Industry Must Collectively Build the Pool
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Posted by: Tiane Johnson
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:
CBS News have any successors of color lined up to replace Pitts, whose
duties included contributions to "60 Minutes?”
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
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.