Farai Chideya explains that a lack of diversity in coverage and in the newsroom is painting journalism into a corner.
In her most recent piece for The Nation, acclaimed journalist Farai Chideya critiques the American news media’s lack of diversity: ”We are witnessing the resegregation of the American media.” According to the American Society of News Editors survey, minority newsroom positions dropped by 5.7%. MSNBC sat down with Chideya to further discuss the problems and glean some possible solutions.
How is news covered? If there are fewer people of color in newsrooms, does the nature of the news change? Chideya thinks the problem is more about the network news outlets’ intentions.
“What I see happening in media is not always caused by a lack of diversity, but rather a certain set of (flawed) assumptions, underlying business decisions that include not giving a whit about diversity. The media companies know they can make more, oftentimes, from catering to niche interest audiences: senior citizens and the near-senior Boomers are the bulk of network news audience. Rather than diversifying how they covered news, the networks began doubling down on issues like medical care, which are very popular with that demographic. There’s nothing wrong with covering medicine. But now network news is increasingly irrelevant to most people, including younger people and people of color. As a consequence of that type of thinking, reporters of color often find it hard to cover stories that are not as ‘mainstream.’”
However “irrelevant” network news may appear to vast swaths of the country, there is no denying its influence on cultural tones and trends. Journalists have clout and so it’s no surprise that the field is difficult for any aspiring news person to break through. Given the current climate, is there a way to address the media’s racial imbalance? Chideya emphasized the need for people of color to acquire technical skills. ”As far as individual journalists are concerned— multimedia skills will make you employable. Learn all you can about slideshows; video editing; audio editing; and simple coding…And don’t be afraid to leave and come back, or multitask. In addition to being a journalist I’ve worked in tech and currently teach as well.”
There is scant attention being made to introduce technical skills to fledgling journalists of color. Programs like Black Girls Code and NPR’s Youth Radio are successfully ushering youth of color into viable jobs in tech and journalism. The moral imperative of programs like these is easy to understand, but what is the economic pay-off? And, what is the economic advantage of hiring journalists of color?
“First of all, it appears that journalism may be creating for itself GOP-style problems. For instance, in the 2012 election, Latinos and African-Americans found the GOP message–and its messengers–so unappealing that there was a record-breaking turnout with black voting rates surpassing white rates; while Latinos voted for the GOP in much smaller numbers than they voted for George W. Bush. If this lack of diversity in journalism is ignored, the profession may marginalize itself and become unable to serve our purpose for our present audience, let alone the future audience.”
In 2013, the census counted more babies of color born in this country than white. By 2050, this country will have people of color in the majority. It is of economic interest to media outlets to begin to hire more people of color. Their issues will soon dominate the news cycle.
Chideya opens her piece by lamenting the lack of diversity in a CNN promotional graphic. It begs the question: who are the journalists of color to watch? Chideya names a few and then retorts, “There are so many, it’s hard to list. Might be a good one for you to crowdsource. Ask people to add favorites to their list.”
We oblige. Who are your favorite journalists of color?
Chideya is working on a crowdsourced book about women in technology. To find out more about it visit her indigogo site.