The American Society of News Editors (ASNE) recently released the 2011 results of its annual Newsroom Census, and this year’s census contains a mixture of good and bad news. ASNE found signs of newsroom job recovery, but the trend – if it can be seen as one – was reversed with minority (nonwhite) journalists.
ASNE found that the overall number of all American newsroom employees increased slightly (0.24%) last year, marking the end of three years of job losses. (From 2007 to 2010, American newsrooms lost roughly one-third of their employees.) But for minority newsroom employees, both the percentage and actual numbers employed continued to decline during the past year.
- The number of minority journalists in American newsrooms declined from 5,500 to 5,300.
- The percentage of minority journalists in American newsrooms decreased from 13.3% to 12.8%.
Another problematic employment trend also emerged from the current ASNE census – newsroom retention rates have begun to diverge dramatically between minority and white employees. From 2002 through 2010, newsroom retention rates remained statistically equivalent for whites and nonwhites, however this past year saw the retention rates for nonwhites (91%) fall significantly short of retention rates for whites (97%). Such differing levels of retention are likely to exacerbate the disparity in job recovery between whites and minorities, and further decrease minority representation in newsrooms in coming years.
So while the job recovery appears to have begun in American newsrooms, minority journalists are being left behind.
Why does this matter? We have repeatedly seen that for the newspaper industry to successfully cover increasingly diverse local communities, newsrooms require similar diversity to meet the needs of information delivery.
But the ASNE census highlights that during a time when the American population continued to grow more diverse, the newsrooms covering that population became less diverse. Overall the 2010 U.S. Census reports that 27.6% of Americans are nonwhite. However, at the start of 2011, only 12.8% of American newsroom employees in 2011 were nonwhite.
Here is how that disparity between U.S. newsrooms and the general population are broken down by several minority groups:
- The 2010 Census reports that 12.6% of Americans are black. The disparity in American newsrooms continues to be far more pronounced with only 4.7% of newsroom employees being black.
- The 2010 Census reports that 16.3% of Americans are of Hispanic descent. The disparity in American newsrooms continues to be far more pronounced with only 4.5% of newsroom employees being of Hispanic descent.
- The 2010 Census reports that 4.8% of Americans are of Asian descent. The disparity in American newsrooms continues to be far more pronounced with only 3.1% of newsroom employees being of Asian descent.
- The 2010 Census reports that 0.9% of Americans are Native American. The disparity in American newsrooms continues to be far more pronounced with only 0.5% of newsroom employees being Native American.
When viewed in a larger historical context, the current ASNE results seem disheartening. Back in 1978, ASNE challenged the newspaper industry to achieve racial parity by the year 2000 or earlier. It’s now 11 years beyond that deadline and the disparity between newsroom makeup and the makeup of larger American society still exists (and in many ways has grown larger).
The reality is that during that time, ASNE, UNITY and other organizations have undertaken a number of initiatives to pursue racial parity. Without such initiatives, minority representation in American newsrooms likely would be even lower that what we see today.
UNITY will continue to lend its experience and efforts to the critical goal of achieving racial parity between newsrooms and the population they cover.
Full results of the current ASNE Newsroom Census are available on their website.