The “Other” in the Newsroom: Diversity in Media

Nose deep in twitter feeds, scribbling notes in terrible but understandable short hand, and trying to determine which stories are worth reporting. It’s 9:30am at a pitch meeting where news nerds chirp over the day’s biggest stories.

Sitting in on a pitch meeting is a thrilling experience for someone like myself: a news junkie and social media enthusiast. It’s my first time in a newsroom without intern or student attached to my name. My early experiences pitching stories for “The Purchase Brick” brought me into a world I so desperately wanted to fit into and it only took me four years.

Now I’m here, working for a major news outlet.

It has only been a couple of weeks and I’m starting to get a handle of how it all works. I am still trying to break out of my shell and meet my fellow writers.

For many, this dream is long and hard road that is difficult to travel. With abysmal unemployment rants, the changing journalism climate, and the disappearance of ‘traditional’ journalism jobs, this business is not forgiving.

Journalist, Rebecca Carroll wrote a “scandalizing” piece for New Republic titled, “I’m a Black Journalist. I’m Quitting Because I’m Tired of Newsroom Racism” which was buzzing on social media recently.

She wrote about the abuse she endured being a black woman in a newsroom:

“At the start of each new job, where I was almost invariably the only black editor on staff (unless it was a black publication—I have worked at a few), I would be heralded for my “voice” (and the implicit diversity it brought), until that voice became threatening or intimidating, or just too black. My ideas were “thoughtful” and “compassionate” until I argued, say, that having white journalists write the main features on a new black news venture sent the wrong message to the black online community. My editors disagreed.”

– Rebecca Carroll

Others believed she was actually paying a disservice to other journalists who happen to be black and a woman. In an interview with Fusion’s Alicia Menendez, Carroll was asked if her quitting harmed diversity in journalism.

She responded:

“I am someone with opinions, someone who is fiercely protective of my individuality and I am someone who cares deeply about race and culture in this country,” Carroll responded. “I’m going to be that person who moves that needle, but at a certain point I began to feel so wholly exhausted and I wasn’t able to do the work that I love to do.”

Her sentiments aren’t far off.

In October The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) had criticized CNN’s lack of black journalists on the air. Citing that many of their black reporters have left the anchor desk or CNN all together. Following the article, CNN withdrew its support of NABJ for the 2015 Convention & Career Fair.

This continuing conversation reminds me of my thoughts about Charlo Greene, a reporter for Anchorage’s KTVA in Alaska, who quit on live TV, dropped the f-bomb, and endorsed the legalization of weed through her Alaska Cannabis Club. In a YouTube video she further explained her abrupt exit. She later went on HuffPost Live and smoked what appears to be a joint.

At first I was kind of shock at her antics. Amused really. Like this was great viral video content. She truly didn’t care anymore and this was such a great ‘fuck it’ moment.

Then it started to hit me. Why did she have to be a “sista”? I know that’s cliché. She’s not my sister; we are only bonded by color, cis-gender-ish, and similar occupation. Yet all I can think about was all the women of color in journalism who are struggling just to find paid work. Forget anything about a full-time gigs; freelancing can be difficult. Internships are competitive. Paid internships? Better know the right people.

According to Women’s Media Center’s (WMC) The Status of Women in the U.S Media 2014 report, in 2013 black women only make-up 47% of all black newsroom.

So here is Greene on TV reporting for a local news channel, something many of us may never get to do and she sort of blew it.

Now in all honesty, this viral video is the only way we all know of this woman. She became a national heroine for some and a laughing-stock for others.

Why does her actions embarrass me?

I’m the first to admit that my embarrassment is in the wrong. Yet warranted. Why? Because of the double consciousness, as a black person we see ourselves in multiple ways. We see ourselves as one monolithic group, while also fighting to be an individual.  Greene embarrasses me because I want her to succeed, and I’m disappointed in Carroll because I’m inspired by her dedication to the profession.

Being a woman of color and a black woman, at this point I’m used to being one of a few or just that single one. For the three years I worked for my school’s online news outlet I was usually the only regular black woman contributor. Working my way up from quiet staff writer, ambitious video intern, to exhausted broadcast editor. Always aware of my color and gender, never willing to let it hold me backs from achieving my goals.

Turn the clock forward almost six years later, journalist feels like a label I can wear proudly. Not because of my current career move, but because all this time I’ve been one and now my hard work has paid off.

So far I love my job. I’m surrounded by other news junkies who are extremely smart, passionate, and committed to their work.

The newsroom here is more diverse than your average newsroom. Sure there are plenty of white guys, but it doesn’t feel like a ‘good ole boys’ situation.

It’s also a fairly young newsroom. I would gauge the majority of the writers are millennials -on the older side of the scale mid 20s to early 30s. We’re more likely to be more open about many issues. What I like the most is that many of the writers can report about important issues in an unbiased, factual, and detailed manner. Every day I read a ton of stories that I’m pretty blown away by. It makes me want to be a better writer. It makes me want to be a better reporter.

Charlo Greene and Rebecca Carroll should not be our measuring tape for black women journalists. Their stumbles, successes, and sacrifices are important to the overall journey we journalists must take. We should listen and digest their stories, but not forget to make our own.

 

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