On Language

Six National Leaders And Experts Look At Diversity At NPR

At my request, NPR has released more information than any mainstream media organization on the diversity of its editorial staff and audience. My analysis two weeks ago turned on the question of which baseline to use in measuring progress. Now I have asked six national leaders and experts of different views what they think of how NPR is doing. They responded with great insight, some frustration and dollops of humor. The goal is for NPR to sound like America.

Summary charts are below. The shame is that commercial newspapers, television and radio don't give out the same detail.

Participants:

delaney
Courtesy of author.

Paul Delaney, The Root Contributor, Former NPR Board Member

Too many Americans cannot acknowledge that the country has serious race problems. Progress in diversity is still not sustainable. Read response.

MH Official
Courtesy of author.

U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, Democrat-California

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing ethnic group. Yet too often the portrayal and coverage of them is insufficient. Read response.

Levaldo
Courtesy of author.

Rhonda Levaldo, President, Native American Journalists Association

When tribal nations are ignored in demographic stories, newsrooms indirectly report native people do not matter. Read response.

Murguia
Courtesy of author.

Janet Murguía, President and CEO, National Council of La Raza

Being able to count the number of Hispanic journalists on two hands, instead of one, does not give NPR a whole lot of bragging rights. Read response.

Charles Murray is the WH Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author most recently of "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010."
Courtesy of author.

Charles Murray, W.H. Brady Scholar, American Enterprise Institute

NPR's staff is part of the new upper class isolated from the mainstream. Here is a staff questionnaire as another way to measure diversity. Read response.

schudson
Courtesy of author.

Michael Schudson, Sociology Professor, Columbia Journalism School

NPR is doing better than the average newsroom, but who knew that a third of NPR's 'elite' audience doesn't have a college degree? Read response.


This first chart summarizes the staff composition against four baselines: the entire U.S. population, the population over 18, college graduates in the U.S. and NPR's audience. The baselines represent America and target and actual audiences. One of the measures—college graduates—also represents the hiring pool for journalists. The breakdown of the actual audience is a subject for debate and treated in my earlier column. The other charts below show diversity at different employee and management levels. Retention is not addressed.

Race and
Ethnicity
% of NPR
Newsroom*
% of U.S.
population
% of U.S.
population
over 18
% of U.S.
College
Graduates
% of NPR's
audience
White 77% 72% 77% 84% 87%
Latino 5% 16% 14% 6% 6%
Black 12% 13% 12% 7% 5%
Asian 6% 5% 3% 5% 4%
American Indian/
Alaskan Native
0.30% 1% 1% 1% 1%

Editorial Staff Composition vs Demographic Baselines and Audience, by Race and Ethnicity

NPR Full Staff Composition, 2012, White vs Racial and Ethnic Minorities

NPR Full Staff Composition


Newsroom Composition, 2012, White vs Racial and Ethnic Minorities

Newsroom comp



The Full Discussion:

Paul Delaney

Correction 5/9/2012 - An earlier version of this post said "early 20th Century."

Why do we Americans still have serious race problems as we romp through the early 21st Century? My quick answer is, too many Americans cannot acknowledge that the country has serious race problems.

Fortunately, the premier radio media company, National Public Radio, seems to be taking the issue more seriously than most of its counterparts in the rest of the media world, print and television included, but especially new media, which seems to be totally tone deaf. The dearth of interest in internal racial matters and real action by the rest makes NPR's effort look even better, as noted in a report on diversity by the network's ombudsman.

As an NPR board member for eight years, I was always struck by the lack of in-depth consideration of racial issues, when the nomenclature shifted from integration and desegregation to affirmative action and now diversity - the nation cannot even agree on what to call it in attempting to skirt dealing with it. The end of each regular board meeting included a report on diversity, usually a gentle pat on the back for how well the company was doing, or at least what it was hoping to accomplish.

Those meetings tackled the headier matters of pricing structure, content, public service announcements, low-power stations, advent of satellite radio, live streaming and the internet, as new technologies forced themselves on unsuspecting old media. The board was advised by experts to be ready to confront rapidly changing times regarding minorities, youth and international audiences.

The feeble solutions (to my mind) were to lure Tavis Smiley to NPR (a failure) and establish a minority stations council (still a work in progress), as well as hire Michel Martin (a success) and bring on a few more nonwhites (wholly inadequate) as minorities came and went in a seemingly revolving-door game. What the decent-looking current statistics do not show is the dearth of deeper involvement, particularly in management. When I joined the board, NPR's president, Delano Lewis, was black (the Obama of his day) but the numbers of nonwhite managers has veered from poor to worse since.

How important is that? I do not believe there is any question that when matters of content and coverage come up in newsroom planning sessions, the presence of people of color makes a tremendous difference. Think Trayvon Martin and border and immigration issues and the Sahel and Iran, Afghanistan, even the elections in France.

From my time on the board, I vividly recall the statement of one manager regarding NPR: "Our future is how brilliantly we do things, not channels of distribution, not how cheaply we do things." Unfortunately, no genius in any newsroom has yet been able to take such findings as those of NPR's ombudsman and make diversity real and sustainable.

Paul Delaney is a contributor to The Root. He was formerly an NPR board member, a reporter and editor for the New York Times and chairman of the journalism department at the University of Alabama.

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Mike Honda

The results from NPR's internal employment diversity study are an encouraging sign for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, who are the nation's fastest-growing minority yet remain underrepresented in most media outlets. For the last four decades, NPR has provided quality, unbiased programming, covering breaking local, national, and international news, music, trivia, the arts, and more. I commend Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos for taking the initiative to examine diversity within NPR reporting and management staff and congratulate him for being NPR's first Latino ombudsman.

Although coverage and portrayals of AAPIs have too often been insufficient and inaccurate, NPR has proven to be a strong leader in staff diversity and representation of AAPIs. AAPI journalists and management offer a unique perspective on the stories NPR covers and shares, further enriching the NPR audience and strongly reflecting the core American values of civil rights and freedom of speech. Journalism is a powerful mechanism for informing public opinion and must be held to the highest standard by including a variety of voices and opinions.

As Chair Emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, I have worked hard to expand AAPI representation and diversity in the media. One of my proudest accomplishments was working with Comcast and NBC Universal to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the AAPI community to increase investments in AAPI programming as well as diversity in the corporate workforce and on camera. I am hopeful that other local and national media outlets over time will continue to recruit and retain members of the AAPI community to more accurately reflect the communities that they serve.

As the ethnic demographic of the United States continues to change, new staff and coverage should reflect the racial diversity and core values of our country. We must hold true to our prized principles of civil rights and freedom of speech and the press. This includes through equal opportunity employment in journalism. Minorities comprise 28 percent of the total US population and 23 percent of NPR's staff. Needless to say, NPR has had a great record of employing a diverse group of reporters and managers. Therefore, I hope NPR will continue to reflect on this trend and broaden the demographic of their staff.

Mike Honda is the U.S. representative for California's 15th congressional district.

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Rhonda Levaldo

The baselines for measuring audience diversity is important for many mainstream news outlets because it gives the producers/reporters an idea of what new ideas they can be covering and how they can report on it. A representation of the national census therefore should be used so all minorities are included. With an understanding of who is listening, reading or watching the news, newsrooms can increase content that is reflective of the American public.

For the Native American audience, most of "Native" radio programming is on community-based stations and many of native people listen to what is on National Public Radio (NPR). When the recent survey was posted about who listens to NPR, the Native American statistic was not on the story sent out across newsrooms. When tribal nations are ignored in demographic stories, newsrooms indirectly report native people do not matter, native people do not exist, perpetuate the 19th century racial stereotype of the Vanishing Indian. The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) is always open to assist with stories on Native peoples.

Greater newsroom diversity increases the chance of readers understanding an issue they may not have even thought about before. For example, many in the public do not know that Native people are not all alike, that they don't have the same language or customs. Many do not even know that they are sovereign nations. With increased coverage on just one group like Native Americans, people could instead find not the Vanishing Indian, but citizens consolidating around Native Nations on the Keystone XL pipeline, how Congressional decisions immediately impact Native Nations, and how often Native political leaders talk about which presidential candidate will do less damage to their tribal sovereignty.

The NAJA goal is increasing newsroom inclusion. Reporting on Native Nations beyond a powwow provides the public what is happening in their own backyards. Excluding different races, creeds or sexual orientations turns a blind eye to the general public's interests, opinions, and growth of their ideas.

I encourage NPR to keep building a database of story ideas nationally and locally. With the current census information coming out, stories on diversity issues impact the listening audience by reporting an issue exists or by informing an issue is not as simple as previously thought. NAJA is always willing to help mainstream news outlets in find contacts and reporters. We want these stories to be told, we need the general population to see that Native Americans are still here and what we are doing.

Rhonda Levaldo is the president of the Native American Journalists Association and a faculty member at Haskell Indian Nations University.

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Janet Murguía

A couple of observations about this chart:

First I would note the continued severe underrepresentation of Latinos among NPR journalists and producers. It's true that there has been some improvement. But being able to count the number of correspondents and producers on two hands, instead of one — which was the case when NCLR first looked at these numbers nearly 20 years ago — does not give NPR a whole lot of bragging rights. I would also note with alarm the dearth of Latino representation within NPR's management. It is very troubling that, after raising this issue with NPR for many years and through many efforts such as the National Association of Hispanic Journalists' Parity Project, the numbers are still as bleak as they are.

There are a couple of rays of hope. First, we appreciate that NPR's ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, has devoted so much attention to this issue. And we appreciate the courage it takes to have outsiders critique the organization on its own website. Second, it is clear by the longevity of the handful of Latino correspondents at NPR – venerable names in our community such as Mandalit del Barco, Richard Gonzales, Maria Hinojosa, and Claudio Sanchez – that NPR seems to be a supportive environment for good journalism. Perhaps the careers of these revered journalists can serve as role models for potential NPR journalists in the future.

Second, the question of how NPR should measure its responsiveness is an interesting one. Should NPR focus on appealing to its core audience, as most commercial broadcasters do, or does it have a broader mission to serve the public, given its unique role in American media? I would argue that focusing on just serving college graduates underestimates the appeal and value of NPR's programming to the Latino community. NPR is one of the few outlets that consistently and fairly covers the issues Latinos care about most. NPR is producing content that should, and needs to be, heard by our community. I firmly believe that NPR can grow its Latino audience with a concerted outreach effort and with the addition of more people familiar with how to reach and speak to America's fastest growing population. An effort of this kind is much-needed and much too long overdue.

Janet Murguía is the President and CEO, National Council of La Raza.

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Charles Murray

I don't have anything interesting to say about the chart. It's a good thing to have ethnic diversity, ceteris paribus, and NPR has it, mirroring the national population with remarkable fidelity except for underrepresentation of Latinos. But I think the crucial consideration in journalism is that the journalist be fluent in whatever language is being spoken for a given story. If you're doing a story on evangelical Christians, you don't have to be an evangelical Christian—don't even need to be Christian—but you have to be culturally literate about evangelical Christians (which requires more than reading a few clips of other stories about evangelical Christians written by other people who don't speak the language). You have to understand the sense of what the person is saying. I don't just mean be able to empathize, though that's a bonus, but literally to be able to _understand_ what the person is saying. That's much more important (I think) than that the evangelical and you are the same ethnicity. By the same logic, I am not much impressed if a black journalist is assigned to cover a story about, say, black baggage handlers, if the black journalist grew up in Winnetka, went to Dartmouth, and has never held a job that caused a body part to hurt at the end of the day.

When I inveigh against a new upper class that is ignorant of, and isolated from, mainstream America, as I do at length in "Coming Apart," NPR's staff was pretty much what I had in mind—or my conception of NPR's staff. So prove me wrong. Poll your staff on the following types of diversity. "Yes" answers are the ones I don't expect from NPR staff.

Religious. Do you attend a worship service regularly—meaning weekly, unless something unusual prevents you?

Political. Do you openly identify yourself as conservative or libertarian?

Lifestyle. Give yourself an overall "yes" if you can answer "yes" to at least three of these four questions.

1. When ordering a drink in a bar, do you routinely order something alcoholic other than wine or a boutique beer? (Campari with soda doesn't count.)

2. Do you relish a big steak?

3. Do you go for weeks at a time without exercising?

4. Can you name at least four series on commercial TV that you watch regularly?

Socioeconomic status. Give yourself an overall "yes" if you can answer "yes" to three of these four questions.

1. Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American neighborhood in which the majority of your fifty nearest neighbors probably did not have college degrees?

2. Did you grow up in a family in which the chief breadwinner was not in a managerial job or a high-prestige profession (defined as attorney, physician, dentist, architect, engineer, scientist, or college professor)?

3. Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American community under 50,000 population that is not part of a metropolitan area and was not where your college was located?

4. Have you ever lived for at least a year in the United States at an income that was close to or below the poverty line? You may answer yes if at any time in your life your family income was below $30,000 in 2010 dollars. Take your best guess. (Being poor in graduate school doesn't count.)

What do I expect from your poll? I guess I'd be surprised if you get "yes" from over 20 percent of the staff on religion, lifestyle or socioeconomic status. For politics, anything greater than zero would surprise me. In any case, I'd love to know the results.

Credit: Charles Murray, WH Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author most recently of Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010.

Charles Murray is the WH Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author most recently of "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010."

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Michael Schudson

Picture yourself walking through a newsroom with 100 journalists at work. They are busy covering the news of the community their organization serves. You notice that 80 are male. You notice that all are white except for four African-Americans and one Hispanic. Question: how well does this newsroom serve minorities in their city?

You can't answer that without seeing what they produce, but you can make some inferences. You know that most of these reporters will feel conspicuous and uncomfortable in many parts of their city. No doubt the staff makes an effort to cover issues of special importance to minorities and women, but you suspect that it is a mission and not a habit, and that it feels like a kind of foreign correspondence. You know it can be done well or poorly but, in either case, it is done with the handicap of a largely monochromatic newsroom. There are few colleagues to enrich the formal and informal cultural mix of the workplace.

This thought-experiment adopts data from a 1971 national newsroom survey. Newsrooms in a 2002 re-study with similar methods found an improved picture, although not as different as optimists of the 1970s hoped – 33 women, not 20; 8 people from racial minorities, not 5 – with the number of African-Americans still at 4. ASNE data show that for newspapers (as opposed to all news media) the employment of women has held steady at 37% of newsrooms over the past decade; minority employment has been about 12%, growing to close to 14% by 2006, but back to 12% by 2012.

NPR does much better with diversity than the "average" newsroom. In this way, as in many others, it is one of the great success stories in the news media in the past generation.

It does not reach everybody. No surprise, the public radio audience skews affluent and highly educated. Still, more than half of NPR's audience live in households with less than $100K in income and more than a third of listeners do not have a college degree. We're talking about millions of people who do not fit the college-educated, savvy, latte-drinking left-of-center stereotype. I do fit, omitting the latte, and I suspect many NPR staffers do, too, but they serve and must speak to a broader population. How?

By doing what they have often done so well. They can serve their listeners by maintaining first-rate news coverage – by making great use of the evocative capacities of sound — music, language, and voice; by taking listeners past the beaten track of breaking news to the associated stories no one else is getting at; and by acknowledging that many listeners – if my own experience is any guide (it may not be) – are almost never going to go to the Website "for more details" on a story they have heard.

Why do members of both the latte and non-latte species listen to NPR? One person's experience: because I like waking to radio; because I can't stand commercial interruptions; because not infrequently I have interrupted brushing my teeth and moved from bathroom back to bedroom because NPR's on a story just too interesting not to attend to for 60 seconds more; because it catches me up quickly with "top stories" in a way that does not insult my intelligence; because its tone is civil; because Scott Simon is a Cubs fan as is anyone who roots for underdogs.

And if you don't root for underdogs, what's wrong with you?

Michael Schudson is a professor of sociology at the Columbia School of Journalism.

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Please continue the discussion on Twitter @SchumacherMatos or at my Facebook page.

Stephannie Stokes contributed to this post.

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