Newsroom survey should include question on sexual orientation / gender identity

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Today the American Society of News Editors released its annual report on the makeup of the country’s newsrooms as it closed out its three-day confab in Washington, D.C.

While the group found a “very slim increase” in newsroom employees last year, for the third consecutive year the percentage of African-American, Asian, Latino, and Native American journalists declined in U.S. newsrooms.

The percentage of minorities in newsrooms totaled 12.79 percent, a decline of .47 percentage points from a year ago, ASNE reported in a news release sent out this morning.

The number of professional journalists rose from an estimated 41,500 in 2009 to 41,600 in 2010, according to ASNE’s most recently completed census of online and traditional newspapers. American daily newspapers lost 13,500 newsroom jobs from 2007 to 2010.

In the most recent ASNE census, minority journalists declined from 5,500 to 5,300.

“At a time when the U.S. Census shows that minorities are 36 percent of the U.S. population, newsrooms are going in the opposite direction. This is an accuracy and credibility issue for our newsrooms,” said Milton Coleman, ASNE president.

“The slight decline in minority newsroom representation may be small, but is part of a disturbing trend that we need to reverse,” said Ronnie Agnew, co-chair of ASNE’s Diversity Committee.

“The U.S. Census numbers clearly tell us that people of color populations are growing while our newsrooms aren’t reflecting that growth. This should be a concern to all who see diversity as an accurate way of telling the story of a new America,” Agnew said.

While ASNE has conducted the census of professional full-time journalists since 1978, there is one group it has never counted: LGBT journalists. It is by far time that it did.

My suspicion would be that LGBT journalists are lacking among the nation’s newsrooms as papers of all sizes have cut their staffs due to declining ad revenues. Certainly, I have personally witnessed numerous LGBT reporters be laid off, take buyouts or head to more lucrative careers in PR or corporate communications over the last five years.

In a brief email exchange today, ASNE Executive Director Richard Karpel said he was unaware of anyone asking the group to survey reporters about being LGBT.

“The question hasn’t come up since I’ve been here. If the question is raised, it will be up to our Diversity Committee to answer,” wrote Karpel, who has worked at ASNE since December of 2009. “They would ask me or a member of the committee, as you have now done.”

For 22 years the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association has been fighting to make newsrooms friendly workplaces for LGBT people and encouraging professional journalists to be out of the closet.

It too has worked to promote greater diversity across the board in the country’s media business, and this year for the first time will be taking part in the Unity Journalists of Color convention this August as a full-fledged member.

As NLGJA continues to work on its mission, it would be great to have some statistical data on working LGBT reporters to help guide it in future years.

Certainly, it wouldn’t be that hard to add the question about sexual orientation and gender identity to ASNE’s survey, which for the first time was conducted on-line this year.

Hopefully, the group’s Diversity Committee will agree and add it to the 2013 questionnaire.

To read the full 2012 report, visit ASNE’s website here.

2 Responses

  1. Not sure what’s more angering, the fact that they never thought to ask about LGBT workers or the fact that no one (apparently) thought to suggest it. That in and of itself may say more about the state of our newsrooms than any actual survey question.

  2. There’s also the point that getting accurate answers may not be possible.

    In no state can someone be fired for being black, even if “passing for white”. In 35 states being fired for being Trans, whether stealth or not, is not just legal, but often common practice.

    Even getting accurate answers for GLBs without the T is problematic in some areas.

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