Minority Journalists Face New Challenges

Jobs for minority journalist continue to shrink as newspapers and other media outlets cut back during the recession. Richard Prince, author of Journal-isms, an online publication about diversity issues in the media, and Alberto Ibarguen, President and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation talk about the changing face of journalism and what it means for journalists of color.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now, fallout from a very different kind of crisis or circumstance -the slumping fortunes of the nation's media. On Sunday, the largest of the four minority journalist organizations, the National Association of Black Journalists or NABJ wrapped up its annual convention in Tampa, Florida. The fourth and final convention of the year, the Asian-American Journalist Association, kicks off later this week in Boston.

At these gatherings, journalists are conducting their usual business, developing new skills, networking, electing new officers. But that's all happening against the backdrop of shrinking newsrooms in every platform. From newspapers to television and yes radio, media companies are slashing jobs.

To try to find out how this is affecting diversity in the field, we turn to Richard Prince. He's author of "Journal-isms," an online publication about diversity issues in the media. Also with us is Alberto Ibarguen. He's the president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. That's a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering quality in journalism. I welcome you both. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. RICHARD PRINCE (Author of "Journal-isms"): Thank you Michel.

Mr. ALBERTO IBARGUEN (President, CEO, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation): Thank you.

MARTIN: Richard, let me start with you because you're just back from NABJ. What was the atmosphere like there?

Mr. PRINCE: It was very serious and it was upbeat and people were there about business.

MARTIN: You're saying it was upbeat. I wanted to ask you, given the -has there been an actual contraction in the number of journalists in recent years? And has there been an actual contraction in the number of minority journalists working in the…

Mr. PRINCE: Yes. Yes to both questions. The number of jobs in newsrooms has shrunk and the number of journalists of color has shrunk likewise. It's affected different organizations differently, because a number of organizations have offered buyouts, for example. And those who qualified - those who've been there the longest and a lot of those are white males. And so therefore, they are leaving and sometimes it has the affect of actually increasing diversity.

But on the other hand, you have some organizations that have last hired for a fired policy and that, that affects the journalists of color.

MARTIN: And what about attendance? As I understand there were about 2,000 registrants - people registered at this convention. Thus, that is really a fraction of the total membership of this organization.

Mr. PRINCE: Right.

MARTIN: The Native American Journalists Association, for example, had their meeting a couple weeks ago in Albuquerque. There were only 140 people registered for that convention.

Mr. PRINCE: Right.

MARTIN: Is the economy, is the downtown, affecting the ability of people to go to conventions like this?

Mr. PRINCE: Yes, yes. A lot of people said they couldn't afford to go. However, NABJ and the other organizations all downsized their projections so that NABJ, for example, only expected 1,500. So when they 1,924, it was all gravy.

The purpose of the convention also changed. It was reinvention, reinventing yourself, reclaiming yourself, networking, learning new skills. That was very important. You could spend an entire day learning multimedia skills. One of the things that - and I guess we're going to talk about this later - that a lot of recruiters were saying was that people need to learn how to be multimedia and not think of themselves only as radio people or television people or newspaper people and have a - or online people - and have a wide range of skills, and the purpose of the convention was to get people ready for that.

MARTIN: Well, as a queen of all media, having worked in both print, television and radio, I would certainly endorse that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PRINCE: There you go.

MARTIN: Although some would argue I can't keep a job, but we'll discuss that some other time. Alberto Ibarguen, let's bring you into the conversation. You've had a distinguished career as a publisher of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. Now you run the Knight Foundation that gives grants to media organizations for training and other endeavors, and I do think it's appropriate to mention, in the spirit of full disclosure, that the Knight Foundation gave NPR $1.5 million for training in new media. So with that being said, I wanted to ask: Does the Knight Foundation consider diversity to be part of quality in media?

Mr. IBARGUEN: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, I think when I was publisher of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, we took enormous pride in the fact that we had, by far, the most diverse executive group. And I think we almost certainly had the most diverse newsroom.

I think nowhere more than media does it really matter that your newsroom be diverse, that when you decide to go out with - especially with a controversial or a difficult story that you first ask the question, are we all in the room, before you go ahead and publish something that is supposed to be a matter of record. And you need to have the variety of voices that make up your community.

MARTIN: Now, blogging seems to be one direction that the media industry is driving toward. But it's my sense that there are very few bloggers of color that have the national prominence that, say, a Daily Cos has in politics, that a celebrity blogger, Perez Hilton, has on the celebrity side. Of course, Perez Hilton is Cuban-American, but do you - what is your - is that your sense, as well, and why might that be?

Mr. IBARGUEN: I think there are - still, while there are millions of bloggers, there are still relatively few celebrity bloggers. I think, by and large, Internet still is white-male dominated. I see that when we do contests, for example. The preponderance of people who apply tend to be young white males.

I think that's changing. I see that changing. I think some of it is just a matter of evolution, and some of it is a question of the way that things are marketed. One of the things that we did with our news challenge contest was specifically to target audiences that were diverse, and when you do that, you tend to get results.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask each of you the question of the relevance. This is a related question to that which I asked Mr. Ibarguen earlier, but this whole question of the relevance of ethnic diversity. And of course, there are many different types of diversity, religious diversity and so forth, but we're focusing on the ethnic issue for now.

There are those who argue that, for example, ethnic media outlets, which had traditionally been a source of employment for journalists of color, are not as relevant as they were because of the nature of our society. Richard Prince, I wanted to ask you your take on that.

Mr. PRINCE: Well, they're both right. Ethnic outlets are more relevant, particularly to people who look for that trust factor in their media, and this is especially true in the Latino community.

If it's written in your own language, if you look at people who don't come with an alien set of assumptions - I point out to the Sonia Sotomayor hearings and the fact that there were almost no Latino commentators on television during that whole period, and Newt Gingrich and people saying that she was a racist. The very idea that somebody could say that without challenge on a lot of outlets is something you would never find in the ethnic media.

Mr. IBARGUEN: And I think you probably wouldn't find that so much in newspaper newsrooms, which do tend to have a significantly greater diversity than other organizations.

MARTIN: Well, what does that say, then, Mr. Ibarguen? Does that say that what? Where's the - is it that cable is not as diverse? Is it, what, punditry is not as diverse? What does that say to you?

Mr. IBARGUEN: I think cable is beginning to be diverse as to African-Americans and certainly as to women. I don't think you can find very many examples, as Richard just suggested, of Hispanics working in cable. I think there's still a lot of work to do.

MARTIN: And Richard Prince, what is the next - what's the word I'm looking for - sort of target or objective, if you will, pointing out what you just said, given, though, that we're seeing this contraction? Are we destined to see status quo or…?

Mr. PRINCE: No, online is the next step - everything is moving online, television, radio, print. And when I knew I was going to be on the show discussing this, I went to our job fair at the convention, and I asked people there, what's happening next? What's the problem here? And they all said, well, we've got to go online.

One of the problems is that people are not thinking outside the box enough. They need to think of themselves as multimedia journalists. When people go to hire, if they are going to hire, too many times they think about people they already know. Those people are not usually people of color. So you've got to get in their faces, and you've got to be there with a skill, saying, I can do this, I can do that, I can do the other. And a lot of that has to be online. You have to know how to conduct yourself online.

MARTIN: Alberto Ibarguen, final thought from you?

Mr. IBARGUEN: I think that's exactly right. Our grant to NPR, which was not specifically for minority media, but our grant to NPR was to train everybody on the program staff on multimedia. That is an absolutely essential thing. And journalists have got to stop thinking of themselves as only journalists and think about the skills they have of fact finder, people who can fully, accurately tell the story. They're enterprising, they're hardworking, and if they can do that online, if they can do that with multimedia skills, I think they become marketable people.

MARTIN: Alberto Ibarguen is president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. He was kind enough to join us from member station WLRN in Miami. We were also joined by Richard Prince. He is author of Journal-isms, an online publication about diversity issues in the media, and he joined us from our Washington, D.C., studios. Gentlemen, thank you both so much.

Mr. IBARGUEN: Thanks, Michel.

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