The Disappearing Black News Professional
Slowly but surely, America's newsrooms are becoming whiter again, notes news veteran Paul Delaney.
The NABJ has also documented the decline with outrage. Kathy Times, former president, was a persistent critic of the newsroom cutbacks and disappointing sluggishness of media executives to live up to the promise of diversity. She singled out cable network leaders last year for their failure to promote a single black anchor to their prime-time news programs.
In his online Journal-isms column, Richard Prince embarrassed editors at Politico when he ran a picture, originally broadcast by CNN, of an all-white editorial meeting. But such gatherings are common nowadays. What is also typical is the line of defense after such exposures: You didn't get the whole picture, we do have some minorities somewhere in our organization, we're really working on it, etc., ad nauseam.
For its annual survey, ASNE officials said that less than 50 percent of online news sites bothered to return surveys about their minority numbers, about as responsive as editors were in the 1960s. Some major outfits did not reply at all -- including Salon, Yahoo, Daily Beast, Politico, AOL and the Huffington Post.
I, too, would be ashamed to reply if my numbers were so pathetic. The new-media boom -- if it can be called that, since it does not feed too many families, particularly nonwhite -- seems to have passed blacks by.
John Hope Franklin, the late historian, noted in an interview that African Americans rather naively expected that whites would accept the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education against segregated public schools: "We didn't plan for the resistance that ensued." Similarly, we black journalists thought we would be safely ensconced in our chosen profession by the 21st century; that the numbers of reporters, editors, columnists, anchors and managers would no longer be such a cause for concern; that the departure of a Steven Gray would not leave an institution like Time magazine so exposed.
In other words, we anticipated a critical mass comparable to professional baseball or basketball: When a black player is fired, race is not given a second thought.
It did not happen that way, and we're nearly back to where we started. Many of us veterans feel that the youngsters, with allies in the wider community, have to pick up the fight now and decide how to continue the battle, using tools of the past -- such as lawsuits, protest demonstrations, boycotts and community pressure, as well as whatever new tactics they develop and choose -- as their own Occupy movements.
Ronnie Askew, executive editor of the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger and director of ASNE's diversity committee, vowed that the organization "will be a leader of keeping diversity at the forefront of this journalistic transformation." It will be up to him and his colleagues to find and nurture the next generations, just as we did in the past.
Paul Delaney is a former reporter and editor at the New York Times who covered the civil rights movement, a founder of the National Association of Black Journalists, and frequent contributor to The Root.