Increasing diversity in the media

Melissa Macaya

The Trayvon Martin editorial cartoon published in The Daily Texan last week and the nationwide outcry its publication sparked highlights a persistent crisis in newsrooms around the nation — a lack of diversity in the media. The cartoon serves as a tangible example of the importance of fostering an inclusive news staff that is representative of the diverse voices of its audience. Most importantly, this situation stands as an opportunity for instituting long-lasting change at The Texan.

The Texan holds the tremendous responsibility of informing and representing the University community. As a conveyer of information on a daily basis, the publication can transmit both positive and negative messages. If The Texan does not mirror the population it serves, then it fails at providing intellectual tools for the University body to function.

Minorities have historically held few decision-making roles in media, and this has translated into limited coverage of minority communities. The American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) conducts an annual staff census in the hopes of helping newspapers better reflect diversity. This is the third consecutive year that the percentage of African-American, Asian, Latino and Native American journalists has declined in U.S. newsrooms.

According to 2010 and 2011 ASNE data, minorities represent 13 percent of employment in daily newspapers. Minorities made up 11 percent of supervisors while the remaining 89 percent were white. Whites made up 86 percent of all reporters; 14 percent were minorities.
Additionally, 441 newspapers responding to the ASNE census had no minorities on their full-time staff. If these national trends are any indication of the diversity inside The Texan’s newsroom, then the situation there needs improvement.

Currently, minority students do not adequately see themselves reflected in the pages of The Texan. Although significantly smaller in number, minorities make up a big chunk of The Daily Texan’s audience. The minority student breakdown at UT is as follows: Hispanics, 17.6 percent; Asian-Americans, 15.1 percent; African- American, 4.2 percent; American Indian 0.3 percent. Neglecting this considerable population in The Texan’s coverage is detrimental to the intellectual growth and diversity of the University.

I analyzed the coverage of The Texan for three months, as part of a Mass Media and Minorities class in the journalism department in fall 2010. While many of its stories were informative, its UT minority coverage was very limited. Out of 579 stories in the news section, 277 were UT related. Of this total, only nine stories — 3 percent of the total — dealt with UT minority issues. These stories, except for two, were placed on the front page. I observed three main patterns in the coverage of these stories: a failure to contextualize a minority issue, a failure to include representative sources and a failure to localize a minority issue.

The Texan must use the publication of the Trayvon Martin cartoon as an opportunity to evaluate itself. The Texan needs to create a collaborative body that establishes concrete steps toward improvement in the publication’s coverage. It can begin by working with the UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. With approximately 50 programs, projects and initiatives and more than 300 staff members, it is one of the largest and most far-reaching divisions of diversity in the nation.

The Texan must also recruit diverse staff members and reach out to the University’s ethnic studies institutions to gather news coverage sources and story ideas. Most importantly, the publication must also incorporate a “reporting about minority communities” class into its yearly staff training. These steps will help begin the journey toward a news environment that is both racially and intellectually diverse.

The diversification of the news media can and must begin on our campus. It is my hope that out of this unfortunate situation, a new wave of accurate, balanced and inclusive coverage of minority communities will grace the pages of The Texan in the future.

Macaya is a journalism and Latin American studies senior.