African Americans in TV newsrooms at six-year low

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The number of blacks employed in local TV newsrooms today is at its lowest in six years.

The latest Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) survey, released this summer, found that blacks make up 9.5 percent of all persons in local television news nationwide, down from a high of 11 percent in 2000. Meanwhile, the percentage of people of color in radio news has dropped nearly two-thirds since 1998, from 16 percent to just 6.4 percent this year.

In his 11 years of conducting the RTNDA annual report, Ball State University Telecommunications Professor Bob Papper says that though the numbers are startling but not entirely surprising. “The big picture is that there hasn’t been any meaningful progress in the last 15 years,” he surmises.

Though the U.S. population of people of color is 33 percent, with blacks comprising 13 percent, America’s local television and radio newsrooms aren’t reflecting such numbers. “The industry still has a ways to go to reach parity,” said National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) President Bryan Monroe.

UNITY: Journalists of Color, which includes NABJ, the Native American Journalists Association, National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association, says the lack of diversity is troubling. “As our country grows more diverse, so should the staffs which bring Americans their news,” UNITY President Mae Cheng says.

While women today are seen more as news anchors, local TV’s most prestigious position (57 percent nationwide), this does not apply to black women, especially in the Twin Cities.

KMSP-TV appears to promote its white anchors far more than Robyne Robinson, the area’s first black primetime news anchor, who has been there longer. After almost 15 years, Roxane Battle resigned last month from KARE-TV, where she did weekend anchor duties, reportedly because she saw no future at the station. Asha Blake also once worked at KARE, but later found bigger success elsewhere.

Now a Fox News Channel anchor, Harris Faulkner became KSTP’s first black female primetime anchor in 2003 but was axed 14 months later when the station claimed it lost over 25 percent of its audience during her stint. Dave Huddleston once anchored early mornings and noon newscasts at WCCO-TV, but since 2002 he has been a primetime anchorman in Philadelphia. Since 2005, Cheri Hardmon and Ron Johnson are the only blacks regularly seen at FSN North sportscasts.

Regarding ownership, there has been a near-30 percent drop in black-owned broadcasting stations since 1998, according to a study conducted by Free Press. In the report “Out of the Picture — Minority and Female TV Station Ownership in the United States,” it says that blacks own a total of 18 stations, or 1.3 percent of all U.S. television stations. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policies, along with Congress passing the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which allows media consolidation, has significantly impacted media ownership by persons of color, the report concluded.

Still, many believe that more black-owned and operated media companies are needed in the U.S., if anything but to better deliver news and develop more black journalists. However, don’t look for another John H. Johnson, the late Ebony and Jet founder, proclaims Black Enterprise Senior Vice President/Editor-In-Chief Alfred Edmond.

“You have to be visionary and use your entrepreneurial skills,” admits Sheila Brooks, who started her Washington, D.C.-based SRB Productions, Inc. in 1990. After almost three decades working in local and network news, Brooks says she wanted to control her own television and video production company but didn’t know much about running a business at the time.

“I got turned down by three banks” before eventually securing a Small Business Administration loan, continues Brooks. “I paid it off in two-and-a-half years.”

Fresh out of high school, Cecil Cross wanted to start a publication for urban college students and young professionals. Now a Clark Atlanta University senior, Cross is editor-in-chief and co-owner of LOOK (Love of Our Kind) magazine. “The hardest part of starting [his magazine] was my age,” he remembers.

Max Siegel used his experience as an entertainment executive, attorney and film producer to create Zomba Gospel, which comprises of six gospel-oriented record labels, and currently holds duel positions as its president and Zomba Label Group senior vice-president. To Blacks wishing to start their own media venture, Siegel suggests, “You have to do your homework.”

Too many black-owned media companies, including the black press, aren’t getting their fair share of the advertising pie, or as Edmond terms it, “advertising discrimination.” “We are really getting played by corporate America,” he believes.

Finally, whether in front of the camera, operating it, or owning the entire operation, Blacks are slowly disappearing in broadcasting. “The landscape has changed for African Americans over the last 20 years,” concludes Ed Gordon, who hosts the syndicated TV show Our World with Black Enterprise.

To see the entire Free Press report “Out of the Picture — Minority and Female TV Station Ownership in the United States,” “click here”:http://www.FreePress.net.