He added that ASNE—with funding from the McCormick and Ford foundations, and coordinating support from The New York Times, The Associated Press, and unity Journalists of Color—is holding two meetings this year to begin formulating a new case for diversity. The first will be held in June in Orlando during the National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention and the second at The New York Times in September. Coleman argues that the discussion should be framed in such a way that “the news industry understands that as we go forward, the case for diversity is not a social experiment—it’s an industry imperative. As the demography changes, in order to be mainstream you’re going to have to be more diverse. And if you’re not more diverse, someone will take it away from you.”
“Diversity is a part of being accurate in your news coverage,” he said. “If it’s not, people will not read it. We still need diversity because we still need accuracy.”
Kathy Times, of NABJ, said she was taken aback during a recent visit to the Houston Chronicle. She went to the news meeting and “was very disappointed to see not one black editor in that room of about sixteen editors who decide what readers would see.” When asked about her observation, Jeff Cohen, the Chronicle’s editor and executive vice president, said that, depending on the day, there would usually be two to four editors of color at the meeting (three are Hispanic and one is Palestinian). But he acknowledged the problem.
“We’re not where we want to be today,” Cohen said. “Diversity is extremely important to me, the management of the newspaper, the readers, the community. But for various reasons, the last two years we’ve had a slight decline in the number of minorities in the newsroom.” Cohen pointed out that 23 percent of the members of the paper’s newsroom staff are people of color. (That, he acknowledged, includes the staff of the Spanish-language paper.) He said Houston’s metropolitan area, which includes outlying suburbs, is 35 percent Hispanic, 17 percent African-American, and 7 percent Asian. In the city proper, the last US Census showed that African Americans and Hispanics alone comprise 63 percent of the population.
Given the economy and the dearth of available media jobs, the parity goal seems less achievable than ever. Meanwhile, Times notes that black-oriented media often offer her members the opportunity to report on issues—health disparities between blacks and whites, for example—that are close to the hearts of some black journalists, and issues that often are not explored in depth by the mainstream. African-American outlets frequently don’t have the same level of resources as mainstream outlets, she said, “but the good news is that some of our members are in a position that they can afford to explore those opportunities because they are very passionate about covering the black community. They’re at a point in their careers where they have the luxury.”
Many of these reverse migrants describe a sense of relief about working for African-American media after years in the mainstream. “It was like coming home,” said Michael Cottman, a senior correspondent at BlackAmericaWeb.com, who in 1978 began his career at the Atlanta Daily World, the city’s oldest continuously published black newspaper. In between he worked for The Miami Herald, New York Newsday, and The Washington Post.
Cottman said at mainstream organizations he sometimes felt resistance to story ideas or suspicion about his ability to be objective while covering black-oriented subjects. He said at Reach Media, his professionalism is assumed.
Jack White agreed. “You can presume a commonality of interest of editor and audience. There’s a comfort zone.” At mainstream outlets, he adds, “You had to be ready to fight. My back used to be up a lot. My back hasn’t been up.”