Media Cuts in Diversity Programming
ED GORDON, host:
Most media companies are in the business of making money, from small-town newspapers to national television networks. The shareholders and bottom line are important factors in how these companies are run. But commentator Amy Alexander says the focus on corporate profits is undermining diversity in the newsroom and the look and sound of our news.
In November, Knight Ridder newspapers made an announcement. Due to budget constraints and a big shareholders' demand that the company put itself up for sale, Knight Ridder will freeze its diversity programs. If the company's name doesn't instantly sound familiar to you, perhaps some of its properties will: the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Miami Herald, the San Jose Mercury News. Among the half dozen or so big newspaper companies in the United States, Knight Ridder is the second largest and, not coincidentally, among the most profitable. Yet, like other large newspaper companies, including The New York Times Company and the Tribune Company, Knight Ridder has been struggling lately with a range of economic and other challenges: dramatic drops in advertising revenue, declining readership figures and a rash of ethics scandals.
But while it is true that traditional news organizations, including broadcast groups, face bigger challenges now than they ever have, it is also true that Knight Ridder and most other large newspaper chains remain, by most business standards, profitable. So the question arises: Why drop diversity programs that were established to recruit, train and retain minority journalists? This question is not merely hypothetical for me. Indeed, the situation at Knight Ridder is personal. Mostly because in 1988 I received a reporting internship at the Philadelphia Daily News. The minority summer internship program was a hallmark of Knight Ridder's diversity initiatives and a standard-bearer within the industry. Later in my career, I was recruited by The Miami Herald, the legendary South Florida newspaper.
Now, though, The Herald, the Daily News and Inquirer in Philadelphia and other Knight Ridder papers are on their own to fund and manage their minority internship programs, the traditional pipeline for identifying promising young journalists of color. I don't know how much money the company devoted annually to maintaining its minority programs, but I can't imagine it accounted for a great chunk of the corporation's yearly operating expenses. Yet symbolically, the freezing of these programs sends a powerful message to young journalists of color across America, and to old heads like me.
For us, the already solid gate that has always existed between journalists of color and our desire to work at a reputable news organization has closed that much further, and what this means for news consumers of all colors is this: In the long run, there will be fewer reporters, editors and photographers whose personal histories incline them to hit the ground and find the stories of low-income and ethnic Americans. It means that stories like Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath will lack the detail and in-depth analysis that journalists of color are more likely to insist upon. It also means that few, if any, stories about the negative impact of the current big media budget crisis on minority journalists will get told.
As more and more black and brown journalists take buyouts or get downsized or become just plain fed up in the midst of this current era of fiscal panic, it leaves me wondering if the news industry was ever serious at all about diversifying itself.
GORDON: Amy Alexander is an author and media critic in Silver Spring, Maryland.
This is NPR News.