Tight budgets reduce ethnic diversity at Bay Area newspapers

By John McManus
Posted June 10, 2005

Editors of the Bay Area's largest newspapers say tight budgets are making it difficult to replace minority journalists who leave.

The result: most Bay Area newspapers are becoming less diverse than they were several years ago.

A new study conducted under the auspices of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation shows that Bay Area newspapers are part of a national trend toward less diverse newspaper staffs. The survey did not include broadcast or other media.

Only 18 percent of all daily newspapers responding to the ASNE survey were at their peak, while 44 percent lost ground. The remaining 37 percent reported all-white newsrooms, according to the suryey's authors, journalists Bill Dedman and Stephen K. Doig.

Those of black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American descent counted as minorities. Newsroom supervisors, reporters, copy and layout editors, and photographers counted as journalists.

"Comparing newspapers with their communities, only 13 percent of newspapers responding to the survey have reached ASNE's goal of parity between newsroom and community," the authors reported. "That's the same share as last year." (See Bay Area Papers nowhere near as diverse as the population, May 17, 2004.)

Among large Bay Area papers, only the Contra Costa Times became more diverse in 2005 than it had been at its previous high point. The San Francisco Chronicle peaked in 1998, the San Jose Mercury News in 2003, the Oakland Tribune in 1999 and Santa Rosa Press Democrat in 1994.

"The Bay Area is rich in diversity and its newspapers are falling behind," commented Dori Maynard, president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland. "That's not good for the papers and it's not good for the overall community."

Local papers lag in diversity index

Bay Area newspapers trailed papers of similar size in diversity scores based on a comparison of the diversity of the newsroom to the diversity of the primary circulation are of the paper.

The Chronicle, for example, had a diversity score of 36 and ranked eighth of 10 newspapers with 500,000 or more subscribers. The Chronicle reported 16.8% of its news staff was non-white in a circulation area that is 47% non-white. The Chronicle's circulation is concentrated in the central and north Bay Area.

With 32.1% of its staff people of color, the Mercury News led major Bay Area newspapers in diversity, as it has for years. Its diversity index was also the highest, at 61. (A score of 100 indicates equal proportions of minorities in the newsroom and the community it covers.)

"The tough economic situation in Silicon Valley, and in the newspaper business in general, has limited the amount of hiring we do," said David Satterfield, managing editor of the Mercury News. "Without much room to hire, you're very limited in affecting your diversity numbers."

"Lack of ability to hire is the number one issue," agreed Chronicle Managing Editor Robert Rosenthal. "The cost of living here complicates hiring from other regions of the country," he added.

'Diversity fatigue'

"In some ways this survey can be viewed as a stark illustration of diversity fatigue," Ms. Maynard said. "On the flip side, it also is reason for hope because it clearly illustrates that as an industry we know how to do better. Each paper needs to go back and look at what worked in the past, update the strategy and start making real strides."

A news staff that reflects the racial and other demographic characteristics of the region served is vital for journalism, according to Ms. Maynard and local editors.

"People don't know what they don't know," she explained. "If you don't have the staff that is culturally competent to cover your entire community you are not only going
to miss important stories, you are also going to get things plain wrong."

In recent years, the Mercury News in particular has made strides in covering issues that affect minority communities. The paper was one of the first to establish a "race and demographics” team. The Chronicle followed suit last year. This trend has helped the top papers cover some communities sensitively, such as its treatment of Muslims post-9/11. But editors acknowledge that is no substitute for increasing the diversity of the editorial staff.

Why diversity matters

"A diverse staff can open a whole new world to a newsroom," said Mr. Satterfield of the Mercury News. "If you have diverse staffers who truly understand their neighborhood and community, you learn things that a non-diverse staffer might take years to learn. The simple ability to speak a language can dramatically change your ability to report a story."

Contra Costa Times Editor Chris Lopez agreed: "I do find that the more diverse a newsroom is, the more relevant our journalism is to the communities we serve."

Diversity "is essential," said Mr. Rosenthal of the Chronicle. "It is stimulating and brings different points of view to every discussion. I always want staff to bring their lives into the story creating process. Without diversity, that is missing, and again I mean diverstiy on every level, not simply race."

Kevin Keane, executive editor of the Alameda Newspaper Group, which includes the Oakland Tribune, said, "We failed to report our diversity figures on time, so unfortunately our numbers for the current year are not posted on the report. However, I can tell you that we've been making steady progress toward diversifying ANG newsrooms."

Bob Swofford, managing editor of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, had not responded to Grade the News by posting time.

ASNE surveyed 1,410 newspapers. Of those, 924 responded. Because non-responders have often been all-white newspapers in the past, the survey likely overestimates diversity among all American dailies. Most of the papers that didn't cooperate, however, served small numbers of readers.

Profiles of Bay Area newspapers, arranged by circulation size, follow:

Year % minority staff % minority population Diversity index
2005 16.8 46.8 36
2004 14.5 46.8 31

How the index is calculated
The Newsroom Diversity Index is the non-white percentage of the newsroom staff
divided by the non-white percentage of residents in the circulation area.
(Parity = 100.) Population demographics based on 2000 census.

Company index
This newspaper's owner, Hearst Newspapers (N.Y.),
has a companywide, circulation-weighted Diversity Index of 45.

Year % minority staff % minority population Diversity index
2005 32.1 52.6 61
2004 32.3 52.6 61

Company index
This newspaper's owner, Knight Ridder (Calif.),
has a companywide, circulation-weighted Diversity Index of 76.

Year % minority staff % minority population Diversity index
2005 19.9 39 51
2004 19.3 39 49

Company index
This newspaper's owner, Knight Ridder (Calif.),
has a companywide, circulation-weighted Diversity Index of 76.

Year % minority staff % minority population Diversity index
2005 n/a 68.5 n/a
2004 n/a 68.5 n/a

Company index
This newspaper's owner, MediaNews Group (Colo.),
has a companywide, circulation-weighted Diversity Index of 47.

Year % minority staff % minority population Diversity index
2005 n/a 25.1 n/a
2004 12.5 25.1 50

Company index
This newspaper's owner, New York Times Co.,
has a companywide, circulation-weighted Diversity Index of 69.