The Disappearing Black News Professional
Slowly but surely, America's newsrooms are becoming whiter again, notes news veteran Paul Delaney.
I question her premise but agree with the fact that a migration away from mainstream media, indeed, is taking place. In conversations with many of my friends and colleagues who are participating in the migration, I found very few who said it was for the cause; it seemed more of a temporary "pause for the cause" as jobs in mainstream outlets disappear.
Prior to 1960, American newsrooms were overwhelmingly white, with few owners of publications or radio and television stations looking to alter that landscape. The number of black professionals on mainstream daily newspapers -- and at television stations -- could be counted on one hand. The two most prominent were Ted Poston of the New York Post and Carl T. Rowan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. It took the civil rights movement, outside pressure (minority journalists) and urban riots to prod, cajole and induce change.
The first big wave of black journalist hirings came during the 1960s and 1970s. To push the companies a little harder, the National Association of Black Journalists, of which I am a founder, was formed in 1975, followed by organizations of Hispanic, Asian and Native American journalists. Many, if not most, companies became partners in the efforts at integration, joined by such groups as ASNE and the Newspaper Association of America.
Some owners saw integrating their staffs as good for business; a few saw the morality of it. I sat in many meetings in the 1980s and 1990s where we discussed those owners and publishers who were more swayed by the business argument than by a moral obligation to make their staffs less white, and to devote more coverage to communities that they historically had neglected -- debates we also engaged in during the 1960s.
When the minority journalists' organizations were formed, we were all so upbeat and optimistic (and naive) that at last media owners had come around, and the profession would never be the same. Newsrooms began to reflect their communities, somewhat (or gave it a good try), as more nonwhites were hired on as reporters, editors, anchors, news directors, columnists and a station manager and publisher or two, here and there. ASNE began keeping count and annually, eagerly and proudly, reported the good news of steadily increasing numbers.
Then came the 21st century, which dealt the news industry as we knew it a double blow: economic downturns and the advent of the Internet, both sending old-media revenues into a tailspin that today remains dizzying and from which they're continuing to search for ways to counter and recover. Job cuts have been among the responses, including the "last hired, first fired" practice to which we've become so accustomed. The impact on newsroom integration has been to effectively reverse the progress of the last century.