The outlook for diversity in media is not encouraging. The number of minority journalists in newspapers continues to shrink. For the second year in a row, the rate at which minority journalists lost their jobs or took buyouts was greater than that of the overall industry, according to a 2009 American Society of News Editors study. Minority journalists now represent 13.26 percent of newspaper employment. This diminishing number comes after years of gains in minority journalists, and while ethnic populations expand nationwide.
There are also concerns that a lack of “net neutrality” or a free and open Internet could smother the voices of ethnic media and other diverse news sources. In April, a federal appeals court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission could not stop cable giant Comcast from interfering with subscribers’ Internet traffic.
This ruling is troublesome because it allows Comcast and other Internet providers to prioritize the flow of content from higher-paying customers, such as large businesses, over that of smaller customers, including local news websites, citizen journalists and relatively small ethnic media. Even worse, Internet providers could selectively limit or silence the traffic — hurting the equal access that currently exists.
Given these challenges, how can we ensure the continuance of diverse sources and journalists in the press?
I am inspired by the growth of new hyper-local, hyper-diverse news sites over the past few years. They are a welcome addition uncovering neighborhood news niches and giving voice to impassioned citizens of all ethnicities. Additionally, members of the media are responding. There is increasing dialogue between journalists and community. Many traditional news outlets are turning to local, ethnic and niche news sites to extend their content and reach.
Consider these tips to help diversify your coverage:
TRAIN AND HIRE
In contrast to print jobs, online media opportunities are growing. For example, the number of minority journalists working in online media is 20 percent, according to the ASNE study. SPJ continues to work with Unity: Journalists of Color groups and other organizations to equip journalists with new-media skills. But we must also keep the pressure on newsroom managers when given the opportunity to seek diversity in hiring — for all jobs.
Ethnic and community media can help fill gaps at mainstream media companies left by cutbacks, and mainstream media can help smaller sites gain exposure. As part of a J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism pilot project, newspapers such as The Miami Herald and Charlotte Observer are entering content partnerships with hyper-local sites. The Columbus Dispatch, last year’s SPJ New America Award recipient, worked with reporters at its Spanish-language sister paper to provide a bilingual, comprehensive report on immigration laws.
DIVERSIFY YOUR SOURCES
It’s easy to return to old, trusted sources. But it’s never been easier to reach out for new ones. For example, social media is a great tool for diversifying your sources. From Facebook to LinkedIn to Ning, there is a group for every special interest. Make contact. See what people are talking about. Reach out to leaders in the groups. SPJ also has a diversity sourcebook online (spj.org/divsourcebook.asp). You can search under common news topics to find experts suggested by fellow journalists.
PARTICIPATE IN NEW MODELS
Consider writing for or financing articles via tools like Spot.us. The site accepts citizen funds to finance a diverse array of writing projects. Recently funded stories include one focused on finding fresh produce in a low-income area in Oakland, Calif., while another addressed toxic contamination in the water supply of the San Joaquin Valley in California. Unity: Journalists of Color has also created a program, New U, where they train members to become entrepreneurs and offer seed money to hatch their ideas.
Pueng Vongs is an online producer at Bay Area News Group and is SPJ’s Diversity Committee chairwoman.
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