By Emily Mills
WASHINGTON – If the Canadian media doesn’t create more opportunities for non-white journalists to thrive in the industry, some of our most promising talent will explore their options elsewhere. That’s one reason Morgan Campbell, a staff reporter at the Toronto Star, joined over 8,000 media professionals at UNITY 2004, the world’s largest gathering of journalists of colour in Washington, D.C., from August 4 to 8.
“There’s no emphasis placed on recruiting, hiring, and retaining young talented journalists of colour in Canada,” says Campbell, 27, this year’s only black writer to win a National Newspaper Award, the country’s top honour for excellence in journalism.
American companies are more eager to add colour and talent to their newsrooms, says Campbell, a resident of Mississauga, Ontario, who is also a U.S. citizen. He studied journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and already has experience reporting in three U.S. cities. At UNITY, The Detroit Free Press to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution took interest in Campbell, his resume and clips; he hasn’t ruled out leaving Canada again.
“In the United States, I go to an event like [UNITY] and there are recruiters who say, ‘Oh my goodness, this guy is talented, ambitious, hard working and he comes from a community that’s underrepresented in our newsroom and our pages; he’s an asset to us.”
While UNITY provides visible minority journalists with many career possibilities -- the conference featured an address by U.S. president George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry; over 150 workshops and plenary sessions; on-site student projects, gala dinners and a media career expo with recruiters from CNN to Reuters – the event’s top spokesperson says journalists of colour still face obstacles.
Too few journalists of colour in U.S., Canada
“[UNITY] exists because we still have great disparity between the make-up of the newsroom and the make-up of our communities,” explains Ernest R. Sotomayor, president of UNITY: Journalists of Colour, Inc., the alliance of Black, Hispanic, Asian and Aboriginal journalists who have organized the conference three times since 1994.
A UNITY study unveiled this year shows only one in 10 journalists reporting from the White House, Pentagon or Capitol Hill is a journalist of colour. Yet almost one-third of the population in the United States is non-white. Figures for newspapers, radio and television stations across the country also point to the shortage of minorities.
In Canada, the statistics are even worse. A census conducted by a journalism professor at Ryerson University found one Aboriginal out of 1800 journalists in newsrooms across the country. Visible minorities from various backgrounds are also disproportionately absent from the workforce.
System barriers aren’t always the problem
According to Merella Fernandez, one of 25 Canadians pre-registered for UNITY, systemic barriers aren’t necessarily to blame for the lack of diversity in the media.
She’s one of two South Asian anchors on CityPulse, a news program in Toronto, Ontario, who began her career answering phones at another station and worked her way on-air.
Asked why there aren’t more colourful faces in the industry, the immigrant from Goa, India, replies: “Fifteen years ago, Indian people weren’t interested in getting into journalism. It just wasn’t what they did. When I made a choice to take journalism, people were like, ‘You’re doing what?!”
It was hard for her parents to envision their daughter on TV because when they first moved to Canada, no one looked like her on the news. Her family saw economics not journalism – as a field worth pursuing as a career, she adds. Fernandez followed her passion anyway and has been at City for six years.
Greater diversity needed in journalism schools
Andra Stevens, a broadcaster with 20 years experience, taught “Covering Diversity”, an undergraduate course about cross-cultural reporting offered at Toronto’s Ryerson School of Journalism. The classrooms, she says, are almost as pale as the newsrooms.
Last year, Stevens was also executive director of the Innoversity Creative Summit, a Canadian conference with about 700 delegates and a similar mandate as UNITY -- to have the media and its professionals better reflect diverse communities.
Stevens says even if more companies take diversity seriously, the demographics of j-schools pose a serious problem for recruiters.
“I don’t see enough diversity coming out of those classes to meet the demand at all,” she says in a telephone interview, explaining that her concerns aren’t limited to students.
“[Journalism schools] recruit persons who are experienced, exposed, distinguished and award-winning in the business to pass on their skills and experience to the next generation of professionals. If they are recruiting from an industry that is not diverse, where is that diverse faculty going to come from?”
Recruiters must ‘put the effort in’ to find minorities
Sherry Chisenhall, managing editor of the Witchita Eagle in Kansas, is scouting for potential employees at the UNITY media expo and career fair. Aside from recruiters like herself, exhibitors range from the Society of Environmental Journalists to a resume clinic sponsored by JournalismNext.com.
Chisenhall says she recruits at UNITY because neither journalism school in her state reflects the large African-American or Hispanic communities. She also works with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) to find candidates.
“We just have to work harder,” she says about how papers should find talented non-white professionals. “I think some people want to say, ‘Look we’ve hired some minority journalists; we’re okay here.’ But [those journalists] are going to move on and it’s never over. You’ve got to always do it; always put the effort in.”
Chisenhall cites the example of an African-American employee who speaks English and Spanish who was given several scholarships by the paper since her first year of college, worked part-time and interned at the Eagle. She’s now their cultural affairs beat reporter.
The rationale was simple, says Chisenhall: “’Alright, let’s find somebody with promise, invest in them, walk them through and we’ll teach them journalism the same as their school will….’ You’ve always got to keep working and there’s a benefit to the newsroom.”
On hiring journalists of colour...
Hiring journalists of various backgrounds, experience and cultures helps companies avoid ‘blind spots’ through inclusive and accurate reporting of various communities, says Chisenhall.
“We have a young Hispanic journalist that’s seeing stories that the 20 year veterans don’t see,” she says. It’s a proactive way to ensure all important stories make headlines.
“You have to take a very critical look at your paper and say, ‘We don’t cover this part of our community very well and we need to do something about it,’” she continues. Hiring more minorities is a good start, but companies should also be wary not to limit journalists to certain communities just because of their backgrounds.
Campbell , of the Star, says there are other problems, too. Even when visible minority journalists get hired, they’re often streamed into the same jobs. At one workplace, he recalls, all the interns hired after summer were white; “brown” and Chinese reporters were left with contract work and no benefits. In his opinion, they were equally qualified.
“Is it blatant discrimination? Is it that people don’t like brown and yellow people? No. But it would not surprise me if the people making those decisions were just gravitating towards the people with whom they have the most in common, the same way I was doing at UNITY, picking out Northwestern kids by saying, ‘Hey, meet this recruiter.’ ‘Hey, I’m trying to help you.’”
After 20 years in the business, Stevens, of Innoversity, has observed the same pattern.
“Real diversity management means diversity throughout your business, from top to bottom,” she says.
Retention 101: Keeping non-white journalists in the business
UNITY’s Sotomayor agrees that more non-whites journalists should be hired, and says once they’re in the workforce, companies should do more to keep them.
The annual newsroom census by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, released in April 2004, showed an increase of non-white professional news staff; 12.94 per cent of America’s 1,417 dailies are people of colour.
Yet a statement from the four UNITY organizations -- the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) and the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) -- notes few minorities in supervisory positions and a decline in black managers. According to NABJ, blacks represent only 0.4 per cent of all newspaper supervisors and there are 15 less than last year.
Sotomayor says the ASNE results are influenced by many factors, including a “piecemeal” approach to diversity. Companies need to pay more, train better and recruit more skillfully, he says.
“People of colour really are no different from anyone else. They want the opportunities to move up. They want to have coaching. They want to have mentoring. They want to feel like they’re valued. They want to have opportunities to learn new skills so they can get better and better at what they do.”
Founder: John Miller: http://www.ryerson.ca/journal/bios/jmiller.htm