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UNITY disappointed, frustrated in methodology of Harvard research project on diversity

Sept. 11, 2013

Media contact:

Walt Swanston, interim executive director
walt@unityjournalists.org
(703) 854-3594

UNITY: Journalists for Diversity has a theory on why the news industry has been caught in a riptide: Journalism has failed to adapt to and serve the tectonic shift in the U.S. – a demographic shift from baby boomers to millennials, and from white to brown.

We’re excited that Harvard Kennedy School’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy launched the Riptide project to document the downturn in journalism in the last 30 years. This is a ripe area of research and a vibrant democracy depends on a foundation of public-service journalism.

We’re disappointed and frustrated that out of more than 60 thought leaders interviewed by the researchers, only two were people of color and five were women. The vast majority of people interviewed were over the age of 40.

“Diversity means representing a multitude of life experiences, so it’s disheartening to see that something called a ‘project on media and lack of diversity’ draws mostly from homogenous sources,” said Doris Truong, acting UNITY president. “As UNITY pointed out last year, journalism has a history built from a rich cast.”

The Shorenstein Center has expressed interest in doing another round of interviews. While we believe diversity is more than an appendix to the last 30 years, here are journalism and technology leaders we recommend for interviews: Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo; Mi-Ai Parrish, publisher of The Kansas City Star; Dori Maynard, president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism; Ben Huh, founder of Cheezburger Network; and Greg Moore, editor of the Denver Post. We would be happy to provide more.

Want diversity of technology platforms and alternate business models in journalism? Start with diversity of decision-makers.

Since Riptide focused on the period from 1980 to present day, here is some more food for thought for the researchers: In 1980, people of color represented 17 percent of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census. In 2012, people of color made up 37 percent. People of color  – once the minority – are expected to become the majority in 2043.

Millennials represent 27 percent of the U.S. population, the single largest age group in America and a demographic that is projected to keep growing through 2020 from immigration.

The browning and greening of America’s population is the single biggest untapped growth opportunity in the business of news.

Journalism has failed to serve this changing landscape of potential readers and the advertisers who want to reach them.

Let’s start with basic staffing. In 2012, journalists of color made up only 12 percent of newsrooms surveyed by the American Society of News Editors.

The more important, unanswered question is whether news coverage even serves this swath of potential subscribers. UNITY would welcome empirical research from the Shorenstein Center, the Kennedy School or any other research institution on how much of this country’s news coverage reflected people of color, LGBT, women and millennials as sources and topics of coverage.

UNITY’s alliance of 4,000 journalists stands ready to provide thought leaders who represent and can speak to this diversity and how the news industry could capitalize on it. We proposed our ideas in a June call to action.

We challenge the Shorenstein Center or any other research institution to conduct metrics-driven, evidence-based research about what ails the news industry and how to bring it back to health.

About UNITY: Journalists for Diversity

UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, an alliance of four journalism organizations representing more than 4,000 journalists, is the nation’s most diverse journalism organization. A coalition of the Asian American Journalists Association, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association, UNITY is a strategic alliance advocating fair and accurate news coverage about people of color and LGBT issues and aggressively challenges news organizations to increase diversity in whom they employ at all levels of their companies.

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