As I read a recent infographic and summary produced by the 4th Estate, entitled “Diversity in the Newsroom: A Look at the Front Page Articles of Election 2012,” the easy conclusion would have been: America’s reporters are overwhelmingly white.
With statements such as “The latest in our infographic series shows that over 93 percent of front page print articles, covering the 2012 Presidential Election, were written by white reporters,” and ”The most striking under-representation of minorities in our data is that of Hispanic journalists, considering the Hispanic population stands at approximately 16.3 percent of the U.S. population (according to the 2010 Census),” I could just spend the rest of the piece lamenting the lack of Latino reporters and complaining that opportunities are not there for Latino journalists.
But that would be too easy. And it wouldn’t really solve anything.
So instead, I will challenge myself: “Why? Why is there is a lack of Latino diversity in newspaper media, and by natural extension, media in general, whether it be radio, TV, or film?” Here are my reasons:
- Media in America is still segregated between English and Spanish. By segregated, I mean true segregation in the most negative sense of the word. We as a society have accepted the fact that American media is either English-dominant or Spanish-dominant. English media is perceived as superior in terms of reach and quality, because it has always been the mainstream and the larger market. Spanish media is seen as inferior because those media outlets that have become part of the Spanish mainstream (i.e., Univision, Telemundo) are more influenced by Latin America than by the United States. This Latin American influence also explains why The Miami Herald has more Latino journalists on its front page, as the infographic shows. Spanish-language reporters and journalists are seen as foreign, less qualified to cover politics but more than qualified to cover immigration, even though their credentials are as impressive as their English-language colleagues. As a result, the opportunities to mix these two media sectors have been dismal. Until now. Media in general is starting to connect across these sectors (NBC/Telemundo, ABC/Univision, etc. etc.). Will it lead to more diversity in newsrooms?
- Political journalism is still seen as a rather “elite” (read “white”) profession. Quick, think of the best mainstream political journalists and columnists right now, either in print or on TV. I’m talking the real superstars, the guys who have the best sources, work the campaign trails, appear on TV, and churn out copy and commentary. I can’t think of one person of color who is known for this (excluding news anchors), but I can think of Joe Klein, Mark Halprin, Mike Allen, etc. All very talented political reporters, yet all very white. Ever since Woodward and Bernstein changed the face of journalism during Watergate, being a political journalist now has cachet. It still attracts the country’s best and brightest. A recent study by the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication clearly shows that minorities just don’t get as many jobs as non-minorities. According to one chart in the Grady report, minorities with journalism or communications degrees who have jobs in the industry are outnumbered 7 to 1 by their non-minority colleagues.
- Newspapers have no clue about the future of the world. Print newspapers are a dying breed. Could it be that their staffs are not reflecting this country’s shifting population? This is just one of the mistakes print newspapers make. A diverse staff gives you diverse perspectives, story ideas, and opinions. It is no wonder that print newspapers are languishing while the online world is flourishing. Diversity is happening online, but not in newsrooms, and readers who are actively searching for this diversity can now find it easily in the digital space. Niche communities get formed, and soon enough people will just stop reading newspapers altogether.
You would think that the last reason is enough impetus to force the change in newsrooms. One can only hope.
Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77 ) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. This year, Julito represented the Rebeldes on Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.