The Poynter Institute


On Diversity, or Lack Thereof, in Media Criticism and Newsrooms

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The Poynter Institute, a journalism-education organization, announced this week it hired Andrew Beaujon as a reporter to cover the media, taking over where Jim Romenesko left off. Beaujon (who is a former colleague of mine from TBD) said he plans to devote more coverage to ethnic media outlets than is seen in today’s current media criticism.

“It’s barely covered at all,” he told DCentric. “If you read about, say, [black newspaper] the Chicago Defender, it’s only ever about its financial troubles. And I’m certainly interested in that, but I’m also curious about how those papers and websites connect with their communities.”

Although Beaujon plans to report on ethnic media, the appointment of another white man as a prominent media critic inspired Washington City Paper‘s Shani Hilton to ask: is media criticism a white boys’ club? She lists off prominent media critics including Howard Kurtz, Erik Wemple, Richard Prince, Jack Shafer and David Carr, all of whom, except for one, is a white man. (Another exception is Eric Deggans, Wemple notes).

The lack of diversity among prominent media critics is somewhat reflected in print media outlets. In 2011, racial minorities made up 12.79 percent of newspaper newsrooms, a decline of about half a percent from the previous year, according to the American Society of News Editors newsroom census.

But while it’s easy to measure the diversity, or lack thereof, in a newsroom, gauging diversity coverage is a different matter. Hiring more minority reporters can help improve coverage of minority communities, but it doesn’t guarantee it. News judgement decisions aren’t always left up to reporters; editors and managers are also involved. And not all minority journalists want to only cover their own ethnic communities. On the flip side, a white journalist can aim to improve coverage of minority issues. Which is what Beaujon appears to want to do.

Explaining the Coverage Gap for Missing People of Color

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A reward poster near television news trucks in San Diego, Calif. advertises the reward for finding Danielle van Dam, 7.

A new TV show premiered this week on TV One, focusing on cases of missing African Americans. One of the first featured stories was about a missing D.C. black woman.

The show, “Finding Our Missing,” aims to correct the disparity in coverage of missing African Americans. For years, critics have blasted media outlets for devoting significant airtime to cases of missing white women, while not devoting similar coverage to cases of missing blacks or Latinos.

Why is there such a disparity, or “coverage gap?” Our sister blog Multi-American pointed to an interview with Poynter Institute faculty member and media ethics expert Kelly McBride. Here is an excerpt:

It’s possible that the people making decisions in newsrooms have a default assumption about what’s normal (functional) and not normal (dysfunctional) for white families. And it’s possible that they have a default assumption about families of color that are the opposite of what they assume for white families. Maybe some of that is true or all of it is true. But it plays into how editors make news judgments.

McBride continued, saying that it’s easier to fix the coverage gap on a local level. She suggested a few strategies:

.. Journalists simply need to make sure they are examining all murders and missing people and giving them similar coverage. (That’s actually really hard to do, but it’s easier than the national solution.) And because local journalists are loyal to their local community, they are generally motivated to serve that audience well.

On a national level, journalists are not accountable in the same way. So there’s less motivation to change the dynamics that lead to tilted coverage. It would take a significant act of leadership at a place like CNN or Fox to break out of this cycle. And I’m not sure there’s enough accountability to make that happen.

You can read the entire Q&A here.