Diversity in the Newsroom
Making keen observations are essential to successful journalism. While making observations about the people tasked with delivering the news to the public on a daily basis, it’s easy to see a common denominator, lack of diversity. This could be attributed to a myriad of different reasons and theories, all of which will be covered in this case study. The purpose of this case study is to inform on the topic and have the reader decide if the research provided leads credence to the notion of lack of diversity in television news and the journalism field as a whole.
Introduction: Analysis of the Current Landscape
The first step is to survey the current news commentary landscape in the United States. The ‘Big Three’ television networks news bureaus of ABC, NBC and CBS currently have one news anchor of color on the national stage in primetime and that is Lester Holt, anchor of NBC’s Dateline and the weekend anchor of NBC Nightly News and Today. When evaluating the morning television landscape, which is critical for generating revenue for the entire news bureau courtesy of advertising rates derived from ratings success, only ABC News has a news anchor of color and that is Robin Roberts, co-anchor of Good Morning America who has held the position since 2005. CBS This Morning, which launched in January 2012, is the flagship morning news program for CBS News and features Gayle King, an African-American billed as co-anchor. However, playing closer attention to her role, you begin to realize she exclusively appears on the second hour of the show, an hour reserved in breakfast television for ‘soft’ news compared to the harder news which airs in the first hour time slot. The other two co-anchors, Charlie Rose and Norah O’Donnell, appear throughout the entire show for two hours.
NBC’s Today Show had Ann Curry of Japanese descent when she replaced the popular Meredith Veira as co-anchor for a year from June 2011 to June 2012. Savannah Guthrie, a Caucasian, controversially replaced her; amid the program losing its ratings lead to ABC rival Good Morning America. According to the Brian Stelter authored book, ‘Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV,’ Curry was made the scapegoat for Today’s viewer erosion due to her mistakes and appearance. “At one point, the executive producer, Jim Bell, commissioned a blooper reel of Curry’s worst on-air mistakes. Another time, according to a producer, Bell called staff members into his office to show a gaffe she made during a cross talk with a local station. (Bell denies both incidents.) Then several boxes of Curry’s belongings ended up in a coat closet, as if she had already been booted off the premises. One staff person recalled that, “a lot of time in the control room was spent making fun of Ann’s outfit choices or just generally messing with her”(Stelter 17). Once Bell determined it was time to make a change involving Curry, a careful three-step process was formulated. “One morning-TV veteran suggested to him that firing Curry, who had been co-hosting for only about six months at that point, would be tantamount to “killing Bambi.” Undeterred, Bell hatched a careful three-part plan: 1.) persuade Lauer to extend his expiring contract; 2.) oust Curry; 3.) replace her with Savannah Guthrie. According to this source, Bell called his plan Operation Bambi. […] (Bell denies using the term “Operation Bambi”)(Stelter 19). The Ann Curry fallout cast a negative viewpoint on the Today Show as evidenced by the program losing its ratings led to ABC’s Good Morning America for the first time in 16 years. The Today Show was number one in the morning television news ratings department for 885 consecutive weeks until Ann Curry tearfully departed. Curry has described leaving the Today Show as “professional torture” and according to Stelter told colleagues that “it feels like I died and I’ve seen my own wake.” From reading Stelter’s book, it appears Curry felt slighted by co-host Matt Lauer after she was criticized for not having “chemistry” with him on camera. Viewers subsequently blamed her premature departure on Lauer, who has been with the program since 1994 and has seen his Q score which measures likability decline by 25%. This example demonstrates the possible ramifications an audience can present if it formulates a viewpoint that an anchor was replaced unfairly, their support of the show will become severed.
On cable news, the landscape varies depending on the network. Fox News Channel is the most popular cable news network in the country as evidenced by its primetime lineup consistently beating its cable news counterparts. FNC does not feature a news anchor of color in its weekday-programming lineup including in primetime. On the weekends, its lineup however is diverse as it feature four people of color on various news programing. Kelly Wright and Harris Faulkner are African-American, Uma Pemmaraju is of Indian descent, and Geraldo Rivera is a Latin American with Puerto Rican heritage. In regards to Fox News and Lester Holt, the question then becomes why are people of color limited to working on-air solely on the weekends? Could it be that there is a smaller audience that watch weekend news programming compared to its weekday counterpart? The ratings per Nielsen, the official rating measurement database in the world show that on average, FNC has half the audience on weekends compared to its weekday schedule. The average weekday audience of FNC fluctuates between 1.3 and 1.5 million and 2.4 and 2.7 million in primetime. On the weekends, it features 700,000 to 800,000 viewers throughout the course of a day and 1.0 to 1.2 million viewers in primetime.
CNN, the first 24-hour cable news network to launch in 1980 has been criticized recently for lack of racial diversity. Since Jeff Zucker, former executive producer of Today became president of CNN, wholesale changes have been made to its programming lineup in regards to its on air personalities. Soledad O’Brien, a Latin-American, lost her position as the morning news anchor in early 2013 which CNN did not cite in its press release as to why O’Brien was removed from her on-air position into a behind the seen production role. O’Brien cited inadequate support from CNN as to why her morning television show ‘Starting Point’ failed to attract a wider audience, an audience that was considered, “too ethnic, based on the high concentration of minority viewers” by former CNN Vice President Bart Feder in a controversial interview with Politico Magazine. Words can often become misconstrued when conducting interviews but the comments made by Feder displayed lack of judgment for someone in the position of VP and reflected poorly on CNN to the point where the network felt the need to issue clarification on Feder’s comments. Feder citing too much ethnicity of Starting Point’s audience as one of the reasons for O’Brien downfall is cause for concern in regards to newsroom diversity. O’Brien mentioned in an interview with the Huffington Post shortly after her transition at the company that, “We (Starting Point) did not get a lot of promotion. We did not get a lot of marketing, we weren’t fully staffed.” A report on Mediabistro asserts that the cause for O’Brien’s Starting Point failing to attract a wider audience was due to the show being rushed. The show’s premiere was pushed forward to January of 2012 to coincide with the all-important Iowa Caucus. From the show’s start, it was not fully staffed and the initial promise of promoting the show never materialized as expected, leading credence to O’Brien’s beliefs as to why Starting Point was cancelled. Consistent ratings success compared to the competition is often the measuring stick barometer that network executives use to judge how successful a program is. That logic is simple and arguably reasonable to understand as the more viewers a program brings in, the more a network can charge advertisers to run a commercial during that designated time slot. Production of news programming is not cheap hence the desire for a network to have a show that will generate revenue based on its own rating success. When evaluating the ratings of Starting Point for January 2013, its last month prior to cancellation, the show attracted a daily, cumulative audience of 264,00 viewers. Direct cable morning news competitors to CNN’s Starting Point, MSNBC’s Morning Joe and FNC’s Fox & Friends had 468,000 and 1.07 million viewers respectively. Those numbers for each network are nearly identical across the board a year prior in January 2012, the month that Starting Point premiered. Considering the ratings, there was not an improvement of O’Brien’s ratings nor was there viewership erosion. The ratings for all cable morning news programming stayed constant which leads to the question of why O’Brien was replaced after only one year? Could it be that racial inequality played a role in her show’s cancellation? The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) seemed to view O’Brien’s cancellation with a jaundiced eye as it summoned a meeting with CNN President Jeff Zucker in February to address the network’s commitment to journalists of color. Since O’Brien’s transition to a less visible, off camera position, only one news anchor of color remains on CNN’s weekday programming lineup, which is Suzanne Malveaux. On the weekends, three news anchors are black including Don Lemon, Victoria Blackwell and Fredericka Whitfield. Lemon has recently been awarded a possible promotion within the company, as he will have a weeknight program airing for 30 minutes at 11pm air for several weekends as a trial run during Erin Burnett’s maternity leave from the network. Burnett’s show OutFront airs re-runs at the 11pm hour. Why did it take a host having to depart on maternity leave for Lemon, who has been with the network since 2006, to receive his opportunity, albeit through a trial run, to have a weeknight program? In his previous role as President of NBC Universal, Zucker hired Paula Madison as chief diversity officer and charged her with hiring and promoting black talent in front of and behind the cameras on local television news affiliates as well as on the national level. It will be interesting to see if Zucker appoints a similar role at CNN, charged with opening the doors for diversity for news anchors and on-air personalities.
MSNBC, NBC’s 24-hour cable news network has made a concerted effort to hire black personalities for news anchor roles. The network’s current programming lineup features a plethora of diverse talent that serve as news anchors including Tamron Hall host of NewsNation, Toure of the Cycle, Al Sharpton of PoliticsNation and Melissa Harris-Perry. For the exception of Perry whose show airs on Saturday and Sunday mornings, all aforementioned news anchors broadcast during the weekday. In an interview with Mediate, MSNBC President Phil Griffin described the diverse a semblance of talent is due to the network’s philosophy. “This has been steady growth for us for some time,” Griffin noted on the network’s ratings improvement. “I think we made a commitment, we decided, that in order for this channel to succeed, that we had to reflect the country. This meant that we had to be part of the country in ways that the other channels weren’t.” Griffin added, “We have a diverse on-air group of people,” Griffin said, “because that matters, and people want to know that we reflect their world. And it’s not just a single show – it’s across the board. You look at the guests every hour and we make sure that we have women, African Americans, everything, and I think to spend a day watching MSNBC is to see America as we have seen it.” Due to the network’s commitment in that philosophy, MSNBC saw it’s African-American audience increase by 60% last year. “It wasn’t like we said ‘Oh, we have to have a diverse person on here and there,’” he said. “We made a decision. We made a commitment in ideas, issues and everything – the audience followed, and that goes back to four or five years ago. As we grew, we recognized that it was the right thing to do. It’s giving a voice to people in these kinds of programs who don’t always get a voice. Our look is as diverse as any on mainstream TV. I’m incredibly proud of it. It’s not like we decided ‘We’re going to increase our African American viewership by 60%,’ but I’m thrilled that it happened, and it says a lot about what we’ve been doing over the last few years.”
Local and International
Are news networks more willing to hire a more diverse news anchor team for its local affiliates that have a segmented audience than on the national stage, which feature a wider audience? When examining the local news broadcast teams in the New York area alone, for WCBS-TV, WNBC-TV, WNYW-TV and WABC-TV, diversity comes to the forefront. Each network features a news anchor of color including in primetime. Both of CBS 2’s primetime anchors for the 5 pm and 11 pm newscasts are of color as Maurice DuBois is a Dominican American and his co-anchor Kristine Johnson is from the Philippines. On NBC 4, diversity is widespread as Shiba Russell; an African-American replaced another black news anchor, Sue Simmons in June 2012 as co-anchor of the 5 pm and 11 pm newscast alongside veteran anchor Chuck Scarborough. Darlene Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican-American, is the anchor of the morning broadcast. David Ushery, an African-American is well respected throughout the New York City journalism scene for his investigative reporting and contributions to the community. Subsequently WNBC awarded Ushery with his own show “The Debrief with David Ushery” which was awarded an Emmy in 2011. ABC 7 has news anchors of color as well evidenced by two African-Americans, Sade Baderinwa and Sandra Bookman working weeknights, in primetime at 5 pm, 6 pm and 11 pm. David Navarro of Philippine descent and Liz Cho, an Asian American, anchor the afternoon newscast at 4 pm. ABC 7’s entire morning broadcast team is of ethnic color as Lori Stokes is African-American and Ken Rosato is a Hispanic American. Even the state of Utah which is stereotyped as ultra conservative due to the Mormon religion hired a black, female news anchor, Nadia Crow, for Salt Lake City’s ABC News affiliate this fall.
Maurice DuBois and Kristine Johnson CBS 2
The international broadcast landscape is harder to assess accurately due to most countries not having a diverse background of citizens compared to the United States. In many countries throughout Europe and Asia, the demographics are dominated by one overwhelming race. One country with a similar, eclectic mix of racial-ethnic groups is the United Kingdom. Sky News, owned by News Corp, is the UK’s version of CNN, a 24-hour cable news outfit. While observing various programming throughout the course of a week, I noticed that there was not a diverse presence of news anchors. Of the 18 employed news anchors that appear throughout the course of the day on Sky News on various news programming, only two anchors are of color. Gillian Joseph, an African-American female appears on the morning news program Sunrise on the weekends, Friday through Sunday. Lukwesa Burak, from Zambia, does not have a set schedule and appears periodically throughout the week on-air. Rival BBC News on the other hand features a more diverse lineup. Matthew Amroliwala has family lineage from the Middle East and anchors weekdays from 2pm to 5pm. Clive Myrie, an African-Caribbean presents Monday through Thursday in the evenings. Naga Munchetty and Babita Sharma are of Indian descent and anchor during the night for BBC and BBC World News respectively. On BBC World News, George Alagiah is a Tamil and anchors on weekday mornings. Four presenters of various ethnic backgrounds including African-Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani and Sindhi descent anchor on either the weekends or are considered substitute co-hosts. Those presenters for BBC World News are Rajesh Mirchandani, Sonali Shah, Mishal Husain and Sharanjit Leyl. Although there are some newscasters of color featured during the weekday, there is a prevailing theme of diversity taking place more frequently on the weekends similar to the United States news-broadcasting counterpart.
Why? The National Association of Black Journalists React
A report by Poynter, a non-profit journalism school located in Florida, cites that The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) reports that the percentage of African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American journalists continues to decline in U.S. newsrooms for the third consecutive year. Astoundingly, there were, “929 fewer black journalists in the 2010 survey than were recorded in 2001,” a drop of 31.5 percent. This report strongly suggests that the perspective and unique insight that black journalists, in particular, and minority journalists, in general, bring to their newsrooms and communities are being marginalized and devalued – and, by default, so is the paying readership. On the print side, NABJ applauded The New York Times for its recent decision to promote an African American, Dean Baquet, to managing editor of news. Unfortunately, black editors are becoming an “endangered species” in the midst of layoffs. For example, daily newspapers in Houston and Savannah have staffs that are disproportionately white. Yet, the communities they serve are overwhelmingly of color. The Houston Chronicle does not have a single black metro editor deciding what gets covered on a daily basis. While the recession and digital revolution can be attributed to some of the dip, NABJ believes that the downsizing decisions should be proportionate to the populations served by each newspaper. The president of NABJ, Kathy Y. Times made the argument in a letter in June 2011 that news anchors of color are qualified yet they are being overlooked for possible promotions at their respective network of employment. “People of color comprise more than a third of the U.S. population. The 2010 Census shows the minority population is growing from coast to coast, and the majority of children in the U.S. will be minorities by 2050. So, there’s a strong case to be made that news media is running in the wrong direction of its audience. The Big 3 networks and cable news channels have undergone a series of rare changes behind the desk. While the replacements are all seasoned journalists, what is glaringly missing in the flurry of changes is the failure to elevate African Americans to any of these positions. The National Association of Black Journalists finds this troubling – particularly since there are dynamic African Americans poised to ascend to these coveted positions. For nearly four decades, NABJ has worked tirelessly as advocates for diversity, calling out those guilty of maintaining the “status quo.” As America inches toward a world that is more black and brown, corporations are adjusting their cultures to embrace diversity because they know it makes good business sense. But too many network executives are ignoring this reality. Russ Mitchell of CBS News, Lester Holt of NBC News, and CNN’s T. J. Holmes are weekend warriors who possess charisma, journalistic heft, and the handsome qualities to front a prime-time show. Mitchell’s poise and professional bearing as he commandeered the historic announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death surely put to rest any doubt about his prime-time readiness. Holt has been the go-to guy as a substitute for vacationing “stars,” but his primary shift is the weekend,” as detailed in the letter to network executives complaining about lack of diversity.
|Logo of the NABJ|
Glenn Proctor, former editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch who served in the journalism industry for 40 years has encouraged news agencies to become more vigilant in finding diverse reporting talent. “The lesson is simple, diverse newsrooms are necessary for all the obvious reasons. But editors and publishers sometimes need to be pushed to find and hire diverse candidates. But because editors must fill jobs in a quick time frame, they don’t expand the pool of candidates to include people of color,” said Proctor in an interview with Mediawire. The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications formed in 2000, created a standard that media must reflect and serve the diversity of America. The council requires journalism schools to hire women and faculty members of color. In a video promo interview discussing his program on BET, ‘Don’t Sleep,’ TJ Holmes, an African-American and formerly the weekend morning anchor on CNN said in regards to lack of racial diversity in the journalism field, “I’ve always said that I’ve never had an African-American boss in my journalism career,” said Homes. “But I’ve had plenty of my bosses look me dead in the eye and tell me what black people think. This (show) is an opportunity now to tell people in the country what we think,” said Holmes. This is one of the reasons Holmes cited as to why he left his position at CNN to host his own weeknight show on BET. Holmes went on to add that chose to leave CNN because, “they have a different type of audience. “ The accrediting council also tired to give journalism schools some tools for change in diversity in a 2003 handbook of best practices. The teaching strategies ranged from bringing in guest speakers to integrating diversity into every part of the school. In the most successful classrooms, all courses, from journalism history to news values to ethics included ideas about how to incorporate diversity into the field. In an interview with the Society of Professional Journalists, De Uriarte, who is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, recommends changing the learning environment so that it supports intellectual diversity. “Readings and discussions should include more writings and research by authors of color. New classes should educate students about the history of race in America and the U.S. power structure,” she says. “Students could read George Fredrickson’s A Short History of Racism, for example, or Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror: A History of the Multicultural United States.” A study by SPJ went on to conclude that like newsrooms, journalism schools that commit to it could indeed diversify. The University of Alabama went from no communication professors of color in 1989 to about one in eight in 1998. The University of Florida more than doubled minority faculty from 9.4 percent to nearly 20 percent over the same period. The University of Missouri quadrupled its faculty of color to 12.2 percent and doubled its female faculty to 40.8 percent during that time. Lee Becker and his colleagues at the University of Georgia studied the reasons behind such successes. All three colleges had targeted hiring and kept job descriptions flexible. They also developed student recruiting and curriculum diversity at the same time.
When speaking to students who described themselves as observers of news, one common response to why they believed there is a lack of diversity in journalism had to do with who they would be learning it from. “I would be reticent to join journalism because its not diverse a program as say business administration,” said Rohan Vaidya. “If possible, students would like to learn from a diverse selection of professors so that they can share in their respective life experiences in the profession that you are also pursuing a career in, it’s not the fault of Rutgers if there aren’t many diverse people in the profession to begin with. In this sense Rutgers or any journalist department is limited in who they can choose as professors to teach students” he said. Mike Bierman, a junior, mentioned that the younger generation seeks people in their desired profession that they can relate to. “When you watch a news show, you mostly see the same demographic reporting the news,” said Bierman. “You usually see an older white male in his 50s or 60s and if you’re black or Hispanic, you might find that hard to relate to. I aspire to be in finance and there are people in that profession that I see that I can relate to in some ways,” he said. Omotade Fetgeruson, a junior, who spent part of his childhood living in London, was able to observe the United Kingdom’s style of delivering news content. “Whenever I watch the news, one thing I notice is that the diversity isn’t the same as what I saw in England, said Fetgeruson. “There’s more of a mix especially people from the Middle East or India I often see reporting for like BBC News,” he said. Journalism departments are encouraged to seek a wide mixture of students and in their teaching choices; professors have been encouraged to expose their charges to a spectrum of issues, voices and views. Research conducted by the Accrediting Council show that the nation’s journalism school faculties does not reflect the nation’s population. For the past two decades, less than one out of every 12 full professors in journalism and mass communication was someone of color. Journalism and mass communication programs include a smaller proportion of faculty of color than the overall makeup of most four-year colleges nationwide.
Through reading this case study, the hope is to process the information and determine ways to improve diversity in the newsroom. From my perspective, it was an important study to conduct when I have an ambition to become a news anchor in due time, regardless if the conventional role of news anchoring becomes unconventional in years to come due to the emergence of social media through convergence and how that reflects people receiving their news. It’s important to find out if I would face being in a profession, dedicating my life to only realize that I was operating under the dreaded professional “glass ceiling.”