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Unprecedented number of black journalists cut from US newsrooms

Black journalist

The number of black journalists cut in newsrooms across the United States reached an all time high last year, even though the country’s black population has been increasing.

According to a study by the American Society of News Editors (ASNE), black journalists and supervisors were removed in 2009 from media newsrooms at unprecedented levels.

“It is a travesty that minority journalists would be targeted disproportionately in staff cuts,” said National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) President Kathy Y. Times. “Despite the economy we must keep our newsrooms and voices at least on parity with the communities we serve.”

NABJ was established in 1975 as an advocacy group to support black journalists in the US.

Newsroom jobs held by black journalists were slashed by 19.2 percent in 2009, nearly six percentage points higher than the previous year. Since 2001, African Americans have experienced a net loss of more than 30 percent of the positions they occupied in American newsrooms.

The NABJ Board of Directors is to address the matter at a meeting this weekend in Washington, D.C. They hope to develop an action plan for improving newsroom hiring and retention of black journalists.

“This is a key goal in NABJ’s mission and we will continue to search for new ways to highlight this gap until it is closed,” said Vice President-Print Deirdre M. Childress. “As the diversity of the American population increases, it is equally important for us to see that change reflected in American newsrooms so that stories can be told from all perspectives.”

The number of newspapers with no minorities on their staff rose to 465 last year, an increase of seven over 2008. Another disturbing finding in this year’s study is the continued decline in black journalists in leadership positions.

Black journalists in supervisory roles dropped by 20.3 percent to just 428 individuals.

Newsroom supervisors- head subs, section editors and others- help to decide what is newsworthy and can be influential in determining the content of a news publisher.

“It’s about accuracy,” said ASNE Diversity Director Bobbi Bowman. “Can you accurately cover your community if you have a newsroom that doesn’t look like your community?”

The American situation stands in contrast to Black British journalists who have often struggled to break into newsrooms as widely as their white counterparts. The BBC has faced particular criticism for its failure to reflect a diverse management structure leading former director general Greg Dyke to describe the corporation as ‘hideously white’ in 2001.

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