Panelists discuss lack of diversity in media

Newsrooms today often lack a racial and ethnic diversity that ensures fair coverage of all parts of a community, five media experts said this week in a campus panel discussion, and it is the responsibility of young reporters – regardless of color, gender or religion – to make sure all voices are heard.

Elvin Jenkins, left, listens as Keren Rivas offers observations on stereotypes of Hispanic people that she encounters on the job as a reporter for the (Burlington, N.C.) Times-News.
The Feb. 20, 2008, afternoon discussion, hosted in McKinnon Hall by the School of Communications, included journalists and media professionals from five North Carolina news outlets:

Alan Mason – VP/GM of News 14 Carolina (a Time Warner company)
Allen Johnson – Editor, editorial page, (Greensboro, N.C.) News & Record
Elvin Jenkins – General Manager for WSNC-FM, a public radio station licensed to Winston Salem State University
Keren Rivas – Reporter, (Burlington, N.C.) Times-News
Pilar Viatela – Assistant account executive, Trone advertising/PR

Many newsrooms – both at newspapers and television stations – do not reflect the make-up of the overall community. Rivas is the only Hispanic reporter at the Times-News despite the fast-growing number of Spanish speakers in Alamance County.

Recent economic downturns in the media industry also hurt efforts to diversify newsrooms, in part because “last hired, first fired” practices negate concerted efforts to bring more minorities into the industry.

“You really find out where the commitment is when times get tough,” Johnson said. “The progress being made over the years is being eroded by the fact that the job base is eroding.”

Diversity isn’t important just for public service, panelists agreed. “It’s good business, because we’re in the business of making programs that appeal to a wide variety of people,” Mason said.

More viewers can spell more ratings, he said, and more ratings result in more advertising revenue.

One piece of advice to students, regardless of background, was stated more than once: “Try to keep an open mind and learn about other cultures,” Rivas said.

Communications professor Lee Bush moderated the event.