Diversity in TV, radio slipping

Bay Area newspapers nowhere near as diverse as the population

By Michael Stoll
Posted May 17, 2004

No newspaper staff in the Bay Area comes close to matching the ethnic diversity of the regions they cover, a national study of hiring practices shows.

While minority staffing at newspapers across the country inched upward slightly this year, locally the results were mixed. Some papers have made significant strides, and others stagnated.

Diversity has become an important measure of a newsroom's ability to understand, win trust, and ultimately report insightfully on the varied communities it serves. In the nine-county Bay Area, racial and ethnic minorities comprise 50% of the population, according to 2002 estimates prepared by the Association of Bay Area Governments.

We know that if we're not talking to Indian engineers, Vietnamese bankers or Latino artists, then we're really not representing the fullness of our community.

-- Susan Goldberg, executive editor, San Jose Mercury News

The San Jose Mercury News leads the Bay Area on the diversity measure developed by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, with 32% non-white staff in its newsroom. That's nearly twice the number of minority journalists the paper had 10 years ago. But diversity is a moving target -- the paper's employees still do not come close to reflecting the rapidly changing demographics of the South Bay.

The Mercury News would need to increase its minority reporters, editors, photographers and designers by two-thirds to match the South Bay's population.

Another Knight Ridder-owned paper, the Contra Costa Times, has steadily increased its non-white newsroom staffing to 19% by ensuring that every pool of qualified applicants includes ethnic minorities and women, said the paper's managing editor, Chris Lopez. But it would have to double its complement of minority journalists to match Contra Costa County.

The biggest disappointment was the San Francisco Chronicle, whose staff diversity has slumped in recent years, to less than 15% -- in a circulation area whose minority population is nearly the majority. Five years ago, before merging with the Hearst-owned San Francisco Examiner, the paper's had more than 18% minority staff. The Chronicle's managing editor, Robert Rosenthal, said the paper recognizes its shortcomings and is working on a vigorous plan to diversify.

Newspaper staff diversity

Latest year reported

Non-white % of newsroom staff

Non-white % of circulation area

Newsroom Diversity Index (100=parity)

Circulation

San Francisco Chronicle

2004

14.5

46.8

31

512,640

San Jose Mercury News

2004

32.3

52.6

61

271,997

Contra Costa Newspapers

2004

19.3

39.0

49

182,541

Santa Rosa Press-Democrat

2004

12.5

25.2

50

87,751

San Francisco Examiner

2003

18.9

45.9

41

73,000*

Oakland Tribune

2003

17.5

66.5

26

69,109

Tri-Valley Herald

2003

4.4

41.5

11

43,662

Marin Independent Journal

2003

10.9

21.1

52

40,221

Hayward Daily Review

2003

5.1

59.7

9

38,666

San Mateo County Times

2003

6.4

51.0

13

35,274

Fremont Argus

2003

13.5

63.3

21

31,823

Palo Alto Daily News

2004

N/A

27.2

N/A

30,000

Vallejo Times-Herald

2004

22.7

60.6

37

20,918

Napa Valley Register

2004

3.4

29.4

12

17,970

* The circulation of the San Francisco Examiner has been reported recently as lower than the 95,800 reported to ASNE.

Few American newspapers meet diversity targets

If Bay Area newspapers look whiter than their communities, they are hardly alone. The study found that only 13% of newspapers nationwide had reached parity -- a staffing level at which the percentage of minorities on the staff met or exceeded that of its readership. Overall, minority journalists represented 12.95% of all newsroom employees in the survey. The survey was conducted by ASNE; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funded further analysis of the data. The Knight Foundation, which is a sponsor of Grade the News, is independent of Knight Ridder.

For some prominent local media reformers, diversity isn't just a politically correct catchphrase. A consensus has been forming that it's crucial to doing good journalism.

"If you don't have diversity you have blind spots, things that you'd ordinarily miss," said Dori Maynard, president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, based in Oakland. Robert Maynard, her late father, was responsible for getting ASNE to pledge in 1978 to get the entire newspaper industry to parity by the year 2000 -- a goal that fell far short of the mark.

Minorities declining among broadcast journalists

Television news has encountered similar problems. According to a study by the Radio-Television News Directors Association and Ball State University, minorities made up 18% of newsroom employees last year. That was down from 21% the year before. The trend toward a lower percentage of minority journalists in radio is even more pronounced. In 1994, minority journalists comprised 15% of the radio workforce. In 2003, it was under 7%. These surveys include Spanish-language stations. The surveys did not break out Bay Area stations.

Erna Smith, a professor of journalism at San Francisco State University, said Knight Ridder in particular has been in the forefront of newsroom diversity efforts.

"Your editorial staff is a brain trust, and if everyone in the room knows the same thing, there are things that when you see them, you really don't know how to evaluate them," Prof. Smith said. "Diversity is usually presented as castor oil: 'Do it because it's good for you.' At the Mercury News that seemed to be the other way around."

We're trying to change the culture here ... Our commitment will not be seen in one year, but when you come back to it in three or four years it will be a very different story.

-- Robert Rosenthal, managing editor, San Francisco Chronicle

The Mercury News has integrated the discussion of diversity into its coverage, challenging reporters to produce stories on neglected populations. Non-whites make up 53% of the population in the paper's core circulation area, ASNE calculates.

Last year the Mercury News offered every reporter on every beat a week in which they would be freed from deadlines to explore stories and meet sources who added to diverse coverage, said Executive Editor Susan Goldberg. "We know that if we're not talking to Indian engineers, Vietnamese bankers or Latino artists, then we're really not representing the fullness of our community."

The Mercury News also considers coverage of women to be a diversity issue, Ms. Goldberg added. She said the paper is trying to get reporters to add more women to their lists of expert and authority sources, so that women are not quoted only in the "person on the street" context. In the last year and a half, the paper has added new Style and Family sections to attract more women readers.

The Contra Costa Times also has been keen on diversity since Knight Ridder purchased it in 1995. Since then, minorities as a percentage of the staff have tripled.

Mr. Lopez said that if the applicants for a job are not diverse, the paper goes out of its way to recruit more who are, before making a selection. "If the diversity is built into the pool of applicants, you have a greater chance to have the workforce representative."

'Our numbers are very bad'

The Chronicle's diversity efforts are complicated by promise the Hearst Corp. made not to lay off journalists in the merger of the Chronicle and Examiner staffs in 2000. That has slowed new hiring.

"Our numbers are very bad, and we're not proud of them, and we plan on changing that," Managing Editor Rosenthal said.

In addition to a renewed focus on diverse hiring, the Chronicle is trying to spark some creative thinking about covering diverse communities. The paper has assembled a race-and-demographics team of four or five reporters who look for stories in communities that the paper has historically ignored.

"We're trying to change the culture here," Mr. Rosenthal said. "All those things we're doing. Our commitment will not be seen in one year, but when you come back to it in three or four years it will be a very different story."

Tribune and ANG papers trail

The staff of the Oakland Tribune last year was just 18% minority, in a circulation area that is 67% minority.

"If we had more minorities I think it would be easier to get at the heart of issues," said Mario Dianda, the paper's editor. One problem the paper is facing now: It has a few Spanish-speaking reporters, but not enough. "The illegal drivers issue doesn't get much play in our paper, but I know it's big in the community because I watch Telemundo at night."

The Tribune does groom six or seven young minority journalists every year through internships partially sponsored by the Freedom Forum, a journalism organization based in Arlington, Va. Other South Bay Alameda Newspaper Group papers also lagged. The Tri-Valley Herald, San Mateo Times, and Hayward Daily Review reached less than 15% of parity. The Freemont Argus rated at 21% of parity.

Bob Swofford, the managing editor of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, said his paper has the same policy as the Contra Costa Times: get qualified minorities in every applicant pool. His paper has reached 50% of parity.

One problem at medium-sized and smaller papers is retaining journalists. The Press-Democrat is losing one of its best minority reporters to the Chronicle, Mr. Swofford said.

Riots sparked newsroom diversity

The push for newsroom diversity started during the race riots of the 1960s, when white reporters were chased out of black neighborhoods. The 1968 Kerner Commission report further advanced the cause of newsroom diversity when it documented the lack of understanding that many white reporters brought to covering issues in black communities. That led to a wave of foundation research into increasing the multicultural resources of the press and educating and encouraging young minority journalists. The Maynard Institute was one group that emerged from that effort.

The ASNE diversity study started in 1978 as a project of Jay Harris, then a journalism professor at Northwestern University, later publisher of the Mercury News and now Director of the Center for the Study of Journalism and Democracy at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California.

NEWSROOM DIVERSITY AT OTHER LARGE CALIFORNIA PAPERS

Latest year reported

Non-white % of newsroom staff

Non-white % of circulation area

Newsroom Diversity Index (100=parity)

Circulation

Los Angeles Times

2004

19.6

60.0

33

914,584

San Diego Union-Tribune

2004

16.9

45.5

37

352,198

Orange County Register

2004

24.6

48.7

50

302,864

Sacramento Bee

2004

30.4

35.0

87

289,905

Los Angeles Daily News

2004

16.4

52.3

31

178,360

Modesto Bee

2004

19.5

41.5

47

85,033

 


SOURCE: ASNE and Knight Foundation. Find the study here: www.asu.edu/cronkite/asne.

 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the relationship between the late Robert Maynard and Dori Maynard. He was her father.