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TV NEWS WHITEWASH

20 years ago when Good Enough Mother was just starting her TV News career, I had a conversation with a woman in the news department of the station I worked for. She said, “You are lucky you’re black.” It sort of took me by surprise because I wasn’t sure what she meant; the legacy of slavery, the civil rights struggle, the subtleties of racism. She went on to explain, “ Well at least when you send out a resume tape for a reporter’s job, you have a good chance of getting it. At this point I said, “ Look around here. How many people who look like me do you see in this newsroom? One? That’s right, just one.” What I wanted her to understand was that being black did not automatically get me the job, especially if they news department already had one black reporter. Yeah, I went there.

When Good Enough Mother was just starting her TV News career, I had a conversation with a woman in the news department of the station I worked for. She said, “You are lucky you’re black.”

It sort of took me by surprise because I wasn’t sure what she meant; the legacy of slavery, the civil rights struggle, the subtleties of racism.  She went on to explain, “Well at least when you send out a resume tape for a reporter’s job, you have a good chance of getting it!” At this point I said, “Look around here. How many people who look like me do you see in this newsroom? One? That’s right, just one.” What I wanted her to understand was that being black did not automatically get me the job, especially if they news department already had one black reporter. Yeah, I went there.

That was 20 plus years ago. There have been some major accomplishments for African Americans in that time, most notably the election of the first black president, Barack Obama.  And yet, the people covering him at the highest levels are white. Why is it that?  Former ABC news anchor Carole Simpson had the same question.

Why is this important? Because television is still a powerful medium that shapes the way we see our world. That’s why diversity, even at the highest levels, on and off camera is important. But honestly, I don’t hold out much hope because most of the decision makers are white. Diversity to them is something to which they pay lip service instead of embracing as vital to the growth of their industry. The truth of the matter is until change comes to the executive suite, it will pretty much remain business as usual. That’s not breaking news, just news that’s broken.

But what do you think? Are you bothered by the lack of diversity in the News Media? And who do you think is to blame?

18 Comments

  1. Brian Gagnon

    July 26, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    When you and I worked together at KTVT we had several minorities in the newsroom. Some were African American, some Latino, some Gay and one Vietnamese. The actual reason for their hiring was something that none of us were offered explanation. The reason some kept their jobs and others didn’t was because of their job performance.

    I worked in Master and although it was mostly populated with white males we also had diversity there too. The important part is how well people knew and performed their jobs.

    Ethnicity may open the door easier but it doesn’t stop that same door from swinging back and crushing the unqualified.

  2. Dave Jordan

    July 26, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    You don’t want me to even get started on this. It’s amazing to me how an adulterous ex-governor with a proclivity for whores gets a prime-time slot on CNN and QUALIFIED black journalists can’t get arrested – even on a local level.

    Russ Mitchell has said that he often hears news managers claim they can’t find qualified black candidates, a notion he and I dismiss. I can name at least 20 QUALIFIED candidates who are not working and their phone isn’t ringing. Ridiculous.

    Told you you didn’t want to get me started.

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  4. Jeff Winbush

    July 26, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    I’ve been to two UNITY conventions and three NABJ conventions and I’ve seen no shortage of attractive, articulate, experienced and talented Black, Latino and Asian journalists working the job fairs. I just don’t seem to be seeing any of them showing up on my TV screen.

    The biggest LIE in America is how “liberal” the news media is. Yeah, they’re real liberal. When it comes to pointing their crooked little fingers at someone else. When the finger points back at them they suddenly have nothing to say. Not CNN. Not Fox. Not MSNBC. NONE of them.

    Because that’s the way uh-huh, uh-huh, they like it.

  5. Valerie Porter

    July 26, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Rene, as a regular Joe Blow, I have to tell you I really thought things were changing when you were an anchor, there was Sue Simmons, Carol Simpson, all of you guys in NY almost at the same time. Well, it has gotten markedly worst since my time in NY, and with all the additional Cable News, there should be more jobs for us. Well I ‘m in Birmingham, Al now and although you see 1 or 2 on each local news station here, I now have a true feeling of what racism really is, and baby are we in trouble!

    Unless we can find a way into the corporate ranks of Journalism , we are toast, and frankly , those current coroporate suits don’t give a d— about us.

  6. Ann

    July 26, 2010 at 3:09 pm

    I’ll do you one further, those making the decision at the top are mostly white males.

  7. Smarty P. Jones

    July 26, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    Uh oh, Rene, you’ve opened a can and there are scores of black journalists who will ring in. As one of them, I will say that it is disappointing to see African Americans disappearing from newsrooms of all kinds. TV is perhaps the most prominent because those are the journalists you see on a daily basis.
    Those of us working on the print side are starting to see fewer and fewer people who look like us who are reporting stories and definitely those who wear the titles of editor and publisher.
    A lot of folks wonder why minorities are portrayed in such a negative light by the news media and I say look no further than the people bringing you these stories. More often than not, a lot of stories take on a slant of some sort and whether it is intended or not there are a lot of things that are deemed as offensive that get by the gatekeepers (editors, producers …) because they simply don’t know or understand and they aren’t hiring the people who do. And when they do, concerns are not often being heard or they are being disregarded.
    This more than anything is contributing to the number of minority journalists leaving their newsrooms more than anything. That is why there are hundreds of talented newspeople on the broadcast and print side abandoning the business for fields like education and public relations.
    I’ll stop there before I get wound up, too.

  8. Buster Spiller

    July 26, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    As simplistic as it seems, that’s a management decision and management tends to think that viewing audiences only find white media personalities credible sources of news for the public. When the black community starts to complain, they appease us with a black face (MAYBE a 2nd face though not likely). But when something sinks ratings, we are the first to go.

    Here in Dallas, our morning news program Good Morning Texas was made popular by a wonderful journalist and TV personality, Paula McClure, an Afrircan-American woman. After her, Deborah Duncan another African-American woman took her spot and the station still enjoyed great ratings. After she left, they tried a series of guest hosts before finally settling on another African-American woman. For whatever reason, she was asked to the door and now the show is so lily white and boring that I’ve stopped watching. I’m not saying only black females should be on this team but there are NO minorities represented YET Dallas is a minority-majority city. There’s something wrong with that.

    I think the only way to alleviate that is to have African-Americans and other minorities in those management positions where the decisions are made to make decisions related to hiring minority talent and marketing stations to communities of color.

  9. Tonya Mosley

    July 26, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    Thank you for posting this Rene. As a previous poster stated, it would also help to have minorities in management positions – these are the decision makers on every level.

  10. Carmen

    July 26, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    OMG. After working in six newsrooms, I have had this conversation with SO many people… and honestly, I keep coming back to the same conclusion. The reason we are not well represented in news is because they WEAR US DOWN. I know in my case, my last newsroom was the final straw. I’m done with news.

    My news director told me I needed to “increase my energy.” I said, “So… please explain further… should I be more active? Speak faster? I’m just a little confused.” My manager looked at me like he was annoyed and replied, “When MY manager tells me to do something, I just DO it. I don’t ask questions. So when I say you need to increase your energy, you should just do it— or else you’ll find yourself without a job in six months when your contract is up.”

    Well, at this point, the gauntlet had been laid. As my mama (a law professor) used to say, do not present an ultimatum to an African-American woman… unless you are willing to lose.

    Needless to say, I was out when my contract was up. But it was MY decision. (although I agreed to stick around for an extra three months because they didn’t believe me when I told them I was leaving— they hadn’t found my replacement).

    And I have to say, that wasn’t the first time this has happened to me. I had a wonderful job possibility in a top ten market when my boss (in a top twenty market) brought me into his office and said, “Hey, there’s no way you’re going to get this other job, so why don’t we renegotiate your contract?” The contract was for a whopping 1% raise. I said I’d think about it, and then took the other job immediately.

    Unfortunately, the job in that top ten market ended when I, again, had issues in contract negotiations. My boss called me into his office to see if I’d signed my contract yet and I replied, “I just can’t get over the feeling that this contract isn’t that fair.” To which he replied, “You don’t feel it’s fair. OK. I’ll tell you what. How about you DON’T sign the contract and then don’t have a job?” (Uh oh… ultimatum….) I immediately said, “You’re right. Sorry this didn’t work out.”

    THIS is why I’m out of news. I can’t keep playing these games with people. I’m too old and too tired. :p

    I should add, these managers played this same game with my co-workers… minority and non-minority alike. But I think I just had a lower tolerance level. As I said, too old. And too tired.

  11. Mike W.

    July 27, 2010 at 7:52 am

    Preach, Carmen! PREACH! Do we all remember the principle behind Reaganomics? You know– the trickle down effect? That’s what’s happening in TV news. The powers that be at the network and Top 20s have decided to start weeding out the minorities and it’s trickling down to the mid-major markets. So many folks in this thread have hit the nail so squarely on the head– Carole Simpson in the vid clip, Dave, Carmen, Buster, Smarty Valerie, Jeff) that I need not say anything more except– FREEDOM IS TRULY LIBERATING! I am discovering, with the help of some VERY good friends, that we can create TREMENDOUS opportunities for OURSELVES, on our OWN that will benefit us and many, many others.

    My newsroom asked me leave five months ago after nearly 15 years of service and the nurturing of their news department from infancy. It was not a particularly pleasant experience and one that played out over several months. But what I have learned, through all of the pain and disappointment, is that maybe it was time and I needed a little push to move me to the next phase of my life and my work. I would also say that the people at the top making these decision are no smarter (dare I say NOT smarter) than the folks at the bottom doing all the grunt work. I, now, rather enjoy watching the results fo these decision play out in the form of plummeting ratings and continued backlash from viewers over the changes. What goes around, comes around.

    We need folks like Syler, Simpson, Mitchell and others to continue throwing logs on this fire. They need more folks like those of us engaged in this discussion, to join the fray. We need to keep using every platform available to keep this issue in the forefront. I love the way Carole graciously acknowledged CNN for inviting her to discuss the issue then masterfully called the network on the carpet for hiring Eliot Spitzer. That’s why we love Carole Simpson.

    I think I’m finding my voice, Rene! (Smile)

  12. Allyson Wilson

    July 27, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Its all very sad, isn’t it? When I finally made it on-air in my hometown (Washington, DC) I had already had head games played on me by the VP of news at the station. Although I had worked in 4 other markets– each one a progressively bigger than the last (as all good journalists should) he told me I was “lucky” to be getting a “shot” there because really, I wasn’t that experienced. Then, he turned around and hired a brunette from a smaller market than I had come from and a blond straight out of college. All the while, I was just freelancing– no hope of getting a staff job. I left for another DC station, and freelanced for years under much better circumstances, but was still never offered a staff job. I agree with Carmen, they just WEAR YOU DOWN after a while. I am 32 now, I have a husband and kids, I couldn’t keep playing these little head games while others (non-minorities with less experience) rise. I had to find a new career.

  13. Carmen

    July 27, 2010 at 10:23 am

    Mike, you are so right about how what goes around comes around. Every news manager I talk about above was eventually fired. And it could be I just happened to have a bad bunch of managers (I’ve also had some good ones whom I would have worked for forever— but they never stuck around very long).

    And like you, I eventually used those experiences as a push to move onto the next phase of my life. I believe things happen for a reason. I don’t regret my time in TV at all, I really loved what I did… and I have a great relationship with almost everyone I ever worked with (including some of the managers I talk about above— I am a strong believer in not burning bridges).

    I’m not sure what the answer is here. I agree with several posters who say management needs more minority influence. But I have to admit it’s hard for me to encourage frustrated young reporters to stick around long enough to become managers knowing what I know. I want changes to the business, but we’re also talking about their lives. I’m not going to encourage them to leave— but I’m also not going to sugarcoat what they are going through and tell them they should just try to deal with it. So I’m not sure what the answer is.

  14. Carmen

    July 27, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Allyson, didn’t see your response until now. I completely feel your pain. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “you’re lucky to have this job…” (the last couple of times I heard that I said, “But you wouldn’t have kept me on— and wouldn’t be offering me another contract if I hadn’t proven myself…”).

    *sigh*

    Yep. DONE.

  15. Rene Syler

    July 27, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    thanks everyone for being so open and transparent about this. Ditto, Carmen, I am D-O-N-E!

  16. Rene Syler

    July 27, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    BTW, the thing that makes me crazy about that response is that you are NOT lucky you had that job, you worked your tail off to get there. Ugh! Luck is when you spend your last dollar on a lottery ticket and win a million dollars.

  17. Carmen

    July 28, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Thank you, Rene. I agree. And the really crazy thing is that in each case I mention above, I later heard from other managers in the newsroom that the ND’s were “shocked” when I left. They (apparently) really wanted me to stay— and were convinced that I would. How insane is that? :/

    Also, why am I not surprised to hear that you are done as well? 😉 As we can see in many of the comments above, I think we are growing in numbers. Great for our own sanity, but sad for diversity within the business.

    Thanks for providing the soap box. I swear I am a lot calmer now that I’m out of news— even though this provides evidence to the contrary… lol.

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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