Ruben Navarrett Jr / Politics

For Journalists, Some Tough Love

SAN DIEGO -- It's not exactly breaking news that these are tough times for the newspaper industry that I love.

So it might be a good time for those who still work in newspapers -- or used to -- to be dished some tough love.

At most U.S. dailies, circulation has been in sharp decline and newsroom staffs are practically skeletal.

It comes as no surprise that times are especially tough for nonwhite print journalists, at least the relatively few who remain in this business.

According to the annual diversity census of the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), print journalism is bleeding people of color faster than it is losing journalists across the board. Total newsroom employment at daily newspapers declined by 2.4 percent in 2011. For minority journalists, the drop-off was 5.7 percent.

The survey counted 40,600 journalists at newspapers and newspaper-owned websites. Five thousand were journalists of color, or 12.3 percent. There were 1,886 African-Americans, 1,166 Asian-Americans, and just 132 Native Americans. There were also -- in a category that I'm intimately familiar with -- 1,650 Hispanic journalists.

This is becoming a small club. Minorities have spent the last five decades trying to get in the door. And yet, when layoffs hit, many of them are among the first to be shown it.

This was also no surprise. I've been writing for newspapers for 23 years -- as a freelancer, reporter, columnist and editorial board member -- and here is one thing I've learned: For folks who tell people what to do and what to think, those who run newspapers don't like it much when others force them to do the same. At a conference of editorial writers and editors, I remember hearing one of the editors brag about how his paper had hammered a local politician for not practicing affirmative action in hiring office staff, while oblivious to the fact that his newspaper's editorial board was guilty of the same sin.

We journalists of color may have believed that we had won the argument and convinced the higher-ups that newspapers needed to diversify their staffs. We were wrong. It seems to me that the first chance the managers got to return to their comfort zone by eliminating minorities, they took it.

As a result, you have all these talented middle-aged journalists floating around with stories left to write, and yet they're unsure of what the next chapter will be.

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Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group



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