Here is some disheartening news to kick off today’s celebration of gender parity and women’s achievement: According to the Women’s Media Center, news outlets continue to fall down on the job when it comes to hiring and promoting women of color. Of course, this takes a toll on the types of stories that get told, a particularly dismaying prospect in an era of resurgent misogyny and white supremacy.
The 2018 Status of Women of Color in the U.S. News Media looked at industry figures from print, television, radio, and digital news, and interviewed 30 prominent women of color working in media. The WMC found that women of color comprised just under 8% of staff at print publications, about 13% of staff at local television stations, and roughly 6% of staff at radio stations. In many instances, these women butted up against negative assumptions about their ethnicity that locked them out of certain assignments; were subjected to sweeping generalizations; and were passed over for white colleagues.
In print newsrooms, the number of women of color either “stagnated or fell” in recent years. Roughly 83% of their journalists are white, and about 31% are white women; meanwhile, Black women, Latina women, and Asian women each made up just under 3% of newsroom demographic. The breakdown was similar among newsroom leaders. In TV newsrooms, white women accounted for about 31% of broadcast journalists, while women of color accounted for just under 13%. In radio, women of color comprised 6% of journalists while white women represented 30%.
Digital media was trickier to pin down, because the Online News Association does not keep tabs on diversity. As Now This editor Kim Bui pointed out in the report, though, young white dudes with an egregious amount of money tend to be the ones running these companies, and it shows. Based on 2017 data from the American Society of News Editors, we know that people of color constituted under 25% of online-only newsrooms and that, while women outnumbered men and dominated leadership roles in just over 30% of those spaces, their numbers had shrunk from 2016.
Across the board, news organizations don’t seem to be changing their hiring practices much, which means that the same old barriers to advancement don’t move from one year to the next: “Men tend to groom men … who [often] are like themselves, in height, coloring, and even demeanor,” PBS host and Today show veteran Ann Curry says in the report. When it comes to hiring the best person for the job, then, higher-ups have often ensured — whether they set out to or not — that the frontrunner is a white man. This creates a vicious cycle in which the same kind of guy flies up the newsroom ladder, while women — particularly women of color — are left thumping their heads against the glass ceiling.
“We’ve got to be in this at every level,” said Wanda Lloyd, a former Washington Post editor, an executive in Gannett’s newsroom, a journalism and mass communications department chair at Georgia’s Savannah State University, and one of the professionals interviewed for the WMC report. “Leaders help dictate coverage. But they also manage resources, determine who gets hired and promoted. They circulate in the community, and people in the community need to see people of color, women of color, doing what white men are doing and have long been allowed to do.”
When you see a person who looks like you leading in their field, it gives you something to aspire to, and when you see the stories you live told in the media, it tells you that they matter. The reverse is also true — if you can’t see it, you can’t be it — and cycler. On top of all this, a homogenous newsroom arguably translates to myopic news coverage: If you have one group of people deciding which stories are important and which are not, you’re probably going to present a selective, quite possibly stereotyped version of current events that won’t resonate with an increasingly diverse audience. (Because, as the WMC report notes, white people represent a shrinking majority of the national population.)
And in the middle of a #MeToo moment, it’s worth considering the damage constantly vaunting privileged white men does to an industry. Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and many others all thrived in an environment that celebrated male achievements and fostered boys’ club behavior at other employees’ expense. So, media managers, here is one very good present to give your newsroom staff this International Women’s Day: legitimately inclusive hiring practices, the gift that keeps on giving.