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News & Press: President's Corner

Industry Must Collectively Build the Pool

Wednesday, March 06, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Tiane Johnson
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NABJ is celebrating the reported announcement that ABC News is planning to hire Byron Pitts from CBS.  We celebrate one of our brightest talents not only in our association, but also in the industry.  However, looking deeper into the issue, there are a number of questions that can be asked in the aftermath, including:

 

  1. Does CBS News have any successors of color lined up to replace Pitts, whose duties included contributions to "60 Minutes?”
  2. Are there any black journalists in the pipeline at CBS to be promoted? Although critics will ask: "Why does Pitts have to be replaced by a black journalist?” others will argue Pitts replaced the irreplaceable Ed Bradley.

But why do these questions need to be asked? Shouldn’t the question be: "Why does CBS have only "one” position slotted for a black journalist at "60 Minutes?” Where is the professional development at CBS to properly prepare and position black journalists in these roles and create more opportunities?

These questions are not posed only to CBS; they are posed to an industry that is accustomed to trading its select few black journalists around like they are baseball cards. It does not happen only in the broadcast industry. It happens also in print journalism.


I have seen many instances where the same talented black sports journalists bounce around between the best sports sections at newspapers across the nation. Sports editors always scratch their heads in frustration when they‘ve invested in talented black journalists, only to have them be scooped up by the Washington Post, New York Times or Los Angeles Times. Today, it’s ESPN poaching away talent from newspapers.  Oh, the irony.


On Friday, the 2012 Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card was released by Dr. Richard Lapchick’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. The report focuses on evaluating the hiring practices at 150 newspapers and websites.


Of the 52 men of color who were sports columnists at the top circulation level for newspapers and websites, 37 worked for ESPN. If the ESPN male columnists of color were removed, the percentage of columnists of color would drop from 19.8 percent to 7.2 percent. ESPN’s commitment to diversity in the reporting ranks has saved the APSE report from flat out embarrassment. ESPN, while progressive in the field-troops arena, must make improvements on the management side, they would say so themselves.


That same study showed that of the 12 people of color who were sports editors at the top circulation level, four worked for ESPN. The Sporting News has three, which leaves a shameful five newspapers with people of color leading sports sections.

There are a total of four black sports editors leading newspapers in the country. (Full disclosure, I am one of the four).  There are only 238 black sports journalists who work in print and on websites in the nation. That is only 7.6 percent of the entire sports workforce. White reporters comprise 86 percent of the sports departments.

For some perspective, the Racial and Gender Report Card by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports finds the NBA is 78 percent African American. The NFL is 67 percent and Major League Baseball lands at 8.8.

 

The survey reports that there is one black female columnist at the largest-sized newspaper category of over 175,000 circulation. Shannon Owens is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, the same paper that gave Jemele Hill her first columnist opportunity. There are only 37 black women working on these sports desks, a paltry 1.2 percent. How can you find the next Hill or Owens?


There is no real leadership in our industry to fix our diversity shortage, though our nation’s demographics are changing at a rapid pace. Sure, there are programs such as the Sports Journalism Institute and the Chips Quinn Scholars programs that help feed the pipeline, but there are leaks in those pipes as people fall out of the industry because of a lack of development opportunities.

When executives and newsroom managers are pressed on diversity issues, they hide behind the same broken shield of excuses that they a) can’t find talented black journalists, b) the economy is impacting abilities to increase the ranks and c) the talent pool is very shallow. The industry is ultimately responsible for the small talent pool as the practice of sharing the same talented black journalists instead of growing and developing its own talent. Retention is more difficult. What has not been accepted within the industry is taking a collective responsibility to building the pool of talent.

NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA and NAJA are organizations that can assist in this matter, but they cannot be solely responsible for this effort. After all, newsroom executives set the tone with hiring. We must also challenge the leaders of these newsrooms to hold their managers accountable for their hiring and development practices. Those managers should reflect the tone that is set by senior leadership.

The industry has identified high-profile black journalists such as Pitts, Soledad O’Brien, Mike Wilbon and Roland Martin.  The bigger concern is what is the industry doing to identify unknown, talented black journalists we have across the nation? What are networks and newspapers doing to expand the pool of talented black journalists who are currently sitting in their newsrooms? Who are being groomed for top management roles? Who will be grooming the next Anzio Williams, one of the few African American news directors in the nation? Who will be grooming not just the next Byron Pitts but the next 50 Byron Pittses so networks won’t have to play musical chairs with the same small crop of black journalists?


It is ultimately on the industry. Stop passing the buck. You set the tone and agenda of the industry.

 

Greg Lee is the President of the National Association of Black Journalists and the Executive Sports Editor of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He can be reached at glee@nabj.org.


 


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