As a journalist at the Chicago Sun-Times, I’m often invited to speak with students at Chicago high schools.
Each time I speak with high school students, I ask them how many black journalists they can name who aren’t TV reporters — and aren’t on ESPN.
Based on these informal polls from the last few years, most black students have never met a journalist of color. And they certainly haven’t met a journalist of color who has grown up in their neighborhood.
We all know that journalism, especially in Chicago, continues to be a white male profession. That’s nothing new.
A 2017 American Society of News Editors diversity survey found that minority journalists comprised 16.6 percent of the workforce in U.S. newsrooms. That’s a half-percentage-point decrease from the 2016 figure — meaning the number of minority journalists decreased — but it’s still several percentage points higher than the statistics for much of the past two decades.
At the Chicago Tribune, the newsroom was 81 percent white, according to the survey. The Chicago Sun-Times wasn’t included in the survey — something our newsroom management should rectify.
Regardless of the statistics, we’ve seen how reporting can have blind spots when the reporters, columnists and editorial board members don’t live in the city — let alone reflect its diversity.
Last year, some folks regrettably used the issue of DNAinfo having too many white/male/suburban reporters as being a factor in the news organization’s demise.
Hey, I was in that newsroom — and I’m from 71st Street. And I come from a family of teachers, police officers, social workers and small business owners.
Race can’t be blamed for DNAinfo’s demise; what led to that was the perfect storm of financial losses and an effort to unionize DNAinfo journalists who’d been working for an owner who disliked unions.
DNA, however, did look like the city’s newsrooms collectively. As a contributing reporter, I was one of three African-American reporters on staff, along with one copy editor.
There’s a lot of talk about how to improve newsroom diversity. But it’s a subject that merits a deeper question: How do we organically grow the next generation of journalists of color?
How do we make our profession attractive to a kid from Chicago neighborhoods such as South Shore (where I grew up), Englewood, Pilsen, Hermosa or North Lawndale?
After all, most of my white friends and colleagues in the field have told me they’d wanted to be journalists since they were kids.
There are only a handful of programs that encourage people of color to get into journalism when they’re school-aged kids. Here are some that do it right: Truestar Media and Westside Writing Project. City Bureau, After School Matters, which does programming in the Chicago Public Schools, has a journalism component, along with Free Spirit Media. Outside of those, it’s slim pickings.
Journalists of color don’t have the pipelines to jobs and internships like our white counterparts. As I mentioned before with DNAinfo, at most of the newsrooms and websites I’ve worked for, I was one of the few black reporters.
As my journalism career has taken hold, I’ve made it a priority to make myself available to schools to speak with kids about writing. Late last year, I visited two Chicago Public Schools; one of them was Morgan Park High School, my alma mater.
The Chicago chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) knows that these kids need to see writers, editors and reporters who look like them. Recently, the organization held its first “NABJ Road Show,” where NABJ members discussed their careers with high school students.
Also, in my role as an adjunct faculty member at DePaul University, I’ve made it a point to bring in journalists, editors and reporters as guest speakers who weren’t the typical demographic of most newsrooms.
I wanted to show my students that there’s a place for them in journalism — if they want it. The numbers tell the story — and how much ground there is to make up.
According to a report cited by the Columbia Journalism Review, diversity initiatives have taken a back seat in newsrooms due to crippling budgets cuts that trigger layoffs and limit new hiring.
I told the students to keep an eye on how these folks talk about black people. And I was glad to see that many of them were hip to the game.
After all, Malcolm X once said, “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
I saw print journalists who looked like me, such as Fred Mitchell, former Sun-Times reporters John Jackson and Lacy J. Banks, and columnist Mary Mitchell.
It’s time for others — people without color — to step up and demand the changes we all want to see.
Evan F. Moore is a digital content producer with the Chicago Sun-Times.