones News Fund's 10-week business reporting internship program. In April, while a visiting professor at Grambling, Sutton offered an 11-point plan for adding diversity to business journalism ranks. "For far too many, it's the equivalent of a four-letter word," Sutton wrote of diversity.
Separately, ABC News announced a Fellowships in Diversity Program "to attract and develop aspiring journalists from diverse backgrounds for a rigorous and rewarding year-long opportunity."
However, the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, in which African American and Latino students have been trained by reporters and editors from the Times, the Boston Globe and regional newspapers of the Times Co., announced in August it was cutting back from twice a year to annually.
U.S. Census figures released in May showed that white births are no longer a majority in the United States. As of July 1, 2011, 50.4 percent of the nation's population age 1 or under was either Hispanic or a race other than white.
The story led the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Dallas Morning News and the South Florida SunSentinel, among others. It was on the front page of such papers as the Denver Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Courier-Journal in Louisville and the Salt Lake Tribune. But it was missing from the front pages of the majority of newspapers, according to an informal survey of front pages displayed by the Newseum.
"We have a problem on our hands when the groups that have the least access to economic opportunity are becoming the majority," Jennifer Wheary wrote for the progressive think tank Demos. "Creating opportunity for Americans was already a priority, but our demographic future makes it an immediate imperative."
The Census Bureau additionally reported in December, "The U.S. is projected to become a majority-minority nation for the first time in 2043. While the non-Hispanic white population will remain the largest single group, no group will make up a majority."
Asian Americans took particular note of a Pew Research Center report in June. "Asian Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States . . . Asians recently passed Hispanics as the largest group of new immigrants to the United States. The educational credentials of these recent arrivals are striking. . . ," it said.
In a statement from the Asian American Journalists Association, AAJA National President Doris Truong said, "Pew's research reinforces the importance of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as a segment our society that newsrooms need to pay attention to. It was disappointing to see a lack of diverse perspectives — especially from major news networks — in covering this story."
On Friday, the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., announced staffing for the newspaper and the PennLive.com website as the print edition moves to a Tuesday-Thursday-Sunday publication schedule beginning next Tuesday.
The Patriot-News is owned by Newhouse Newspapers, which announced in May that it would stop printing a daily paper at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and its Alabama newspapers, then said it would end the daily distribution of the Patriot-News and the Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y.
Newhouse papers in other markets, such as Cleveland and Newark, were waiting to learn their fate. In Cleveland, the Newspaper Guild — the union that represents about 170 people in the newsroom — decided to try to influence the corporate decision with a campaign called "Save The Plain Dealer," Ted Diadiun, the paper's reader representative, reported in November.
In June, the Poynter Institute's Steve Myers wrote, "The Times-Picayune reported that 84 of 173 people in the newsroom were laid off, a loss of 48.5 percent. According to a list I assembled (based on conversations with multiple people in the newsroom) 14 of 26 African-Americans in the newsroom lost their jobs — a 53.8 percent cut. That includes editors, reporters and administrative personnel."
At the Birmingham (Ala.) News the same month, it appeared that diversity was also taking a hit.
"I'm the only black business writer," Roy Williams told Journal-isms then as he ticked off the losses, including his own job. "The only two black editors. All five black zone reporters. All three black copy editors. The only black editorial writer, who has been here 30 years.
"It hit us really hard."
A few black journalists have reported being hired under the new arrangement. In September, Alabama Media Group hired Janita Poe as community hub director in Montgomery, overseeing day-to-day operations of the Montgomery area newsgathering team. Marshall A. Latimore said in December that he would be designing for the Birmingham News, Huntsville Times and Mobile Press-Register, relocating to Birmingham.
Christina Mele, American Journalism Review: Battling to Stay Daily
Source: Google Analytics
1. CNN Camerawoman "Not Surprised" by Peanut-Throwing (Aug. 30)
2. Fired Over Facebook Posting (Dec. 10)
3. CNN Suspends Roland Martin Over Tweets (Feb. 8)
4. Essence Shifts White Male Managing Editor (April 20)
6. CNN Lifts Roland Martin's Suspension (March 12)
7. Done in by Facebook and Flipping the Bird? (March 21)
8. Politico Loses Its Sole Black Reporter (April 8, 2010)
9. NPR Loses Another Black Male Voice (Jan. 16)
10. Wall St. Journal Intern Out After Fabrication Charges (June 27)
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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (www.mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.