When Prince forced InStyle to hire a black journalist (Erica Kennedy) to interview him in 2000, it was a prescient advocacy aimed at casting a light on the invisible black man and woman in traditional media. Erica Kennedy went on to become a New York Times bestselling author. The lack of black representation in media certainly dates back well before Prince, and still continues today. What are journalists and media personalities doing about it?
A fear to step outside of the comfort zone is forcing black anchors and journalists to remain complacent, stagnant, and disposable. Remember when MSNBC, the “liberal” side of NBC’s hard news, created its own diversity purge by severing ties with Melissa Harris-Perry? It reeked of #journalismsowhite, a hashtag created by Jose Antonio Vargas, that used facts to highlight bias in the traditional media industry. It also reeked of the age-old black American fear of risk, one that requires an individual to leave the media plantation and create their own platform. There are several reasons why that risk-averse behavior still exists and reasons why it shouldn’t.
Black women actually lead the nation as the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs. But in the media startup world, black men and women are simply lagging behind. In this ever-expanding digital space, there is absolutely no better time to create your own alternative media platform to challenge the corporate media landscape, despite sites like Buzzfeed and Fusion living up to their diversity standards.
Generally, homogeneity in the industry is a byproduct of corporate oligarchs who answer just to profit margins, not to moral and ethical standards in journalism and hiring practices. It’s going to eventually backfire, because the racial demographics are changing rapidly. According to the Pew Research Center, “Multiracial Americans are at the cutting edge of social and demographic change in the U.S.—young, proud, tolerant and growing at a rate three times as fast as the population as a whole.” That’s a ton of people to bypass, and the results of the lack of a diverse staff leads to racial blind spots and tone-deaf reporting.
To make matters worse, when anchors and journalists are hired, they’re too often required to adhere to white beauty standards, a tokenization of blackness creates a means to sustain job security. WCNT 9 anchor Angela Green, in a video that has since garnered over a million Facebook views, shared her thoughts about the inner-workings of blackness in the newsroom:
I’m certainly not challenging one’s own decision to pursue whatever organization that meets their needs. There is growing affinity for new media brands. There is profound admiration for award-wining editors. There is a desire to live in a particular city and, most importantly, working for a corporate funded company is sometimes a means to leverage an opportunity to build one’s own platform. My qualms are about the deflection and backlash that go against the idea of making media spaces more diverse. The notion that we’re all American with equal opportunities is simply not true. That assumption keeps getting debunked time and time again. People of color are available for journalism jobs, but it’s a tug of war fight to get them hired.
Not only are journalists constantly battling black hair politics, colorism also plays a major role in whether a dark-skinned journalists are capable of keeping a show. There is a sick societal reason as to why there are so few dark-skinned reporters and international female entertainers on the film and TV screen.
Gillian B. White, for the Atlantic, questions the ambitions of traditional media and the false belief that “black journalists are not unavailable.”
“In an analysis published in the Columbia Journalism Review, Alex T. Williams, a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania, addresses the question of why there are so few minorities in mainstream media. Williams debunks the notion that the cause is that there are few minorities who pursue journalism. Minorities made up 21.4 percent of graduates with degrees in journalism or communications between 2004 and 2014, but less than half of minority graduates found full-time jobs, while two-thirds of white graduates did.”
The lack of social resources is a self-defeating cycle.
“The problem stems from the way many publications hire. As Williams points out, newsrooms often value the types of internships and experiences that minorities are less likely to have. They’re less likely to have attended schools that have campus newspapers or are less likely to join them. They also may not have the financial support that enables some aspiring journalists to spend weeks, months, or years working unpaid internships. They may also not have access to the same types of networks that their white peers do, which can lead to important referrals and informal job support.”
In order for black journalists, at this point, to get ahead, they’ll have to learn from Prince. Make more professional ultimatums and/or financial investments that not only benefits you, but benefits others as well. For the new media age, it starts with establishing your own.