April 12, 2005

Diversity Up, Capacity Down

The good news from the ASNE's latest report on newsroom diversity is that the number of minority journalists working at America's newspapers is growing. The bad news is that the number of journalists of all colors is shrinking - significantly.

Here's the math: 300 more minority newspaper journalists in 2005 vs. 2004 and 100 fewer reporters, editors and photographers overall, resulting in 13.42 percent minority employment in newspapers, the highest ever.

While it's a good thing that newsrooms are ever-so-incrementally beginning to look more like America itself, it's a shame to say that minorities are earning a larger piece of an ever-so-incrementally shrinking pie.

Since 2001, newspaper newsroom employment has fallen 4 percent - a 1 percent average annual decline that perhaps not-so-coincidentally parallels the annual circulation shrinkage of the newspaper industry.

Another way of looking the annual contraction of the journalistic workforce is by calculating that when the last newspaper finally folds in 2040 - a somewhat sardonic projection made by Phil Meyer in his book, "The Vanishing Newspaper, Saving Journalism in the Information Age - fewer journalists will be spared the axe since so many will have left, voluntarily or not, already. [Read: Reading the Vanishing Newspaper: A Guide.]

Another nugget from the survey: Although the base number of minorities in the newspapers is trending upward, their role in the newsroom hierarchy is not. In the same 2001-2005 period, the percentage of blacks (20 percent), Asians (16 percent) and Hispanics (20 percent) is virtually unchanged.

When ASNE released its study last year, I cited three reasons for the industry's multi-decade struggle to diversify its newsrooms - pipeline (the number of minorities enrolled in journalism education programs), attracting minority graduates to newspapers (a pay issue) and retention (minority turnover has been higher than non-minority turnover, with the lack of career improvement opportunities within newspapers cited as the No. 1 reason for leaving the profession). [Read: ASNE's Diversity Study: Looking for Answers.]

The pipeline seems to be as full as it was the year before. Lee Becker of the University of Georgia says that in 2003 enrollment in the country's journalism and mass communications programs reached "unprecedented" levels, with minorities making up nearly 28 percent of that number.

Moreover, Becker's survey of 2003 journalism-mass communications graduates showed no appreciable hiring difference between whites and non-whites - good news.

The same survey, though, found that a decreasing number of graduates were seeking or finding work in newspapers. Only 63 percent of news-editorial graduates could find a job in their field a year after graduation. That's not much of an incentive to attract the best and the brightest to the field.

Pay, of course, is an even lesser incentive. Becker says the $25,000 annual starting salary for newspapers journalists is the same as it was in 1999.

That leaves retention - which continues to be a problem. ASNE reports that minority retention is 96 percent, but that figure is misleading because it is calculated by measuring the total minority newspaper employment in 2005 (7,267) against the number of minorities who left the business (282).

A different way of looking at is to use the 2001-2005 timeframe employed by ASNE and measure the minority hiring vs. departures in that period. Those numbers are not so positive. In that five-year stretch, newspapers hired 2,560 minorities, but 1,958 left the business - a 76 percent departure rate. That kind of churn makes it difficult to push the number upward.

The white departure rate is even worse. Between 2001-2005, newspapers hired 9,765 white journalists; 12,489 left the profession - a 128 percent departure rate.

Lack of professional development was the No. 1 reason cited in this Knight study by journalists of all types who bailed out of the business.

Newspapers invest about one-third of the money in the professional growth (only 0.7 percent of payroll) of their staffs as do all U.S. industries on average. In an industry whose business and readership model is under grave and growing threat on several fronts, it is going to need more than Starbucks-level salaries and unfulfilled promises of professional development to attract and keep the bright young minds its needs to survive - minds that come wrapped in any color.

Tags: , ,

Posted by Tim Porter at April 12, 2005 11:52 AM