Sisterhood Blog

Trayvon, and the Case for Newsroom Diversity

By Elissa Strauss

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
The parents of Trayvon Martin at the recent “Million Hoodies March” in New York.

The New York Times pointed out an interesting subplot to the coverage of the terrible story of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was killed by an armed volunteer neighborhood watchman. Though Martin was shot to death on February 26, it took several weeks before it became a national story.

The reason that the story finally gained traction is due, in large part,to the Martin family’s tenacious lawyer, who worked hard to find sympathetic journalists to cover the story, as The Times explains: “Notably, many of the national media figures who initially devoted time to the shooting are black, which some journalists and advocacy groups say attests to the need for diversity in newsrooms. The racial and ethnic makeup of newsrooms, where minorities tend to be underrepresented relative to the general population, has long been a source of tension for the news industry.”

The report goes on to show how prominent black journalists and commentators eventually made this story their own, by writing about it in personal terms. Their attention was what turned this into a national story.

Sisterhood contributors have argued passionately about how diversity in media is elemental to progress and democracy. But rarely do we see a case as clear as this one to make the point.

As a Jewish woman living in Brooklyn, I am subject to a strange mix of over and under representation. I only need point to the recent onslaught of coverage of the Park Slope Food Coop’s deliberation about boycotting Israeli products to make the case that my Brooklyn side and Jewish side are all-too-well represented. My woman side, not so much.

Women make up 13% of Sunday morning public affairs talk show guests, approximately 30% of the guests on primetime cable news shows, 37% of newspaper newsroom staffers and 12% of the top 100 talk radio hosts. There are more depressing stats, but I think that will do. (For more click here And we have already discussed the dismal rate of female bylines at thought-leading magazines like The New Yorker and The Atlantic.)

African Americans are hardly fairing better. Last December, Paul Delaney at The Root wrote that the black presence in newsrooms has actually shrunk in the last decade. He also says that it is hard to collect data because many companies refuse to release data on newsroom make-up, even though they say they are committed to diversity.

In 2010, the American Society of Newspaper Editors did a survey of online news sources and found that, overall, they are more diverse than daily newspapers. However, major online publications like Salon, Yahoo, The Daily Beast, Politico, AOL and the Huffington Post apparently did not respond to the survey.

Combine this with another recent New York Times story, about how all the likely heirs to the New York Review of Books editor throne are, you guessed it, white men, and the whole situation feels a little hopeless.

Delaney suggests that younger journalists need to keep fighting “using tools of the past — such as lawsuits, protest demonstrations, boycotts and community pressure, as well as whatever new tactics they develop and choose — as their own Occupy movements.”

I would add to this that all of us underrepresented folks also need to keep writing, in spaces that we create for ourselves.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Trayvon Martin, Journalism, Diversity

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.