MINORITIES IN JOURNALISM. Discrimination verdict highlights scarcity of blacks in media. Makeup of news staffs `should reflect' nation's minority populations
New York — The only way to solve problems of prejudice and discrimination in the nation's newsrooms, newspapers, and broadcasts is to include more minorities in news organization management, say many in the journalism field. Last week's verdict that the New York Daily News discriminated against four black employees underscored what some see as very slow progress in opening the nations' media to a more diverse and honest perspective. The importance of the integration of the country's influential press was noted in the Kerner Commission report on racism in 1968.
``The country is not all white; there is no reason the staffs of newspapers should be,'' says Charles F. Sancher, assistant to the executive editor at the Detroit Free Press. A news organization best serves a community, he says, when it has a staff that reflects the composition of its audience.
Figures gathered by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) indicate that only 6.56 percent of all professional newsroom employees are minorities. Among executives and supervisors, only 3.9 percent are minorities, as are 6.2 percent of copy editors, 7.4 percent of reporters, and 8.8 percent of photographers. Of those minorities that do work at newspapers, 55 percent are black, 27 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Asian, and 4 percent Native American.
The four blacks at The Daily News, which plans to appeal the verdict, charged that the newspapser had discriminated against them in promotions, assignments, and salaries on the basis of race. They also charged that the newspaper had retaliated against them when they filed grievances with their union. The jury found discrimination in 12 of 23 instances.
The jury, reconvening shortly, could award the plaintiffs compensatory and punitive damages. The judge will decide if the plaintiffs are entitled to promotions.
Many observers see the case as significant for minorities. It could spark a fairer evaluation for minority staff members by recognizing and developing their potential, and giving them the same opportunity as white staff, says Albert E. Fitzpatrick. Mr. Fitzpatrick is president of the National Association of Black Journalists and assistant vice-president for minority affairs for Knight Ridder Inc. He also says it will heighten awareness nationally that there are few or no minorities at many newspapers.
``Fifty-six percent have no minority staff,'' points out Fitzpatrick.
Others, while deploring the disproportionately small numbers of minorities in the nation's media, worry that the controversy surrounding the case could be counterproductive in efforts to recruit and promote minority staff. Bitterness on both sides seemed to predominate at the trial. The atmosphere at The Daily News included racial intolerance, according to the plaintiffs. The News, on the other hand, attacked the competence of the four employees. Its lawyers questioned the character of several of the plaintiffs.
Management has to be committed to diversity on its staff, says Mr. Sancher of the Detroit Free Press, where 17 percent of the employees are minority.
``Equally important is that it is incumbent on the part of a newpaper to make sure that minority staff have the opportunity to move into management,'' he says. Minorities considering journalism need to see role models. And complaints that news coverage of minority communities is overly negative or simplistic can only be solved in this way.
``One reason minority communities are undercovered is that there are not editors at sufficient levels to call attention to stories that well-meaning white editors might miss, might not grasp the significance of, or might not give it the play it deserves,'' says Sancher.
``Participation in newsgatherihg is the only remedy,'' says Katherine Fanning, editor of The Christian Science Monitor, who as newly elected president of the ASNE announced plans for a study on the hiring, retention, and promotion of minorities. ASNE has a goal that by the year 2000, the staffs of its member newspapers should mirror as closely as possible minority population nationally.
Fitzpatrick says that editors or managers who claim it is hard to find minority reporters or editors are using a ``protective blanket'' of excuses. ``The talent is there,'' he says.
Some observers say minority discouragement over mainstream news coverage, and the less supportive attitude toward affirmative action from the Reagan administration, have kept some minorities from coming into the media.
``I've seen over the last eight years fewer and fewer minority students,'' says Terri Brooks, chair of the New York University journalism department. ``It is extremely disturbing.'' Black enrollment in American colleges and universities has dropped, although Hispanic enrollment is slowly rising.
In yesterday's Page 9 story on elections in China, a remark by Deng Xiaoping should have read that China would have general elections at the end of the century, and not universal suffrage. China already has universal suffrage. The mistake was an error in translation by the Chinese and Hong Kong press. In a Page 3 story on minorities in journalism, Charles Fancher of the Detroit Free Press was incorrectly identified as Charles F. Sancher.