Diversity in the News (Room)
By Lynn Walsh
By: Jacqueline Ingles
When I think of diversity in TV news, I have a go-to scene from the show Family Guy and their Quahog newscast:
“Diane: And now we go to our Asian Correspondent in the field, Trisha Takanawa?
“Tricia Takanawa: Diane, I’m standing outside the Park Barrington Hotel because they don’t allow Asians inside.” ~Family Guy, Seth McFarlane~
Judging by Hollywood’s parody of journalists, newsrooms are clearly part of how the public feels media is missing the idea and the mark when it comes to diversity.
Stacking your newsroom with a rainbow of reporters and anchors of different races, ages and backgrounds is great. In fact, it is almost industry standard to see this now. But, this is not where diversity should stop. It should just be a beginning, a sort of jumping off point. The responsibility for what I am about to discuss falls on both management and the reporters and anchors.
Ask yourself how many times you turn on the television on MLK Day and see a black reporter covering a march or parade? When there is an immigration rally, are you use to seeing a station’s token Hispanic reporter going live from it? I will make note that sometimes story assignment is based on who is working that day. On weekends, prepare for a skeleton crew. So, if there is an immigration rally and your weekend reporter is Hispanic, then there you go.
My issue is more with week day staffing and story assignments. More news managers need to make conscious decisions to give reporters of different backgrounds opportunities to cover stories they are not familiar with. Sure, a Hispanic reporter might have more common ground with people at an immigration rally or have an easier time gaining access to information if they can speak Spanish, but sending a reporter of a different race could put a fresh perspective on the story. After all, every reporter sees a story differently and presents information differently, regardless of fairness and objectivity.
It is also a news managers fault if they believe a Hispanic reporter would know more about immigration or that an African American reporter would have more insight into MLK. I once heard an assignment editor turn to a black reporter and say, “I am going to have you cover this Black Pride parade because you would know more about the history of slaves.” What!?! The reporter turned to the assignment manager and said, “Actually, I wouldn’t. I grew up in England.” I wanted to give her a gold star for making a point to management NOT to stereotype. In the end, a young white male reporter covered the parade.
I would also love to see more newrooms expand their news teams to include reporters with disabilities. Think it cannot be done? It has been. ABC 7 Chicago hired Karen Myer more than 5 years ago. She is deaf. On her first day, lead nightside anchor Ron Magers leaned over on the desk, pulled out his hearing aid in front of viewers and said, “See, I can’t hear either.” Karen’s speech at times can be difficult to understand but she represents a lot of people in this world. I had the opportunity to listen to Karen speak to a small group of aspiring journalists back in college. She recounted an interview with Ray Charles. I will always remember her telling the students, I wasn’t nervous interviewing a celebrity, we were just trying to figure out how to communicate because I am deaf and Ray was blind. So, unlike other interviewees who can make out my words by reading by lips, he couldn’t. And, because Ray couldn’t see where the camera was, he was bobbing back and forth in the frame. Karen now reports on issues facing people with disabilities. This could range from people born with birth defects to an Iraq War veteran who is an amputee running for office.
Looking at the daunting task Karen faces each day in the field, I want to call on reporters to regain motivation. Too often I turn on television and see Caucasian after Caucasian interviewed in a story. Stories should include a diverse range of interviews. Isn’t that J-School’s day one lesson?
I strive to do this in the field. I take the challenge and three days out of the week I work in a bureau where the population is predominantly white folks. However, when I am doing a weather story or MOS, you will see me include a variety of people like a black truck driver, a Hispanic teenager, a white older woman and perhaps a middle aged man. Trust me when I say, if I can find diversity in a rural Texas town, you can find diversity in your town or big city. (In the video below, I really tried to be diverse. The package is about construction closing down a major highway in Austin. I took a chance, thought outside the box about who to interview.)
Sadly, in many Austin media stories, the market I am in now, you rarely see this diversity make it to air. I agree that sometimes in a time crunch you have to go at lightning speed and get what you can. But, do not use this as an excuse.
When I see stories that do not include people from different backgrounds, ages and races, I automatically think, INCOMPLETE COVERAGE and BIASED. Are you saying only people of this race and age can talk on this topic? Are you discounting opinions and feelings of other people and groups in your area? I guarantee if you are on a crime story in a neighborhood, a male interviewee would give you a completely different response than a single mother living alone where the crime occurred.
I am calling on all reporters to be inclusive and to stop the laziness. You are being paid to be representative in your work. Bottom line: Reporters do not need to run to a story and grab whatever interview is easiest. Stop, take a look around, watch, observe and think! Is there anyone there you didn’t expect to see? Who is most unique? Are your interviews providing viewers with a broad vision of what is going on? Who is your coverage leaving out?
Here are a few things to keep in mind and try:
- Need an expert? Find someone you have never spoken to and who is of a different ethnicity/race than yourself.
- When shooting b-roll, let that tell viewers who is there. Always zooming into the cute child at the ballpark? How about a tight shot of the 80-year-old couple that made it to the game?
- Ask yourself, what community have I never reported on in my city? Perhaps an enclave of immigrants from Haiti or groups that form out of a niche interest. Then, make calls to find out what is going on with that group or subculture?
- Don’t assume your interviewee knows about a hot button issue like immigration reform just because they are Hispanic or social security just because they qualify as senior citizens. Stereotyping, even on a small scale, can really hinder your reporting.
Jacqueline Ingles is a multi-platform reporter for KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas. She writes, shoots, edits, fronts her story and then provides a more in-depth story version on her station’s web site daily. She founded the blog “In Ingles Please” in early 2010. A native of Chicago, Jacqueline received a master’s in broadcast journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She also graduated Summa Cum Laude from Loyola University-Chicago