Asiana Flight 214

Earlier this month I returned to the topic of unpaid internships, making the case that they limit the pool of applicants to generally wealthier students. I wondered "If we're sourcing our prospects primarily from the ranks of those who can afford to initially work for free, how will we come to understand, report on, write about and reflect an increasingly diverse country?"

The same day that post was published, Ernie Smith reported on a study of newsroom diversity conducted by the American Society of News Editors. The report indicates that the non-white population represents less than 13% of all editorial staff at U.S. newspapers, at a time when the overall population is estimated to be 30% or more non-white.

According to Smith, the report also indicated that the share of internships given to non-white applicants has "declined significantly from peaks of nearly 40% in the early 1990s." He goes on to quote the president of the Asian American Journalist Association (AAJA), Paul Cheung, who said, "Most media companies look at diversity as a cost center. They see it as something nice to do."

Inside newsrooms, the business case for diversity should not be very hard to build. A look at the coverage of Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which crashed on landing in San Francisco on July 6, provides the outline:

  • The day after the plane crashed, the Chicago Sun-Times, a newspaper published in the third most segregated city in the United States, ran a front-page story with the headline "Fright 214", prompting immediate complaints
  • Later that week, a television station in San Francisco broadcast what it thought were the names of the four pilots who flew the plane that day. It did not realize until after releasing the names that each was a parody.
  • A post by AAJA leaders Paul Cheung and Bobby Caina Calvan noted that "several news outlets speculated about how South Korea’s hierarchical culture might have played a role in the crash. Other news media rightly raised skepticism over that assertion."

If you want to build a business case for diversity, start with the idea that it is important to publish accurate information that engages the communities you want to serve. Ask yourself if a newsroom in which nearly 90% of the voices are from a single culture is the best way to do that. And then, start paying your interns.

Brian O'Leary

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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