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Slow moves in newsrooms.

Initiatives to diversify newsrooms across the country have registered small gains in helping minorities obtain careers in print journalism. But while officials from the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) praise the industry's meager seventenths of one percentage point increase in minority employment last year, black journalists are concerned that small increases may actually be more the result of lingering resistance rather than actual progress.

According to ASNE's 1992 newsroom employment survey, of the 54,530 journalists at daily newspapers, 5,120 are minorities--a record 9.4%, up from 8.7% in 1991. Blacks make up 4.8% (2,604) of the total work force. However, the survey estimates that 51% of daily newspapers do not employ any minorities at all.

Although this year's increase is small, ASNE President David Lawrence Jr., publisher of the Miami Herald, says it is important to ASNE's Year 2000 Goal, which aims to increase the number of minorities in newsrooms until it matches the percentage of minorities in the general population by the year 2000 or sooner. "We've made some honest progress during one of the toughest years on record for newspapers," says Lawrence. "It makes me encouraged for the future."

National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) President Sidmel Estes-Sumpter calls ASNE's plan "mission impossible." Since ASNE began its initiative in 1978, minority employment has only increased 5.4%. Estes-Sumpter says, "For the Year 2000 goal to succeed, news organizations would have to raise the percentages of minority employees by 2% to 3% a year. That would mean bringing in hundreds of minorities every year. At this rate, I don't see that happening."

The treatment that black journalists receive once they make it into the newsroom is part of why Estes-Sumpter is skeptical. "We have the programs and mechanisms in place to bring blacks into entry-level positions," she says. "The challenge lies in getting blacks into management positions."

An NABJ report on coverage of the Los Angeles riot released at the group's August convention charges that blacks were shut out of editorial decision-making. Blacks were used primarily as "runners"--sent into riots areas to gather information that was then forwarded to white editors and reporters who would write the stories. Many feel this process produced an overabundance of stories on tensions between blacks and Koreans, overlooked the role Latinos played in the looting and prevented black reporters from getting bylines.

To make matters worse, an American Newspaper Publishers Association report says that news organizations with voluntary affirmative-action programs have declined from 38% in 1988 to 36%. As a precaution, in 1991, the NABJ and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund agreed to legally challenge any news organization that discriminates against black employees. So far, no suits have been filed.

Other organizations, such as the Institute for Journalism Education (IJE), have joined in the effort to make a difference. Since 1989, IJE (510-891-9202) has produced 117 editors and 106 managers, nearly all of whom are minorities. Steve Monteil, a director of the IJE, says, "We're trying to generate new leadership in the industry."
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Title Annotation:affirmative action in journalism
Author:Harris, Jason T.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Dec 1, 1992
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