Why is Mainstream Media Still So White?

Non-white journalists make up only 17 percent of newsrooms across the United States. Photo Credit: scienceprogress.org

Soundbite Services

DENVER – The story of America is becoming increasingly more diverse, but the same can’t be said for America’s storytellers.

While the population of the United States is nearly 40 percent nonwhite and growing, 83 percent of journalists working in U.S. newsrooms are white.

To be fair, newsrooms were getting much more diverse until about 2008, when the economy crashed, forcing massive layoffs. That meant the last journalists hired were the first to go, including many minorities.

At the same time, because the way people get their news has changed so dramatically, newsrooms have continued to shrink.

Rick Harp, who creates podcasts for Media Indigena, says many people’s stories are not being told, or they’re framed through the lenses of a white journalist, often male.

“And I think sometimes even if you’re not a white man, you tend to adopt their perspective on things – it becomes the norm – and people start to internalize them,” he states. “Even if you’re an indigenous reporter, you can run into that.”

A recent report by The New York Times showed that the number of people of color in staff positions working at its paper rose to 28 percent in 2017 – up only one point from the year before.

Angie Chuang, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Colorado, says being a reporter does not necessarily pay well, and many parents may think it’s a risky investment when it’s time to send their children off to college.

She adds that President Donald Trump calling out journalists as the “enemy of the people” is creating some fear among would-be reporters.

“Really, recently, it’s been seen as possibly risky,” she states. “That’s certainly a factor if you have a president encouraging people to attack journalists. That’s certainly not going to encourage people to stay or go into the profession for their own safety.”

Even if minorities are willing to take the personal or financial risk of becoming a reporter, Harp says they often don’t see a place for themselves in the world of journalism.

“They’re going to be more implicitly encouraged to go into that field if they already see themselves represented,” he states. “If they don’t feel themselves represented, either they explicitly feel kind of rejected by the storytelling or implicitly feel that’s not a place that they’re attracted to.”

The Kerner Commission released the first report on the lack of diversity in newsrooms in 1968, calling attention to the issue during reporting on the civil rights movement.