[OP-ED]: No wonder there are so few minority journalists
Shaun King, a civil rights activist and senior justice writer for the New York Daily News, had to preface his response to the recent hate crime committed against a disabled Chicago-area man with four full paragraphs of disavowal before making this point:
“I see thousands of white folk online asking me why I’m not speaking out about it. Beyond the fact that I literally just got back in the country a few hours ago with my wife and five kids, my answer is simple. ... This country does not need me to speak out on crimes committed by black folk because nobody in this country is held more responsible for the crimes they commit, and even the crimes they don’t commit, than black folk in America.”
The next day, Julio Ricardo Varela, co-host of the Latino-centric political podcast “In the Thick” tweeted up a storm about the evolving story of suspected Florida airport shooter Esteban Santiago, citing journalists and news outlets that chose to play up Santiago’s Puerto Rican heritage. Varela, who also hails from Puerto Rico, wrote:
“How media is sharing info about ?#EstebanSantiago
FROM PUERTO RICO! HIS MOM STILL LIVES THERE!
Oh yeah, he fought in Iraq & checked a gun.”
Another tweet concluded: “If cable outlets insist on emphasizing ?#EstebanSantiago’s Puerto Ricaness, good time to educate about how many boricuas served in iraq.”
And so it goes for minority journalists in the era of Trump -- when a member of their tribe does something unspeakable, they’ll have to jump in to make clarifications before people make assumptions or they’ll be called to account.
These news people will be bombarded with messages imploring them to condemn an action or with ugly implications that they are in solidarity with the accused because they have not issued a public denouncement -- as if they, the journalists, speak for every other non-journalist who shares their race or ethnicity.
Of course, after a decade of rising immigration-related xenophobia, journalists with Hispanic-sounding names have been getting trolled on a daily basis, regardless of whether or not a breaking news item has to do with a Latino suspect.
Victor Manuel Ramos, a staff writer at Newsday, recently posted to Facebook a photo of an envelope he received that read: “Are you an American -- or merely a holder of citizenship?” Ramos captioned the image: “Sometimes when one covers immigration, the letters (in this case, the envelope) from readers become personal inquiries. Received today.”
And people wonder why there aren’t more minorities in journalism.
Last year, the American Society of News Editors put the percentage of minority journalists in daily-newspaper newsrooms at about 17 percent. It was slightly better for online-only news sites, where minorities made up about 23 percent of the workforce.
Decades-long industrywide hand-wringing about why the nation’s press corps doesn’t adequately resemble the people they report on is tone-deaf.
Hmm, let’s see ... it costs tens of thousands of dollars to get an undergraduate journalism degree from even a middling state school (and in the hundreds of thousands if attending a highly selective school -- and that’s not counting graduate studies).
Then, upon graduation, a new journalist can expect to barely make a living wage as a news assistant, graphics specialist or online writer or producer. In 2016, for the third straight year, Careercast.com rated “newspaper reporter” as the worst job, at the very bottom of its list of 200. “Broadcaster” was the third worst.
On top of that, many editors and readers hold minority journalists to ridiculous standards. They often are expected to be definitive experts on broad areas of historical, cultural and economic experience. To many readers, they represent, at best, racially biased information-gatherers.
Yet, when a white person commits a horrible crime, no one expects white reporters or white opinion writers to specifically deny responsibility or empathy for a culprit’s actions. It is generally understood that the crime and the criminal are not definitively linked to a specific race or ethnicity.
Can minority journalists ever hope for that same assumption of reasonable journalistic detachment from news subjects?
Ultimately, if people can’t recognize that all journalists have opinions and biases that may or may not have anything to do with their ethnic or racial backgrounds, there will be fewer and fewer minority journalists to harass.