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Women of color are severely underrepresented in newsrooms, study says

"Women are just 32 percent of newsrooms, but the percentage of women of color is even more dire," Cristal Williams Chancellor, director of communications at the Women's Media Center, told NPR. Oivind Hovland/Getty Images

People of color make nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, and women make up more than half. But you couldn't guess that by looking at American journalists, according to a new report by the Women's Media Center.

Women of color represent just 7.95 percent of U.S. print newsroom staff, 6.2 percent of local radio staff and 12.6 percent of local TV news staff, according to this year's Status of Women in the U.S. Media study, the organization's annual audit of diverse media voices.

"Women are just 32 percent of newsrooms, but the percentage of women of color is even more dire," Cristal Williams Chancellor, director of communications at the Women's Media Center, told NPR. "We wanted this year's report to take a closer look at that segment."

The report analyzed news organizations' responses to "professional association queries" and included dozens of interviews with female journalists of color who shared their obstacles and triumphs.

Along with American newsrooms' low representations of female journalists of color, the report also found that compared with in previous years, newspapers' count of minority female employees stagnated or fell and radio hired fewer minority women.

Williams Chancellor said these findings weren't shocking, given the enormous challenges that women of color continue to face in American newsrooms. Especially troublesome, she said, are the media's methods of recruiting, hiring and promotion. "Part of the challenges come from the plagues that have been part of society for decades, such as racism and sexism, and the old boy's network," she told NPR.

Amanda Terkel, Washington bureau chief at the Huffington Post, discussed the nuances of landing a prestigious job in journalism. "So much of hiring in journalism is poaching from other news outlets, which is often a great way to get talent. But when you do that, you're often dipping from the same pool of people rather than bringing in new voices," she said in the report.

The Women's Media Center recommends that media organizations conduct an audit of their employees, decision-makers and candidates for promotion and that they "staff with intention." The organization also recommended that outlets diversify their news sources.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson was featured in the report and recalled the difficulties she faced as a woman of color during the beginning of her 30-year career as an international reporter. " 'We want to hire this woman with this foreign-sounding name? How will that work?' " she remembers hearing. "Even sources seemed hesitant to call me back, at times. Could they pronounce my name? 'Are you Asian, Middle Eastern? What exactly?' "

NPR's 377-person news staff is 75.1 percent white, 8.8 percent black, 7.7 percent Asian, 6.1 percent Latino, 2.1 percent multiracial and 0.3 percent American Indian, according to the company's latest report on the racial, ethnic and gender diversity of its newsroom. NPR Ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen called the numbers a "disappointing showing." The newsroom is 56.2 percent female — the highest number in five years.

Last year's Status of Women in the U.S. Media noted that "white men were 71 percent of NPR's regular commentators in 2015. By comparison, in 2003, the rate was 60 percent." NPR uses the term commentator for its opinion contributors.

The Women's Media Center hopes that reporting on stagnating hires of female journalists of color will serve as a "wake-up call" to the media and its consumers. Featuring "diverse voices means that we have a more credible media, and a more democratic society," said Williams Chancellor. "We need a media that's more representative and inclusive, and looks like America."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.