The 4th Estate corrects its numbers

A widely covered infographic released on Thursday didn't quite get its facts straight

That journalism struggles with racial diversity is old news, but a study released on Thursday by The 4th Estate tried to quantify the magnitude of the problem. The organization released an infographic showing that, among the 38 most influential newspapers in the country, 93 percent of front-page articles about the 2012 election were written by white reporters. The infographic received a host of coverage.

All that coverage had to be updated. The 4th Estate, a nonpartisan project that gathers data on media election coverage, didn’t get it all quite right the first time. While the organization maintains that the 93 percent figure is correct, a revised version of the study, released today, presents a slightly different picture.

The 4th Estate first released its findings in an infographic titled, “Bleached: Lack of Diversity on the Front Page.” The study broke down stories according to election issue to show that white reporters dominated coverage across every topic, writing 91.1 percent of front-page stories on the economy and an overwhelming 98.2 percent of stories on immigration.

Friday’s graphic, with the relatively tamer title, “Newsroom Diversity: A Look at Diversity on the Front Page,” has whites writing 86.6 percent of stories on the economy and 94.8 percent of stories on immigration.

Even more striking is the discrepancy between versions regarding specific publications. According to yesterday’s version of the study, The Miami Herald ran no front-page stories on the election written by Hispanic reporters; the graphic released today has Hispanics at the Herald writing 6.1 percent of front-page election stories. Nonwhite reporters gained some percentage points at a few papers, including the Chicago Tribune (from 9.7 to 13.3) and the Boston Globe (from 4.8 to 12.5), and lost some in The New York Times (from 7.2 to 5) to and the Washington Post (12.4 to 10.3).

The most and least diverse front pages remain unchanged. With nearly a fifth of front-page election stories written by nonwhite reporters, the Dallas Morning News continues to top the study in terms of diversity, while the San Francisco Chronicle remains at the bottom, with no front-page stories written by minorities.

The 4th Estate’s Michael Howe says that race was a new variable for the organization, whose studies hadn’t previously addressed the ethnicity of reporters. “We said, ‘We know diversity in the newsroom is a long-standing issue,’” Howe told me in a phone interview. With that in mind, the organization set about scavenging the Internet—Facebook, LinkedIn, Wikipedia—to determine the races of the 400 or so reporters in its database. “We were looking at wedding pictures,” says Howe.

Howe says the graphic released on Thursday contained data that hadn’t been thoroughly checked. He adds: “In the social media world there’s always the pressure between getting something out and factchecking.” With the debates over and the election nearing, the organization felt it necessary to release its study quickly.

“If we knew we were stepping into this explosive zone, maybe we’d have done something different,” says Howe.

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Teo Soares is a CJR intern