Why Journalism's Diversity Problem Is Just as Bad as #OscarsSoWhite

The lack of minorities in newsrooms popularized #JournalismSoWhite

Stack of newspapers
A pile of newspapers. Jon S./Flickr.com

The 2016 Oscars boycott has not only focused attention on the lack of diversity in Hollywood but also led to public scrutiny of other industries where minorities are marginalized, such as journalism. The #OscarsSoWhite hashtag even spawned the copycat hashtag #JournalismSoWhite on Twitter to highlight how the newspaper industry in particular does not reflect America.

White males continue to make up the bulk of newspaper reporters and editors, which can skew news coverage and make it difficult for journalists of color to advance in the field.

Activist journalists, however, are pointing out why racial diversity is a benefit in newsrooms and developing strategies to give minorities more opportunities in the profession.

The Amount of Minorities in Newsrooms

Although minorities make up nearly 40 percent of the population, they comprise just 12.76 percent of the staffers in newsrooms. Only 4.7 out of 100 people at newspapers are black. For Hispanics, the number is 4.2, for Asians, 2.8, and for Native Americans, 0.4. Women of all backgrounds continue to be a minority in the industry as well, with just 37.1 women per every 100 people in newsrooms.

For women of color, the situation is particularly dire, with just 2.2 black women, 1.8 Hispanic women, 1.4 Asian women and 0.1 Native American women per 100 people in newsrooms. By and large, white women make up most of the females in newsrooms, with 31.3 white women per 100 print journalists.

The dearth of women and minorities at newspapers isn’t just a problem because newsrooms should reflect the communities they cover but also because reporters from a wide range of backgrounds can better cover the social issues that routinely make headlines today. This includes police killings and the Black Lives Matter movement, the debate over undocumented immigration and Islamophobia in politics.

Having reporters from a wide range of cultural backgrounds can help humanize the people involved in these stories and avoid the spread of misinformation.

Why Newsrooms Aren’t More Diverse

The newspaper industry may not be making a concerted effort to lock people of color out of newsrooms, but reporters and editors remain mostly white because industry practices make it difficult for minorities and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to gain entry. For example, unpaid internships are widespread in the industry. College students and recent college grads from communities of color often cannot afford to work without pay.

Moreover, journalism is a profession in which writers frequently land work based on their connections. In our racially stratified society, whites are more likely to know whites than members of other racial groups, resulting in whites being the first to know about job leads, freelance writing opportunities and other work. These connections especially come into play when journalism jobs aren’t posted online or otherwise advertised but promoted exclusively through an editor’s personal or professional network.

The Launch of Writers of Color

Tired of hearing editors remark that their staffs are all white because they can’t find any minorities, journalists Durga Chew-Bose, Jazmine Hughes and Vijith Assar started the Writers of Color database and Twitter feed in 2015 to put the kibosh on this excuse.

“We aim to create more visibility for writers of color, ease their access to publications, and build a platform that is both easy for editors to use and accurately represents the writers,” they explain on the site.

Editors can search the database to find writers by region or topic. They can also announce job openings or writing opportunities on the Twitter feed. By checking the feed, writers of color, who’ve traditionally been the last to find out when job opportunities arise or may never hear about them at all, now have access to writing gigs early on.

#EmergingUS Aims to Level the Playing Field

Jose Antonio Vargas, a former Washington Post reporter and immigrant activist, announced in February 2016 that he’d launched a crowdfunding campaign to start an independent media company called #EmergingUS.

The digital news platform will explore racial identity, immigration, sexual orientation and more.

Vargas is undocumented, gay and Filipino but often mistaken for Latino because of his Spanish name. Through #EmergingUS, he’s interested in examining how identities intersect, as they do in his own life. This can complicate the narratives the mainstream media tell about the LGBT community, undocumented immigrants and minorities overall. A story about the plight of undocumented immigrants from, say, Guinea can counter the idea that all such immigrants are from Mexico.

Wrapping Up

Journalists play an influential role in shaping the narratives unfolding in society. Because the U.S. population has grown increasingly diverse, it’s important that newspaper reporters come from a variety of backgrounds. Instead, 56 of every 100 print journalists are white males. This limits the ability of newspapers to cover pressing issues in the nuanced way they should be. It also makes it hard for the public to ignore the hypocrisy of an industry that’s 87.3 percent white pointing the finger at Hollywood for its lack of diversity.