On Ethics

Minority Hiring And The Talent Pool: A Good Story

Minority hiring is a sensitive issue. Since posting my column last night on race and ethnicity at NPR, I have been able to get more numbers on NPR's staffing that I am posting separately here, while updating the original column so that it is whole. What I find, contrary to criticisms that moved me to look, is that NPR is doing at least OK, and arguably very well.

Blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Hawaiian Islanders—or "people of color"—make up 23 percent of NPR's newsroom. This means reporters, editors, producers and managers, according to NPR's Human resources Department. This compares to just 7 percent for radio in general, according to a survey by the Radio Television Digital News Association and Hofstra University. The television news industry average approaches that of NPR at a rounded off 20 percent. Daily newspapers fall far behind at 13 percent, according to a survey by the American Society of News Editors.

Seen another way, NPR falls short. People of color make up roughly 28 percent of the adult population, compared to their 23 percent representation in the newsroom. But once again, the more important measure is by staffers with college degrees, as almost all journalist and management positions require one.

People of color in 2010 made up roughly 20 percent of Americans with college degrees, according to Kaplan. She pulls her numbers from the demographic source widely used by news media organizations, the GfK MRI Doublebase, which in turn reflects U.S. Census numbers. This 20 percent overall compares to the 23 percent of NPR reporters, editors, producers and managers who are people of color.

NPR does not quantitatively collect staff education levels, but almost all—if not all—of these journalists and managers have college degrees. We thus can feel confident that we are pretty much—and perhaps totally—comparing apples to apples. The newsroom numbers I use, moreover, do not include support staff that does administrative work. In other words, we are just looking at the people who bring you the news, and therefore control it.

Seen this way, NPR shines in its minority hiring.

Let's look more closely at each individual racial and ethnic minority group. Seven percent of U.S. college graduates are African American. Blacks make up 12 percent of the newsroom—much more than their 7 percent weight among college graduates. Hispanics, however, are slightly under-represented. They make up six percent of the Americans with college degrees but five percent of the newsroom. Asians do exactly the reverse. They are five percent of Americans with degrees and six percent of the newsroom. The Native American sample size is too small to draw many conclusions.

There is one person among NPR's journalists and managers who said he or she was Native American, according to Human Resources. This is 0.2 percent of the newsroom, compared to the 0.6 percent of college graduates who are Native American.

Given the large black population in Washington, D.C., where NPR is headquartered, it may make sense that they are the largest minority group in the newsroom. I haven't looked into this. My anecdotal sense, however, is that black males—as opposed to black women—are under-represented, but that is a separate issue.

The bottom line here is that in terms of the nation's largest racial and ethnic minority groups—blacks, Latinos and Asians—NPR staffing may have arrived. Why do I hedge by saying "may"? You need college graduates to produce the level of NPR's journalism. Many staffers actually have graduate degrees. But to "sound like America," does NPR need a staff that more closely mirrors the total demographic weight of each ethnic and minority group?

I don't think so, but I recognize the legitimacy of the tension among reflecting the American population, reflecting NPR's target audience and reflecting journalism's talent pool. There is no one good answer. But I think it is safe to say that in resolving this tension, NPR is not doing badly, and possibly very well. By my way of thinking, it is truly doing well.

Related charts are in the original post.

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