Diversity Fatigue in the news media: By Norman Solomon FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Fri, 10 Apr 1998 10:57:01 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  CC Replies to author Norman Solomon <mediabeat@igc.apc.org>


By Norman Solomon

     A new term for an old problem has just emerged in the
national press. We're now told that much of the media industry has
come down with "diversity fatigue."

     Before this malady, the story goes, the American Society of
Newspaper Editors was committed to racial diversity. Back in 1978,
the group set a goal of "achieving minority employment at daily
newspapers that matches minority representation in the general U.S.
population by the year 2000, or sooner."

     Twenty years ago, when the editors did a nationwide survey,
they found that only 4 percent of staffers were black, Latino,
Asian or Native American. Today, the numbers look better -- 11.4
percent -- but hardly impressive. After all, fully one-quarter of the
American public is composed of racial minorities.

     Never swift, the progress stalled during the 1990s. At this
rate, the editors' group will miss its announced deadline by about a

     Of course, the American Society of Newspaper Editors could
choose to redouble its efforts. Instead, ASNE has proposed dumping
the goal in favor of less ambitious targets. Daunted by its own
inertia, the newspaper industry is pleading exhaustion.

     Media outlets, whether daily papers or broadcast networks,
face many challenges. When it comes to battling for market share,
there's no sign of fatigue. When it's a matter of struggling for a
big profit margin, their eyes are always on the prize. But somehow,
when racial equity is at stake, weariness is too overwhelming.

     In 1998, the media establishment continues to summon a great
deal of energy for boosting the bottom line. But the top honchos
are oh so tired of the quest for racial equity.

     Let's give credit where due: A lot of media managers can be
innovative and tenacious. The colorful arrival of USA Today in the
1980s, for instance, spurred hundreds of daily papers to bring color
to their newsprint with eye-pleasing design makeovers. Frequently,
presses were junked or modernized at a cost of many millions of

     But diversifying the color of people in the newsrooms rarely
got that kind of priority. Some sincere editors and managers, as
well as reporters, pushed to bolster minority hiring. Yet perhaps
the burden has worn out its welcome.

     If the nation's top editors were as committed to profitability
as they've been to racial balance, most media companies would have
gone bankrupt a long time ago.

     Ironically, the retreating sounds from the American Society of
Newspaper Editors came just after the 30th anniversary of the
Kerner Commission Report on the causes of urban riots.

     The 1968 commission didn't simply call for integrating the
ranks of newspaper reporters, who were almost all white at the
time. The panel stressed the need for minorities in decision-making
positions: "Newspaper and television policies are, generally speaking,
not set by reporters. Editorial decisions about which stories to
cover and which to use are made by editors."

     These days, so-called diversity fatigue seems to be widespread.
After many years of bashing from pundits and politicians,
affirmative action is on the ropes. One result: In California, state
university campuses are now seeing a sharp drop in applications and
admissions of black and Latino students.

     Whether in the media business, colleges or other institutions,
whites often embrace the illusion that people can transcend racism
by ignoring it. But this "colorblind" approach has a way of being
blind to the power of racism in the present day.

     From the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal to the
gloss of liberal Mother Jones magazine, many editors seem notably
patient about racism, while patience with measures like affirmative
action has disappeared.

     "Diversity fatigue" is a rather euphemistic way to describe the
process. If you peer through the foggy evasions, you might catch a
glimpse of white supremacy: more subtle than decades ago but still
very powerful. No wonder so many Americans, in their hearts, are
suffering from racism fatigue.


Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His most recent books
are "Wizards of Media Oz" (co-authored with Jeff Cohen) and "The
Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh."


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