The organization examined management ranks – not on-air talent or correspondents – where decisions are made about what stories are covered and how they are covered. NABJ found that African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics and other people of color are represented in mid-level ranks but not in the upper echelons of TV news management.
NABJ has been conducting this census for the past five years, said Bob Butler, the organization’s vice president of broadcast.
“The first year we did this we looked at the stations that were owned by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. There were 61 people of color in management, about 16 percent,” Butler said. “Since that time, it’s gone down to about 12 percent of all the managers being people of color. That’s well below the 35 percent approximately of people of color represented in this country.”
While local stations are at 12 percent, TV networks are in a bit better shape– 34 percent of managers are people of color, according to the study. NBC and MSNBC tend to have the most diversity, Butler said. NABJ gathers the data, and then asks networks and stations to confirm it. Fox did not respond and ABC declined to confirm the accuracy of the data, Butler acknowledged in an interview with National Public Radio’s Michel Martin Wednesday afternoon.
It’s important that newsrooms have diverse voices at the table to ensure they are covering communities of color and that the coverage is fair and accurate, said Butler. NABJ doesn’t just point out the deficiencies, it also offers to help TV newsrooms solve the problem by helping to identify and train TV newsroom executives through its Executive Suite Program, he added. Led by news executives, the program is a series of workshops designed to help middle managers who aspire to more senior roles gain a better sense of what it takes to be an executive editor, a publisher, a news director or a general manager.
The Federal Communications Commission is charged with collecting the data that NABJ currently compiles, “but it hasn’t done it since 1996 and congress is not asking why not,” Butler said.