The news should be unbiased, honest, and capture various perspectives, and newsrooms claim that they promote and prioritize diversity — diversity of perspectives, experiences and backgrounds. But in an industry that is dominated by white men, the vantage point is limited.
An annual study by The American Society of News Editors revealed that only 12.37% of journalists in the newsroom are minorities, a decrease from 13.73% in 2006. The numbers showed that, "90 percent of newsroom supervisors from participating news organizations were white." These numbers are startling given that roughly 37% of the U.S. population is comprised by non-whites, according to the U.S Census Bureau.
Ironically, the rate of diversity of those who are watching and those that are presenting it are moving in opposite directions. According to the Atlantic, Dori Maynard, president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education said "journalists of color leave newsrooms at an alarming rate, even as the audience consuming news has grown more diverse." "News media is getting whiter as the country is getting browner," she said.
Non-whites and women are not represented by the media. These groups "feel their voice is not heard, their story ideas are not validated, and they don't see room for advancement," Maynard added. The news industry is neither racist nor sexist. It has, however, clung to tradition. If you look at the history of broadcast journalism, there is an obvious trend: Tom Brokaw, Larry King, Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings make up the "Old White Boy's club."
Take a look at Katie Couric and Barbara Walters and you'll remember that there have been a handful of exceptional female broadcast journalists, especially in recent years. Non-whites are glaringly absent from the industry.
Broadcast journalism is the least diverse of all the media outlets. "The higher you get, the whiter it gets," said Felix Gutierrez, professor of journalism and American studies & ethnicity at the University of Southern California. But a report by the Radio Television Digital News Association indicated that among TV news directors and radio news directors, 86% and 91.3 respectively are Caucasian.
Economics play a big role in the lack of diversity in the newsroom. With the rise of dotcom journalism, broadcast news has undoubtedly taken the hit and has been forced to cut costs in the process. According to Jezebel, layoffs have forced out many people of color because when layoffs occur, only the more senior roles remain. Unsurprisingly, "those are almost always old white men."
Is digital journalism the key to increasing the diversity of the news industry? For now, the answer is unfortunately bleak. On the one hand, the Atlantic acknowledged that the digital landscape has opened up new channels for a wide variety of people to produce and consume news. Social media, for example, has introduced unfounded diversity to the industry. With social media "it's less about who you are but 'are you bringing value to the conversation?'" said Mark Luckie, Manager of Journalism and News at Twitter.
The issue, once again, comes down to finances. More often than not, digital journalism does not offer a big payoff. Plus, starting a new online publication is a risk. According to journalist Sally Lehrman, a professor at Santa Clara University, the biggest issue is funding and the networks through which people attract funding and attention are "historically a lot stronger, in journalism and venture capital, among white men."
A related obstacle to diversifying the industry, according to Benet Wilson, chair of the National Association of Black Journalists, is the lack of diversity in leadership positions. Without non-whites or females at the top of the ladder, there is less training, advocacy, and inspiration for other journalists to follow suit.
In order to diversity, the news industry itself must take charge. The reign of the old white boys club must come to an end, and television and radio stations must promote more non-white and female journalists into leadership roles. The effects will trickle down and create more diversity throughout the industry.
Despite the lack of diversity that plagues the media industry, it has historically been a voice of change. By disseminating information to the public, the media has helped catalyze the fight for minority and gay civil rights as well as women's rights. Imagine the potential for progress that the news industry holds if only new, colorful voices would join the ranks and project their voices.