Everywhere we turn, it seems, there’s growing evidence that what used to be called “major media” is in deep, paradigm-shifting trouble.
At the end of the day, however, the current crisis for mainstream media may very well be seen as a great opportunity for the nation’s Black-owned media outlets. But, to get to that awareness, we, and they, will have to start “connecting the dots.”
To give you some idea of just how different and “new” things have gotten for newspapers, the percentage of their circulations represented by digital readers now constitutes 14.2 percent of their overall circulation. That’s an increase from 8.7 percent, in just one year.
It’s clear that the newspapers that have figured out how to incorporate and make money out of digital editions are the ones having the greatest success in this new environment.
Among the top five, highest-circulation, newspapers, the Wall Street Journal (2.1 million circulation), the New York Times (1.6 million circulation), the New York Daily News (579,636 circulation), report that digital readership represents 26.1 percent, 50.8 percent, and 26.9 percent of their overall circulations, respectively.
Add the need for newspapers to compete in a rapidly changing, high-tech environment to the overall shrinkage in their advertising revenues, in a recessionary environment, and you have a recipe for their disaster.
Indeed, experts have recently labeled the newspaper business as the county’s “fastest shrinking industry.” In 2009, according to Crosscut.com, 300 newspapers in the United States were driven out of business and, in 2010 another 150 closed shop.
In its 2011 census, the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) reported that “minority journalists” now represent only 13 percent of newspaper workforces, leaving 87 percent of those workforces white, in a country wherein about 66 percent of the population is Caucasian.
Oh, and by the way, when the newspaper industry talks about “minority journalists,” they really mean that about half of them, or about 6.5 percent, are Black.
The problem with all of this is that, as mainstream media continue to lay off minority journalists, there are fewer and fewer people assigned to do, or volunteer to cover, stories in which Black people are featured. There are also, of course, less and less people in the planning meetings who might even recommend having balanced, constructive, non-stereotypical stories about Black folks.
It’s already starting to happen.
According to the Pew Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) Report for 2011, the “big stories” for that year were: The economy (20 percent of the available space for stories, or “news hole,” Middle East unrest (12 percent), 2012 Presidential election (9 percent), the Japan earthquake (3 percent), Osama Bin Laden’s death (2 percent), Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting (2 percent), Afghanistan (2 percent), the European economy (2 percent), the Obama administration (2 percent, and healthcare (2 percent).
Indeed, five of the “ten biggest stories” in 2011 (those that were given the most “space” and news coverage) were international.
Here’s the worst part: Only one percent of the total space available for news was dedicated to stories about “race/gender/gays.”
And, not even all of that was dedicated to Black people.
For all intents and purposes, Black Americans and their issues have all but disappeared from the national media agenda. Was this supposed to happen with a person of color in the White House?
Let’s take all of this a step further: If you were African American, but not a candidate for president of the United States you simply didn’t count, for news purposes, last year, at least as far as mainstream media were concerned.
According to the PEJ, of the top 20 individuals receiving the most news coverage, in 2011,only two of them were African Americans — Barack Obama, in first place, with 3,802 stories devoted to him, and Herman Cain, in third place, with 577 stories, the vast majority of which, as we recall, were not very flattering.
That was it.
News coverage and visibility of Black folks didn’t get much better, at all, in network TV coverage, cable news or on public broadcasting stations. Black America, it seems has been downgraded to “journalistic afterthought.”
When the 2012 news coverage data are finally calculated, I’ll go way out on a limb and predict that the name Trayvon Martin will be highly ranked. I don’t know, though. It doesn’t seem to be worth having to be shot and killed by an irrational town watch official, just to get your name in the paper.
The reality is that newsrooms across America that used to be committed to diversity, that used to brag about grooming young Black interns and promoting accomplished, seasoned African-American journalists to senior positions, now seem to be headed, full-steam, in the opposite direction.
As is the case in far too many other U.S. industry sectors, lately, it’s no longer a high-ranking priority to attract and promote African-American talent in U.S. newsrooms.
Even ASNE, which was a pioneer in the effort to bring racial and ethnic diversity to newsrooms back in 1978, has reported that, in 2011, the newspaper industry reduced the number of “minority professionals” in its newsrooms by 5.7 percent, or a decline of about 500 minority journalists, over the past two years. That compares to overall newsroom employee reductions of just 2.4 percent, over the same period, in 2011. This also follows on the heels of the industry having eliminated approximately 800 minority journalists in 2008 and, again, in 2009.
ASNE went on to disclose that in every market size — from very small to very large — minority newsroom employment is well below the percentage of minorities in those cities and towns.
What does this all mean? Well … several things.
If Black folks have been sitting around waiting for mainstream media outlets to be more fair, more inclusive and less likely to do “stereotypical Black stories about crime, drugs and sagging pants, they’re probably wasting their time.
Over the past 35 years or so, following the establishment and advocacy of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), groups such as ASNE began to think seriously about diversifying their editorial staffs, and began saying all the right things about bringing much-needed, but previously excluded Black, Hispanic and Asian journalists into their news operations.
The integration of the nation’s print and broadcast news outlets that resulted brought not only a new generation of appropriately compensated Black professionals “into the mix,” it also vastly improved the quality and quantity of coverage of Black elected officials, Black neighborhoods and Black businesses.
Today, by comparison, African-American journalists are not only being laid off, they are usually among the first to be shown the door.
And, what has been the response when groups such as the NABJ have spoken out on the topic? Well — not much.
Major media ownership and senior management, now, simply hide behind the “things are tough all over” story, shrug their collective shoulders, issue the obligatory platitudes and return to their ever-more-racially exclusive offices.
But, hey, all is not lost.
The removal of good, Black journalists from mainstream newsrooms should mean that there just have to be rapidly growing numbers of seasoned African-American professionals who are available to move into Black-owned newsrooms — or, indeed, to establish their own traditional or digital outlets.
In addition, in a perfect world, when Black folks realize that their old, reliable mainstream news outlets no longer seem to produce any stories about their communities that they’re actually interested in reading, watching, listening to or downloading, maybe they’ll begin to turn, in increasing numbers, to the Black press, to Radio One, to TV One, and to stations such as WURD, the Black-owned talk format radio station, in Philadelphia.
Hey, you never know.
Stranger things have happened.
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.