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Journalists: “We’re Fighting for Survival”

July 31, 2008

When Katharine Weymouth became publisher of The Washington Post in February of this year I sent her a congratulatory note, urging her to "remember the women" as she stepped into the footprints of her grandmother, Katharine Graham. She replied promptly: "I am honored to have been asked to take on this role and will do my best both in the job and to honor our gender.  I am pleased to say that The Post is full of highly qualified women in senior positions and also rising stars and we intend to keep it that way." Unity Conference

I was reminded of that pledge as I was flying out to Chicago for Unity -- the Journalists of Color conference held every four years -- a combined gathering of associations of  Asian, Hispanic, Native American, and African American journalists.

On the plane I read a profile of Weymouth in the August issue of Portfolio. I was stunned again by the accompanying graphic of the circulation drop among major newspapers: for the WP, an almost straight line downward…with a perhaps promising uptick for this year. Weymouth has just hired a new executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal-but the task before her and other papers, and the implications for diversity, are enormous.

Barbara Ciara, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, thinks, "We are fighting for our very survival, our livelihoods." With more than 2,000 lost newspaper jobs in the last year, 300 of those journalists of color, the warning signs are up. Unity originally expected 10,000 attendees --fewer than 7,000 registered. The long lines were for career opportunities, even though most media outlets are not hiring. The new bad news isn't fully reflected in the stats yet: journalists of color working in newspapers are flat at 13.5 %; radio and TV journalists of color up to 24% in 2007, from 22% in 2006 (American Society of Newspaper Editors).

At the WMC, working for increased participation, we know that progress  is now endangered by the shakiness of the industry on every level. The Women's Media Center is here to monitor and lobby for women and people of color in the media. In addition to our advocacy, we have posted hundreds of paid commentaries by a diverse group of women including Her Pueblo Round Place-A Remembrance of Paula Gunn Allen  by Joy Harjo, The Essence of It All: WNBA Rookie Lands Far from Rutgers Controversy by Shanelle Matthews, and Blogging While Brown (and Female) by Kristal Brent Zook. We send these on to hundreds of members of the press and our subscribers. We hope you will help us continue our work. 

It's not just behind the scenes where the media lacks diversity. Our partners at Media Matters have just released their report Gender and Ethnic Diversity in Prime Time Cable News. Looking at the breakdown of guests on cable shows in the month of May, 2008, they found: 960 white men, 76 black women, 21 Latina women, and 6 Asian women. As the WMC has been pointing out, only 2 of the 12 primetime hosts are women and none of the Sunday morning talk show hosts are women.

This, despite the efforts of people like Paula Madison, the highest ranking African American within corporate media, with positions of Vice President of GE and head of diversity for all NBC Universal divisions. Madison told me the networks -- losing news viewers daily -- are committed to not losing ground in diversity. She says that in addition to individual network efforts, the four giant companies have a monthly joint "diversity" phone call.  They swap talent availability and opportunities, attempting to lift the industry's numbers.

Former ABC anchorwoman Carole Simpson told me she fears the lack of progress in the executive suites bodes ill for women and people of color: when she left her weekend desk, she was replaced by a white man. Unity has created a senior management program with media companies called "Ten by 2010: Transforming Journalism Through Diversity Leadership." The goal is for each company to promote a person of color to senior management level within two years. Only 11% of all newspaper managers are people of color.

Clearly, our work is cut out for us. We're determined to be a part of correcting the imbalance. Please join us in the fight to make women, and people of color, visible and powerful in the media.  

With best wishes, 

Carol Jenkins

WMC President

P.S.  If you haven't already, sign up for our WMC Exclusives, news releases, and daily news brief to stay updated on news about women and media!

PHOTO CAPTIONS: (1) Cristina Azocar, WMC Board Member, President of the Native America Journalists Association; (2) Helen Zia, WMC Co-Chair, Member of the Asian American Journalists Association; (3) Carol Jenkins, WMC President, and Paula Madison, EVP, MBC Universal, VP, GE; (4) Carole Simpson, former ABC anchor; (5) Soledad O'Brien, CNN anchor and special correspondent; (6) Farai Chideya, NPR host.

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