Newsrooms shrink, mediums change, faces stay the same

Richard Perez-Pena , who writes on the news business for the New York Times, posted a Martin Luther King Day piece on the vetting problems faced by news outlets that rely on new content-provider sites like Pro Publica, Global Post and Politico. It was another story that chronicled the changing media landscape. The photo that ran across the top of the story told another story, though, one about how the media landscape isn’t changing at all.

ProPublica: At least there's chicks! (Mark Lennihan/ AP)
ProPublica: At least there's chicks! (Mark Lennihan/ AP)

Quick, what city and what year? Kansas City, 1973? Des Moines, 1980? Rockford, Illinois, 1978? Wrong. Wrong. And wrong. It’s New York City, of course, 23rd floor on old Broadway, 2010. Everything has changed. Nothing has changed.

The Knight Foundation for years has conducted studies on the demographic makeup of newsrooms and newspaper newsrooms in particular. The trend toward diversity now is worse than ever. Nobody is hiring journalists and that means nobody is hiring minority journalists, not even to replace the minority journalists who are leaving the business in droves. Year after year “print” newsrooms are the most homogeneously white of newsrooms, even in communities that haven’t been homogeneously white in pretty much forever, like New York City. In fact, newsrooms passed their peak in staff diversity years ago.

From a Knight Foundation summary for the period 1990 to 2005:

Among the 200 largest newspapers, 73 percent employ fewer non-whites, as a share of the newsroom jobs, than they did in some earlier year from 1990 to 2004. Only 27 percent of these large dailies were at their peak as 2005 began.

Looking more broadly at all newspapers, only 18 percent were at their peak, while 44 percent have slipped. And those are the papers that employ any non-whites at all. The remaining 37 percent of daily newspapers that divulged their employment figures reported an all-white newsroom.

Alberto Ibarguen, President and CEO of the Knight Foundation, explained very briefly on NPR last summer why diversity matters:

Mr. IBARGUEN: [W]hen I was publisher of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, we took enormous pride in the fact that we had, by far, the most diverse executive group. And I think we almost certainly had the most diverse newsroom.

I think nowhere more than media does it really matter that your newsroom be diverse, that when you decide to go out with – especially with a controversial or a difficult story that you first ask the question, are we all in the room, before you go ahead and publish something that is supposed to be a matter of record. And you need to have the variety of voices that make up your community.

Diversity matters in how you report a story. It matters in how you choose the stories you report. It just plain matters.

There are only twelve staffers in the photo of the ProPublica office. Maybe there are an equal number of Latino and black and Asian reporters and editors working somewhere off screen. Probably not, though.

Related note: The homogeneously white Colorado Independent is seeking interns. Spanish speakers encouraged to apply! Write to the tips address below.

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