Black Journalists Hit Hard by Cuts
Black America Web.com, News Analysis, Michael H. Cottman and Jackie Jones Posted: Dec 15, 2008
With major media outlets laying off reporters and editors at alarming rates, black journalists have been hit particularly hard as The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Star-Ledger, National Public Radio, BET and NBC News are among the companies to drastically reduce newsroom staff in an effort to stay afloat financially.
In 2008, an estimated 15,000 people have lost their jobs at newspapers, according to the tracking Web site Papercuts. And by 2010, media experts say, several cities may be without a daily newspaper. Almost every black journalist who is working knows a black journalist who isn't.
Barbara Ciara, president of the National Association of Black Journalists and vice president for UNITY Journalists of Color, said black journalists – and journalists of color – offer readers and viewers a valuable perspective on news.
"When diversity dies in our nation’s newsrooms through layoffs and buyouts, it has a direct impact on the consumer of color,” Ciara told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “People in charge of content who have different experiences and backgrounds produce a more well-balanced product."
The Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest newspaper, will cut its newsroom staff about 40 percent by year’s end, one of the largest reductions in a single move by a major American newspaper.
Associated Press, the clearinghouse of U.S. journalism, is firing 10 percent of its staff, or about 400 people. Gannett Co. Inc, with interests in newspapers and broadcast stations, recently eliminated about 2,000 jobs in its latest round of cuts, while NBC News plans to reduce some of its 1,200 employees.
Earlier this year, The Washington Post asked a number of seasoned black journalists to consider taking buyouts – which many did – and other black journalists were forced to leave publications like The Dallas Morning News and The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
“The entire industry is facing perilous times,” Ernie Suggs, vice president of print for the National Association of Black Journalists, said in a statement. “With all of our efforts, this print crisis can also be addressed in a way that preserves the integrity and diversity of our great newspapers.”
There is some consolation, however, from the increased numbers of African-Americans and other journalists of color over the years in newsrooms around the country, said Calvin Stovall, executive editor of the Press & Sun Bulletin in Binghamton, N.Y., and chairman of the diversity committee for Associated Press Managing Editors.
“We have made tremendous gains over the last several years,” Stovall told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “We still have a number of people who have some seniority and do have some authority in key positions in newsrooms."
“At the same time,” he said, “there are a number of other people, as we all know, with tremendous experience who are in the situation where some of the cutbacks are so deep, they aren’t able to stick around.”
Stovall said that in cases where managers have the leverage to weigh experience, skill and overall contributions by employees and are able to make selective cuts, he believes many black journalists may well survive this period of turmoil.
The problem isn’t just in the newspaper industry, either.
Black journalists also are concerned about "News & Notes" – the provocative news program geared toward African-American listeners on National Public Radio – that has been canceled after a three-year run. NPR last week cited declining revenue for the cancellation, adding that the network planned to eliminate about seven percent of its workforce.
“Undoubtedly, historically-black radio has been the heartbeat of the black community, from the advent of talk radio through the Sunday morning gospel shows,” Keith Murphy, host of The Urban Journal on XM Radio, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “We, as a people, go to our local and national talk formatted shows in questionable times because of the trust and bonds that are developed.”
Richard Prince, who writes "Journal-Isms," a diversity column for the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, was among the first to report developments concerning “News & Notes” before the official announcement concerning the program’s demise.
"I love public radio, but Lord knows, there is a dearth of shows on NPR that approach issues from a black perspective," Prince told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
"That's what the African-American Consortium, a coalition of black-oriented public radio stations, had in mind when they came up with 'The Tavis Smiley Show,' 'News & Notes,' and 'Tell Me More.' It's gratifying that a substantial number of the audience for these shows is not black," Prince said. "We hear the perspectives of others all the time; it's important to have a place where all of us can be exposed to ours."
Yanick Rice Lamb, associate professor in journalism at Howard University and editorial director of Heart & Soul magazine, told BlackAmericaWeb.com she is optimistic about the future.
"Black-oriented programming will continue to be important," she said, "as long as there's still a void in overall news coverage."
The lack of diversity in overall news coverage has been a longstanding issue and has contributed to some of the industry’s problems, said Dori Maynard, president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education.
Many people have found, she said, “they no longer need to read their local newspapers and can go on blogs like Jack & Jill Politics or Latina Lista that confirms reality as they see it.”
The buyouts and layoffs don’t help, Maynard told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
“It’s a significant problem for viewers and readers who are going to get even less fair and accurate depictions in everything,” she says, because with the election of the nation’s first black president, “diversity is going to run through everything.” And there will be fewer journalists available who can explain the nuances.
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