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5 facts about ethnic and gender diversity in U.S. newsrooms

Last week, San Francisco Bay area television station KTVU broadcast fake names for the pilots of the Asiana Airline flight that crashed on July 6. The error involved ethnic stereotyping, leading the Asian American Journalists Association to assert that these kinds of mistakes “underscored the importance of newsroom diversity” at America’s media outlets. A similar issue was raised after an analysis this week that found New York Times stories quoted 3.4 times as many male sources as female sources.

The renewed attention to the composition of newsrooms comes in the wake of the American Society of News Editors’ (ASNE) annual survey of workforce diversity, which showed that minorities and women are less represented in newspaper newsrooms than in society at large. In recent years, progress on the diversity front has largely stalled.

ASNE has counted professional full-time newspaper journalists since it first released the census in1978. This year, 978 out of 1,382 daily print newspapers responded, representing 71% of all U.S. dailies.  In addition to the continued reduction in the size of the daily newspaper workforce in 2012, some of the key findings in the ASNE report relate to diversity in the newsroom.


Overall, minority journalists accounted for 12% of the total newspaper newsroom workforce in 2012. That number changed little from 2011, but is down from a high of 14% in 2005. Non-whites make up about 39% of the total U.S. population. As a group, minorities in newsrooms are most highly represented in the fields of photography, art and videography at 16%, and least represented as supervisors (10%).


Smaller newspapers are less likely to employ minority journalists. The data reveal something of a large paper/small paper divide when it comes to employing minority journalists. In 2012, a little less than 20% of employees at newspapers with circulations larger than 250,000 were minorities—considerably higher than the industry average overall.  At the smallest daily papers in the census (those with circulations under 10,000), however, only about 6% of employees were minorities.


Women are often underrepresented in newspaper newsrooms. In 2012, women made up less than half of most ethnic groups employed at newspapers: 47% of African Americans and multiracial staffers at newspapers were women, 40% of Hispanic journalists were female, as were 38% of Native American journalists. White women were even less represented in newsrooms, accounting for 35% of all white newspaper employees. The only ethnic group in which women outnumbered men in the newsroom was Asian Americans, at 52%.


About one-third of newsroom managers are women. According to the census, 35% of newsroom supervisors are women, as are 40% of copy and layout editors or online producers, 38% of reporters and writers and 25% of photographers, artists and videographers. These numbers have declined slightly in most categories since the data were first reported in 1998. The only category that has shown a slight increase is supervisors, which edged up from 34% to 35% since 1998.


In the past two decades, there has been little overall change in the percentage of minorities in the newsroom. In 1977, the first year of the ASNE census, minorities accounted for only 4% of newspaper newsroom workers. By 1994, the percentage of minority journalists had nearly tripled to 11%.  Eighteen years later, however, in 2012, that figure was only about one percentage point higher, at 12%.