A Conversation with Joy-Ann Reid
The Women’s Media Center’s recently released report, “The Status of Women of Color in the U.S. News Media 2018,” documents the systemic racism, the old boys’ network, gender bias, and other obstacles that have resulted in a severe underrepresentation of women of color in all news media. Women of color represent just 7.95 percent of U.S. print newsroom staff, 12.6 percent of local TV news staff, and 6.2 percent of local radio staff.
The report includes interviews with nearly 30 women journalists of color who shed light on the challenges they face and offer solutions for media companies. Below is our conversation with Joy-Ann Reid, MSNBC political analyst, talk show host, commentator, author, and columnist for The Daily Beast.
WOMEN’S MEDIA CENTER: What factors fundamentally help shape your journalism?
REID: Every person in the business brings their own background to the business. I have a unique perspective as a child of immigrants who grew up out West in Colorado, as a woman. My geography, ethnicity, gender, family background, all of those things inform the way I see the world. Without diversity among journalists, the industry is looking at the country through a myopic lens.
WMC: How well, in your mind, do your bosses and the broad American public value diversity among those reporting the news?
REID: I believe many people definitely value diversity. Watching [the late] Gwen Ifill [on PBS], there was something edifying about seeing someone who looks like you in a position of influence, giving information. It’s more credible than a bank of White male faces telling you what is. We are a country that is so diverse. We must have all the country represented in the news for information to be credible and complete.
Right now, you think of Harvey Weinstein and [other rich, powerful males accused of sexual harassment] in the media, shaping the narrative about women running for president and our politics — and you know they are missing a lot of the story.
WMC: Give some examples, anecdotally, of what gets missed because men still dominate journalism.
REID: The whole 2016 election.
The New York Times got hammered recently for how it profiled a neo-Nazi and Trump voter sympathetically. The media have gotten fixated on thinking they, quote-unquote, mis-analyzed the election, and, because of that, have swung so far over. They are singularly focused on a part of the country that only represents a certain percentage of the country. They missed the whole larger picture: About women of color and our contributions to the electorate. About this whole idea of the working class not being solely White. About why it is that Black and Brown people have not experienced the same ideological shift to the far right that White working-class people have. About how the real America isn’t just a small town in the South or Midwest. Statistically, most Americans live in cities.
WMC: What drives, as you see it, those errors, the lack of context and nuance in news coverage?
REID: Media management is overwhelmingly White and male, and looks longingly to the Midwest and South as centers of American life because some of those White male managers are coastal elites who want to distance themselves from the idea that they are out of touch. It’s just a trope. None of this will change until we have different kinds of people, with different perspectives, in decision-making roles who can say, “Wait a minute. I’m from inner-city Philadelphia or I’m a Black woman or I’m a trans person or an Asian-American or Hispanic … and I also am American.
WMC: For you, as a journalist, are being Black and being female of equal caliber?
REID: Race trumps everything in America. This country is built on a foundation of racial discrimination and animus.
A majority of Black women and a majority of White women voted very differently in the last election. But, obviously, as we see in the current climate, gender is hugely important. And there are a lot of aspects of gender that are racialized. Obviously, women face an incredible torrent of discrimination and objectification that has not been addressed. Still, different people experience and react to gender discrimination differently. For a lot of White women, the culture reinforces the idea that gender bias is the price of doing business; whereas for women of color, race is so omnipresent in our lives that we don’t consider any discrimination as the price of doing business. It’s such an interesting difference.
WMC: How, as a society and as news producers, do we make coverage more accurate and more reflective of what is?
REID: By hiring more people of color, more women and women of color, more LGBT people in decision-making positions.
WMC: How willing is the industry to make those kinds of hires?
When Obama came in, you saw what looked like signs of more diversity. But that obviously proved ephemeral. As soon as there was no Black president, a lot of the media seemed to fade back from their spoken commitment to diversity. This genuflecting toward conservative voters [opposed to diversity efforts] is a function of who’s in the White House right now and the media following the White House trail, even if this president didn’t win a majority of the popular vote.
There are some media outlets that continue to profess more of a willingness or desire to have more diversity. And that’s good. We’ll just have to see.
WMC: At work, how do you go about balancing gender and race among the voices you choose to put on air?
REID: We look at the driving issues of the day and stack them in order. When we book guests, we are deliberate about diversity: Is this panel all White, all male? If so, who do we need to switch out? If we’re talking about the economy, do we need an economist of color? Are we only booking Hispanic guests on the topic of immigration? We need to change that lineup to ensure there are Asians, African-Americans, not making stereotypical casting decisions. We are very, very deliberate.
WMC: How hard is that?
REID: It’s not hard at all. If you look, there are experts who are people of color or women and LGBT in every field.
WMC: In terms of race and gender in journalism, since the start of your career, what has changed? Gotten better or worse? How optimistic are you?
REID: Things are better and they are not. For every Ta-Nehisi Coates or Don Lemon or Van Jones in the spotlight of journalism, you’ve got a Tamron Hall or Melissa Harris-Perry exiting the daily news market. Women of color are not getting the same opportunity. We need more Soledad O’Briens and April Ryans. It’s great that we are seeing more men of color getting an opportunity. But, for women of color, it’s still a struggle, an eternal struggle.
When Gwen Ifill passed away — such a huge loss and tragedy — that was an opportunity to take a show, Washington Week, that had been in the hands of a woman of color and keep it in the hands of a woman of color. Gwen’s replacement happened to be a White man — and I love Robert Acosta, and am not trying to take anything from him — but that could have been an opportunity for a woman. I hope the Charlie Rose opening doesn’t result in the same thing.
(Editor’s Note: John Dickerson was named to replace Charlie Rose.)
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