As America Gets Browner, Newsrooms Get Whiter

PHOTO: At U.S. newspapers, most front page stories are written by whites, a new study finds.

Flickr/VictoriaPeckham

Even though the country is more diverse than ever -- with minorities accounting for 37 percent of the population -- newsrooms have gotten less diverse, according to a study by American Society of News Editors.

Non-whites comprise just 12.37 percent of newsrooms in America, down from 13.73 in 2006. But why?

Riva Gold, a recent Stanford alum who targeted the topic in her journalism master's thesis, wrote for The Atlantic about a number of factors she believes contribute to the trend, based on interviews with industry executives. Here are just a few of the reasons she gives:

1. Buyouts. With the parts of the journalism industry facing financial woes, layoff policies hit minority hires harder, Gold notes. For example, minorities were the most likely to take buyouts due to economic need, according to an NPR executive.

2. Diversity as a luxury. Paul Cheung, the President of the Asian American Journalists Association told Gold that many companies see diversity as something "nice to do" but not something that will contribute to the bottom line. Still, a recent rise in media outlets geared towards Latinos (like our own) seems to indicate that many executives do see value in tapping into the growing demographic. Many still wonder, however, if these initiatives will truly lead to greater inclusion of minority voices in the mainstream.

3. Shrinking minority leadership. Compounding the diversity problem is the fact that minorities are even more underrepresented in leadership positions, Gold writes.

4. Barriers to entry. If you can go to journalism grad school on your parents' dime or afford to work for "free" in an unpaid internship, that may help your career opportunities down the road. However, minorities are less likely to be in this privileged position, Gold argues.

Jose Antonio Vargas, journalist and immigration advocate said recently, "I couldn't do unpaid internships because I needed to send money to the Philippines...That's how it is for a lot of minority youth. The only people who can do unpaid internship are white and affluent."

Ninety-five percent of reporters who report on immigration, an issue that disproportionately affects the Latino community are white, according to a study from last year.

So why should we care?

Minority journalists may be better suited to tell certain stories, NPR's Gene Demby argued on Twitter.

"On a really basic level, it means that stories about people of color are told by people who aren't sufficiently well-versed to be skeptical," Demby wrote. "It's basically like having a universe in which all the stories about women were written by dudes."

Vargas posted on Twitter earlier this year that a nation's journalism should reflect its people: "A demographically changing America needs diverse newsrooms telling different stories," he tweeted. "That way, we can see ourselves in the media."

Playwright Arthur Miller once described good journalism as "a nation talking to itself."

"But who's doing the talking?" Vargas asked.

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