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ASNE Report: Newsrooms Struggling on Diversity

By / Jul 12, 2013 (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

A new report from the American Society of News Editors shows that newsroom diversity has flattened out after steadily declining in recent years. News associations say that media companies struggle to see the business benefit.

 With U.S. newspapers facing declining profits and cuts in staff size, diversity in their newsrooms has lagged, according to a new study by the American Society of News Editors.

Associations that represent the interests of minority journalists have reacted strongly to the report. More details:

The issues raised: A recent study by American Society of News Editors reported on by Media Matters for America found that while the percentage of minorities in the United States is increasing at significant rates, many newsrooms are struggling to keep up. The newsroom diversity rate in ASNE’s annual newsroom census in 2013 stands at 12.37 percent, virtually stagnant from the prior year’s 12.32 percent and a decline of more than a full percentage point from the 2006 peak. On top of this, nearly 90 percent of newsroom supervisors are white, and minority internships have declined significantly from peaks of nearly 40 percent in the early 1990s. While women are more evenly represented in newsrooms, especially among newsroom leadership, they never have topped 38 percent over a 14-year period.

Associations react: In a long piece discussing the report, The Atlantic’s Riva Gold reached out to a number of associations. Among the reactions: Benet Wilson, who leads the National Association of Black Journalists’ digital task force, cited the disappearance of senior diversity leaders in many newsrooms as a catalyst for such declines. Meanwhile, the Asian American Journalists Association’s President Paul Cheung said that media outlets struggle to see the business case. “Most media companies look at diversity as a cost center,” Cheung told the magazine. “They see it as something nice to do.”

New media also facing issues: Beyond the traditional newspapers out there, online outlets also face issues with diversity. While online social trends are often driven by diverse groups, web-first media outlets, many of which are younger and have tiny staffs, may often find themselves challenged to reflect such diversity in their staffing. “The online pioneers looked very much like the traditional Old White Boy’s club,” Juana Summers, an Online News Association board member, told The Atlantic. Summers, a reporter for Politico (a news outlet which has faced criticism in the past over its handling of gender issues), notes that part of the issue may be that of stability—the sometimes-shaky world of startups may prove less of a draw in comparison to an established company with 401k plans and higher stability—a situation all to familiar to the 24-year-old Summers, who was raised in a single-parent household. ONA is working on the diversity issue and has made efforts to boost diversity on panels in the past year, the magazine reports.

What sort of efforts have you made to improve diversity at your own organization—and how could these lessons be taken to media outlets? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now and a former newspaper guy. More »

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