Five panelists addressed diversity in the media Wednesday evening in Louis Hall in an event entitled “Is Mainstream Media Too White?” Three student groups – the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and Asian American Student Journalists – collaborated to host the discussion of bias and community perspective.
Although there is a projected minority population of 36.6 percent in America, minorities comprise just 21.4 percent of the television workforce, according to data from the Radio Television Digital News Association. The radio workforce contains only 10.9 percent minorities and for the newspaper workforce, 12.4 percent. Minorities are represented even less in supervisory positions.
Maudlyne Ihejirika, Chicago Sun-Times Assistant City Editor, discussed the decline in minorities in newsrooms as papers cut staff. “Fewer minorities are getting the opportunity to tell their stories,” she said.
“If you read the stories, you tend to believe crime falls like rain in certain black, Latino communities for no reason at all,” said Stephen Franklin, ethnic media project director for Chicago’s Community Media Workshop. But, “If you’re of a community and you’re a minority, just being in the newsroom changes the image.”
Medill junior Cathaleen Chen, Asian American Student Journalists president, said there’s a lot of pride among Medill minority students. “I do think that it should be something that makes us special,” she said. “And it should be something that makes us a better generation of future journalists.”
“I think it’s a great thing that we’re passionate, we’re arguing with each other about diversity,” she said about diversity issues at Northwestern. “It’s hard to agree and it’s hard to say what’s right.”
“I think that a lot of times what happens at Northwestern is that it takes an incident to occur [for a discussion about race to arise],” said Matthew Wright, Medill sophomore and National Association of Black Journalists vice president. When that discussion is online, however, often “it turns to slander,” he said.
All five panelists strongly agreed that the mainstream is, indeed, too white. Opinions divided on the place of community perspective.
“I think it’s worthwhile to make the distinction that race does not confer authority,” said Matt Jager, Mandarin Quarterly editorial manager. “Often I think it’s better to come to a story from the perspective of an outsider, or the perspective of a foreigner. And in fact I would suggest that it’s worthwhile to approach a story even about your own community from the perspective of a foreigner.”
Ihejirika agreed that journalists are not limited to covering their own communities. However, “There is something very tangible that comes across when you are covering your own community,” she said.
“The point is, don’t give up,” Franklin said. “If you give up, then you’re giving up on your community. Because then you let other people make a decision upon what you look like and how you live and how your families are living. And they will use their language to describe you, and that’s not what you want.”