In August, a study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association that found homeless people were turning to social media sites because it was the one place where they felt everyone was truly equal and they could interact with others without fear of being judged.
It’s that same inclusive opportunity that I, and many of my Latino online media colleagues, saw in the Internet. For us, the Internet afforded an opportunity to participate in the reinvention of media, as equal partners, collaborators and publishers.
Online media, by its very name, symbolized the merger of two worlds for a new future. It was envisioned, by most of us, that online newsrooms would resemble the crew of any Star Trek starship using the latest platforms, apps and technology to tell and deliver stories and engage readers in new and exciting ways.
Unfortunately, that tired saying “old habits die hard,” has never been truer and is casting a cloud over the future of media to be the all-inclusive industry envisioned for the 21st Century.
This year’s American Society of News Editors’ (ASNE) Newsroom Employment Census found that regardless of market size, journalists of color employed in print newsrooms were “substantially” less than the percentage of minorities in their respective markets.
The same was found to be true in alternative print media. The Association of Alternative Newsmedia's Diversity and Demographic survey conducted among their member papers, of which 49 responded, found that the average percentage of people of color on their staffs stood at 14 percent. Nine papers admitted zero staff who were of color.
The mainstream online news business isn't any better.
The same ASNE survey also listed over 70 participating online news organizations and, while the ASNE deemed the number who responded too low to include in the final results, their data revealed a sad reality — some online news sites located in areas of high populations of color had not one single journalist of color on their staff.
Other online news organizations that did report journalists of color within their ranks had an overrepresentation of one particular ethnicity, at the expense of others.
Only a handful of online news orgs fulfilled the vision of equitable diversity.
Some in the news industry have downplayed the lack of diversity in online newsrooms by pointing out that the Internet has afforded journalist entrepreneurs, like myself, the opportunity to create our own niches.
While that’s true, it still doesn’t address the fundamental issue of inclusion in mainstream media. Creating our own niches, in essence, has segregated ethnic news sites from the mainstream. Instead of being regarded as new media pioneers, along with our mainstream colleagues, ethnic new media is still seen as “alternative media.”
It’s an ironic viewpoint considering it wasn’t that long ago that every online news site was considered “alternative media,” especially if there was a print counterpart.
To continue to exclude journalists of color on staff at mainstream news sites doesn’t make sense in a nation that is already in some states “majority-minority” and is on track to achieve that distinction nationally in the not far-off future.
What’s not widely understood in today’s predominantly white newsrooms is that just as the Internet opened doors of opportunity for news entrepreneurs of color, it also created opportunities for people of color to have equal access to news.
Study after study has shown that more and more people are getting their news online. The Pew Excellence in Journalism's State of the Media 2012 report found:
… More than three-quarters of U.S. adults own a laptop or desktop computer. On top of that, 44% now own a smartphone, and tablet ownership is now at 18%, up from just 11% in the summer of 2011. News is a significant part of how people use these devices. Some 51% of smartphone owners use that device to get news, as do 56% of tablet owners. And nearly a quarter of the population, 23%, now gets news on multiple digital devices.
And in the latest report by Pew Internet research, titled Smartphone Ownership Update, it was found that Latinos and blacks lead the way in smart phone ownership — Latinos 49%; Blacks 47%; Whites 42%.
Combine the results of these two studies and they paint a very clear picture of who is the new media consumer of the future.
It’s a consumer who is already creating new demand that is driving niche news sites to fill and nurture while mainstream online media carries on like it’s the 20th Century.