From the Archives - "People of Color in the Newsroom and on the News"

Oct 30, 2018

As seen in the PRNDA (Public Radio News Directors Association) Newsletter "ADVISORY: NOT FOR BROADCAST"

January 1987 – by Marcos Martinez, News Director, KUNM, Albuquerque

People of color are becoming a proportionately larger part of the American population.  They are becoming more important as news consumers, as news subjects and as potential listnere supporters for public radio.  Reaching a greater share of minority listeners makes sense in light of the public radio goal of doubling the audience by the next decade.

There are two areas to consider toward achieving this goal.  They include the involvement of minorities in news departments and volunteers on staff, and the treatment of minorities within news stories.

Ensuring equal access to media jobs, and sensitive treatment in news stories is no easy task.  Media in this country have historically excluded people of color from access (a quick look at the racial make up of PRNDA illustrates this point) and has tended to emphasize negative news items such as crim in minority neighborhoods.

Public radio news departments, especially those that use volunteers, are in the unique position of being able to alter the situation where there are “no qualified minority applications available” for jobs in news.  By recruiting specific underrepresented groups and then providing directed minority reporters, editors and news directors.

Problems can occur in actually reaching the intended group.  My station recently ran an on-air promo which encouraged people of color to volunteer in the news department.  Since the station doesn’t have much of a minority audience, the people we wanted to reach never heard the announcement.  A more successful approach would be to contact minority organizations on and off campus.  Ask to be put on their agenda and make a pitch at a meeting.  Talk to community leaders and ask for advice in recruiting minorities.  Put up flyers in minority neighborhoods, at minority-owned businesses and so on.  Perhaps most importantly, express a commitment by representing minority interests and concerns in your newscasts.

This leads to the second issue: the treatment given “minority news” in your programming.  Fair treatment is best achieved by having people from those communities working and making decisions in your department.  I cringed once when a reporter here described Albuquerque’s Vietnamese community as “small but lively.”  This reflects the intrusive, paternalistic manner in which much “minority” coverage is done, resulting in the perpetuation of racist stereotypes.

Just as the homeless are only covered on the coldest winter nights and holidays, and just as the penitentiary is only covered on the anniversary of that bloody riot, so often minority communities are covered only when there’s something colorful or heinous going on.  Sometimes it’s useful to list the issues of concern to people of color, and keep in mind that many are transcendental; education, politics, the environment, the economy and civil rights, to name a few.  Avoid “explorations” of minority people – don’t act like a tourist in Bermuda shorts ogling some exotic culture.  Use your judgement in asking racially sensitive questions, but don’t be afraid to ask them.  Identifying your own preconceptions or those of your news department will help you detect creeping bias.