The newspaper-industry crisis has hit journalists of color hard — a fact evident in the recent controversy over Philadelphia magazine’s “Being White in Philly” cover story. Most local-media responses were from white people like myself, because the makeup of most news outlets in this city is overwhelmingly white. (City Paper’s full-time editorial staff, like Philadelphia magazine’s, is 100 percent white.) Just short of a thousand black reporters nationwide lost or left their jobs between 2002 and 2012, bringing their newsroom representation to just 4.65 percent, according to the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). Management tends to blame union seniority rules, while unions tend to fault management for failing to make diversity a priority. The proliferation of unpaid internships as de facto entry-level jobs puts poor people of any race at further disadvantage.
The Inquirer, with a newsroom of about 250 compared to just 90 at the Daily News, is the city’s largest news-gathering operation — and also a profoundly white one. Last fall, the Temple University journalism department briefly stopped recommending interns to the paper to protest the lack of diversity.
Annette John-Hall was the Inquirer’s only African-American metro columnist until she took a buyout last month, leaving Karen Heller (who is white) as the paper’s only metro columnist in a city where black people are a plurality. “What you get is unbalanced coverage,” says John Hall, describing a paper that has shifted away from community-level beats and too often reduces neighborhoods to crime stories. The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists (PABJ) asked Inquirer editor Bill Marimow that the next metro columnist be black. According to PABJ president and Philadelphia Tribune news editor Johann Calhoun, Marimow, who did not respond to a request for comment, said he would try.
Meanwhile, the Daily News boasts a black columnist and a Puerto Rican one, along with a number of reporters of color and a black editor-in-chief. “They do a much better job covering the city than the Inquirer,” says John-Hall. “The Inquirer is all about suburban coverage now because they’ve done reader surveys that tell them that’s where their circulation is.” But it’s not a total whiteout: Inquirer editorial page editor Harold Jackson is African-American.
The nation’s class and racial inequalities are deeply entrenched. But newspapers, like universities and other employers, must do better. Not only for reporters of color, but for readers of all colors.
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