A year in the quest for a news media that looks like America
In June, Michael Copps, the most progressive Federal Communications Commission member, said, "I'll put this simply — in spite of occasional instances of progress in recent years, media's overall grade in covering, reflecting, explaining and mirroring America's amazing cultural diversity is dreadful.
"Diversity of viewpoint, diversity in ownership, diversity in who and what we see on TV, and diversity in who runs the companies — all these are worse in media than in most other American industries."
Copps was reacting to a staff report for the commission, "The Information Needs of Communities," which was more neutral in tone — too neutral, in Copps' view.
It said: "For ethnic minorities, it is a real best-of-times-worst-of-times story. Minority ownership of broadcast TV stations, already too low, has now declined further, as has the number of minorities employed as journalists. On the other hand, digital media provide such low barriers to entry that minorities who have been shut out of mainstream media now have infinitely greater potential to create content and reach audiences. Without gatekeepers, minority viewpoints are freer to find their audiences."
It was as good a summary as any of the state of news-media diversity in 2011. Still, there were bright spots.
OWN, the new cable network from Oprah Winfrey, got off to an impressive start when it debuted over New Year's weekend in 2011.
For its Saturday premiere, OWN was the No. 3 cable network among women age 25 to 54 during the 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. hours, behind only ESPN and USA, the Los Angeles Times reported. However, it wasn't long before OWN and Discovery Communications, Winfrey's partner in the venture, realized the venture was in trouble.
Winfrey wrapped up 25 years of top ratings for her own syndicated show, appointed herself CEO of OWN, and at year's end was weighing whether targeting African American viewers, who gravitated to OWN's reality show, "Sweetie Pie," might be its salvation.
Mike Green, a Medford, Ore.-based black journalist who has been urging others to become tech entrepreneurs, co-founded the America21 Project with just such an aim. Ki Mae Heussner of AdWeek wrote that "an increasing number of journalists have stopped fantasizing and are becoming a part of the stories they used to cover," that is, becoming part of startups.
Black non-journalists started or announced plans for Bounce TV, a broadcast network, the Black Heritage Network on cable and satellite, and Soul of the South Network, a new broadcast service.
In February, Magic Johnson Enterprises and Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. announced they had agreed to invest in Vibe Holdings LLC, the parent company of Vibe magazine and the music-and-dance TV show "Soul Train."
Earvin "Magic" Johnson, installed as chairman of the media company, said in a news release, "We will redefine Vibe Holdings as the center of influence for the coveted urban audience."
Johnson Publishing Co., the granddaddy of black-owned media, announced in July that for the first time an investor would beome a part owner of the family-owned company. The investor is JPMorgan Chase's Special Investments Group.
As the year closed, veteran journalist George E. Curry and his former associates at Black Entertainment Television and the iconic Emerge magazine of the 1990s were in negotiations to acquire Heart & Soul, a health-and-fitness magazine targeting black women.
In April, the National Association of Black Journalists voted to withdraw from Unity: Journalists of Color, the coalition of the journalist-of-color associations, because "as a business model, UNITY no longer is the most financially prudent for NABJ and its membership."
Unity, whose remaining partners were the national associations of Hispanic, Asian American and Native American journalists, invited the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association to join, and it did. For 2012, there is to be a Unity convention in Las Vegas and an NABJ convention in New Orleans.
At a passionate and emotional business meeting that stretched for nearly three hours, members of the National Association of Black Journalists voted in August at their Philadelphia convention to "seek reunification with Unity: Journalists of Color as soon as is feasible," but "based on conditions involving the financial and governance structure of Unity that do not conflict with the best interests of NABJ." Committees were appointed on both sides to begin such talks.
Mainstream media companies continued their pursuit of the fast-growing Hispanic market with niche products. Ser Padres magazine, a Hispanic parenting publication from the Meredith Corp., which also produces Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle and Parents magazines, rose from $12.4 million in advertising revenue in 2009 to $15.5 million in 2010, according to January figures from the Publishers Information Bureau.
People en Español, owned by Time Inc., ranked third among monthly magazines in the number of ad pages gained. Univision, not mainstream but also not owned by Hispanics, announced it would launch a 'TV Everywhere' service next year with the debut of three Hispanic cable networks geared around telenovelas, sports and news, CNN en Español launched a new Spanish-language Web site, CNNEspanol.com, which will feature videos, exclusive interviews and news stories from around the globe."
At year's end, the Hearst Corp. said "Cosmopolitan Latina" would target bilingual Women and NBC News said it would launch NBCLatino.com to target Latinos, joining Fox News Latino and HuffPost Latino in cyberspace.
Russ Mitchell, who anchors the "CBS Evening News" weekend editions and "The Early Show" on Saturday, and is national correspondent for CBS News' "Sunday Morning," the "CBS Evening News," and the weekday "The Early Show," is joining WKYC-TV in Cleveland.
Mitchell is to be managing editor, evening news and lead anchor of the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts for the NBC affiliate.
In June, Kathy Y. Times, then president of the National Association of Black Journalists, articulated many black television journalists' frustration with their inability to break out of weekend duty:
"Russ Mitchell of CBS News, Lester Holt of NBC News, and CNN's T.J. Holmes are weekend warriors who possess charisma, journalistic heft, and the handsome qualities to front a prime-time show. Mitchell's poise and professional bearing as he commandeered the historic announcement of Osama bin Laden's death surely put to rest any doubt about his prime-time readiness. Holt has been the go-to guy as a substitute for vacationing 'stars,' but his primary shift is the weekend."
The number of journalists of color in daily newspaper and online-only newsrooms declined for the third consecutive year, the American Society of News Editors reported in its annual diversity survey.
Minority journalists declined from 5,500 to 5,300, though overall, "American newspapers showed a very slim increase in newsroom employees last year, finally halting a three-year exodus of journalists," ASNE said. The percentage of minorities in newsrooms totaled 12.79 percent, a decline of .47 of a percentage point from the previous year.
In December, however, Alan D. Mutter reported in his "Reflections of a Newsosaur" that "The number of jobs eliminated in the newspaper industry rose by nearly 30% in 2011 from the prior year, according to the blog that has been tracking the human toll on the industry for the last five years."
In local broadcast newsrooms, "As far as minorities are concerned, the bigger picture remains unchanged," Hofstra University's Bob Papper reported in August in his annual survey for the Radio-Television Digital News Association. "In the last 21 years, the minority population in the U.S. has risen 9.5 percent; but the minority workforce in TV news is up 2.7 percent, and the minority workforce in radio is actually down from what it was two decades ago. Still, TV news diversity remains far ahead of newspaper," [PDF] the report said.
In newspaper and online sports departments, the percentage of sports editors at websites and newspapers who were women or people of color fell 2.3 percentage points — from 11.7 percent in 2008 to 9.42 percent in 2010, Richard Lapchick, the report's primary author, reported to the Associated Press Sports Editors.
Lapchick called for a news media version of the "Rooney Rule."
He told the Associated Press Sports Editors, "My primary new recommendation to the APSE is that it adopts a Ralph Wiley Rule," named after the late African American sportswriter. The Wiley Rule would be like the Rooney Rule in the NFL and would call for a diverse pool of candidates including men and women for each opening of these key positions.
The report showed that 97 percent of the sports editors at APSE newspapers and websites in 2010 were white, and 94 percent of sports editors overall were men.
"Just 5.5 percent of sports staffs, moreover, are black men, and only 3 percent are Latino men. Latino and Asian men increased by an average of .54 percent in sports desk job categories, except as sports editors."
The American Society of News Editors held two "Leadership in Diversity" sessions for diversity leaders to reignite interest. "The point here is clear. We want to repurpose the news diversity argument from the context of a social experiment to a business opportunity. We want news organization business leaders to learn from those who have found real financial gain through diversity," said Milton Coleman, senior editor at the Washington Post and then ASNE president. He chose Walt Swanston, veteran of newsroom diversity efforts, as conference organizer, and other journalism groups signed on as partners.
Numbers from campuses weren't encouraging, either. A survey of 2010 graduates of the nation's journalism and mass communication programs showed that "once again faring worse than anyone in the job market were racial and ethnic minority graduates" [PDF], according to a report by the University of Georgia's James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, Sherrie Whaley wrote for the university.
The waning commitment to diversity was seen in ways large and small:
A special Time commemorative issue on the 10th anniversary of the Sept.11, 2011, terrorist attacks depicted no African Americans. In December, Steven Gray, the magazine's only African American correspondent, announced his departure.
An astonishing 10 African American metro or op-ed columnists stopped writing their columns in 2011, and most were not replaced by another journalist of color.
At the Washington Post, the Newspaper Guild announced in November that "The Washington Post has pushed out — or is trying to push out — at least thirteen people through layoffs, coerced buyouts or outright dismissal on dubious charges. "What’s more troubling," said Fredrick Kunkle, co-chair of the Newspaper Guild unit at the Post, "is that more than half of those employees are African-Americans or Latinos."
The nation's sports editors put in motion a nine-month program intended to train mid-career women and journalists of color for sports department leadership positions.
Michael A. Anastasi, new president of Associated Press Sports Editors and managing editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, announced the program at the group's convention in Boston in June and told Journal-isms then, "I will be making this the major initiative of my term."
In September, the first four journalists were chosen: Ed Guzman of the Washington Post; Adena Andrews, ESPN-W; Carrie Cousins of the Roanoke (Va.) Times; and Dennis Freeman of the Beverly Hills (Calif.) Times. They were chosen from about two dozen applicants, Anastasi said.
In January, Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, told Journal-isms "it's inevitable" that people of color will be hosting prime-time news shows on cable television.
In August, Michele Salcedo, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, wrote that she had met with Craig Robinson, newly appointed chief diversity officer for NBCUniversal, for more than an hour at the Asian American Journalists Association convention in Detroit. "Mr. Robinson assured me that the anchor lineup six months from now is not going to look as it does today. We also discussed establishing a pipeline to groom Latino broadcast journalists to fill positions throughout the newsroom as well as executive offices," she said.
In July, Kathy Y. Times, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, reported on a meeting with Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide. "NABJ Vice President of Broadcast Bob Butler and I talked with President Walton late Thursday, and he told us the network continues to seek and develop a candidate who has the image and substance to carry a prime-time show," she wrote.
Walton deployed Mark Whitaker, the former Newsweek editor who had recently became a CNN news executive, to talk with NABJ about finding suitable anchor candidates.
At year's end, no Latinos were anchoring MSNBC shows, and CNN still had no anchors of color in prime time.
Prompting much commentary, MSNBC appointed the Rev. Al Sharpton as host of the pre-prime time "Politics Nation" on MSNBC. Sharpton said he viewed his position as new turf on the civil rights "battlefield," engaging the right wing.
The NABJ board of directors apparently was not impressed by the networks' progress. Though the award was never presented, board members voted their annual "Thumbs Down" "to all cable networks for a lack of primetime on-air diversity."
* David Bauder, Associated Press: Fox continues dominance of cable news in up and down year, CNN shows prime-time gains
*Trymaine Lee, HuffPost BlackVoices: Al Sharpton Reinvents Himself For His Second Act
Leaders of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, wrestling with a financial crisis that resulted in a layoff of most of its staff and other austerity measures, told members at its June convention of another significant development.
"This convention here is our last stand-alone convention," Russell Contreras, chief financial officer, said at the organization's business meeting at Walt Disney World near Orlando. It would be looking for partners to share expenses going forward.
NAHJ said in December 2010 that it was projecting a $240,000 deficit for the year. "Our priority is to stop the bleeding," President Michele Salcedo told members at the convention.
Board member Jessica Durkin told her constituents that over the summer NAHJ would vacate its longtime headquarters at the National Press Club building in Washington and was searching the nation for alternative space. In April, Executive Director Ivan Román announced his resignation, and Salcedo said the board also cut expenses 15 percent.
The board also cut staff and included funds beyond June 30 only for an executive director "and a part-time contractor to match members with jobs." The part-timer is Kevin Olivas. Anna Lopez Buck, a former NAHJ executive director, returned to the job on an interim basis.
At the NAHJ convention, Contreras told attendees, "We are projected to end the year with more money than we started, but to get there we had to make a lot of painful decisions."
Contreras did not respond to an email Wednesday asking how NAHJ is ending the year financially, and NAHJ has issued no public statement on results of its austerity efforts.
[Lopez Buck said on Thursday, "We haven't closed out our 2011 financials and we don't have the end year projections available at the moment. We will be sharing the year end projections with the NAHJ membership very soon."]
Meanwhile, the much smaller Native American Journalists Association saw Darla Leslie, its president, resign her office in November, saying in a Facebook message, "I believe NAJA is on the verge of financial ruin. My resignation is a reflection of the inability, in my opinion, of our Board of Directors to take immediate action to remedy this situation."
"African Americans are more likely to have created their own web content — by blogging, microblogging and social networking — than whites or Hispanics," according to the State of the News Media 2011 report released in March by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The section on African Americans, by Emily Guskin, Paul Moore and Amy Mitchell, says, "Almost a quarter (22%) of blacks created or worked on their own online journal or blog, compared to 14% for whites and 13% for Hispanics. African Americans also use social or professional online networking sites in greater proportions than whites. In May 2010, some 71% of African Americans said they used online networking sites like LinkedIn or Facebook, compared with 58% of whites."
Overall, "More people said they got their news from the Web than a physical newspaper last year — the first time in history this has happened, the Los Angeles Times said in reporting on the same study.
In June, Matthew Flamm reported for Crain's New York Business, "The black online-media segment . . . has been growing so fast it can be hard to keep track of the front-runners. The challenge now is persuading advertisers to step up investment in these targeted sites instead of favoring the bigger, general-market properties on the Web that attract audiences of all ethnicities.
" 'The growth of the segment is really what's important,' said Interactive One President Tom Newman, pointing out that there used to be Essence.com and BET.com and little else for blacks on the Web. 'If we can go to marketers and say, "This is a validation of the segment," that's good news for all of us.'
"The rapid growth is partly due to the closing of a longstanding digital divide between white and black users: the African-American Internet audience has increased by 30%, to 23 million, over the past three years, compared to an 8% rise in the white audience, according to comScore.
"An increasing number of new sites is also driving this expansion, sometimes at the expense of older ones." In July, NBC News' theGrio.com and Interactive One's NewsOne.com announced they would share news and resources in what the two companies touted as "an expanded platform for African-American journalism."
But Herbert Lowe of Marquette University, a former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, wrote for the Poynter Institute, "Yes, the study says, blacks and Latinos have higher usage rates, compared with white owners, across a wide range of mobile applications.
"As other surveys have found consistently, however, most blacks and Latinos primarily use their cells for texting and for entertainment. Even if their phones make it easy to access the Internet, it’s not news they’re after.
". . . Media companies must better engage people of color as content creators and producers, not just users, said Chioma Ugochukwu, Ph.D., an assistant dean and my colleague in the Diederich College of Communication at Marquette University."
In February, this column noted that the March issue of Essence magazine, delivered during Black History Month, might as well be renamed "Wigs and Weaves." It seemed like that kind of advertorial. Subsequent issues weren't much different.
However, issues for the rest of the year represented a return to acknowledging the diversity among black women. Under Constance C.R. White, named editor-in-chief in March, Essence is showing women of varying skin tones and hair styles and tackling more subjects that bolster the self-esteem of its impressionable audience. The December issue included a piece by Denene Miller on colorism, defined as "the practice of extending or withholding favor based on a person's skin tone." "ColorStruck" was accompanied by a quiz by Ylonda Gault Caviness to determine whether you are.
In February, Essence spokeswoman Dana Baxter replied to Journal-isms' observation by saying, "Making such a broad generalization based on just one issue of the magazine obscures the brand and its inclusiveness over the past 40 years. At the core of Essence’s mission is highlighting Black women’s inner and outer beauty, as well as celebrating her in all of her diversity, which we do every month in ESSENCE and everyday on essence.com."
* David Crary, Associated Press: Killing of bin Laden voted top news story of 2011
* Eric Deggans, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times: The Biggest TV Moments of 2011: Oprah, Steve Jobs, funny women and Casey Anthony (Oh, Florida!)
* Annette John-Hall, Philadelphia Inquirer: Some lessons from the news of 2011
* Tony Maddox of CNN, journalism.co.uk: '2011 is the most demanding year we can remember'
* Jack Mirkenson, Huffington Post: The Biggest Media Stories Of 2011
* Nielsen Co.: Nielsen’s Tops of 2011: Television
* Project Censored: Top Censored Stories Top 25 of 2012
* Dylan Stableford, Yahoo.com: Why the media insists on publishing year-end lists before the year’s end
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Journal-isms is published on the site of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (www.mije.org). Reprinted on The Root by permission.