Looking for Parity

While we’re on the subject of the 2008 presidential Diversity Derby … the January 1 Newsweek published a poll that says 86 percent of respondents would vote for a woman and 93 percent would vote for an African-American if the candidates were qualified and corresponded to the respondent’s spirit animal (donkey, elephant, third-party Harriet Hound). When asked if they thought greater America was radical* enough to elect a woman or an African-American, 55 and 56 percent of respondents respectively threw up their fists and said they could dig it.

The poll has been largely drowned out, says Mediamatters.org, by cynical mainstream-media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, which recently cited “widespread concerns” among Democrats about senators Clinton and Obama’s shot at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The Journal mentioned Clinton’s polarizing effect and Obama’s inexperience only as the B-sides to its musings on the electability of XX chromosomes and melanin. (At least they’re not making a mighty noise over Obama’s middle name — Hussein — his late father’s lapsed faith — Islam — or calling mixed-race Obama a “Halfrican” like those conservative talk-show hosts.)

Having just returned from the National Conference for Media Reform in Memphis on MLK Day, the Current was uneasy about “but-they’re-not-a-white-male!” conversations led by a male and white-dominated media.

The media-reform gang (numbering upwards of 3,000 at this year’s event featuring PBS’s Bill Moyers, Jane Fonda, and criminal-justice activist Van Jones) got the Current thinking about the 1968 post-race-riots Kerner Commission Report, which said the media tells stories from the standpoint of a white man’s world. You could easily add to that “straight, able-bodied, Christian, and nativist.”            

In Old World media, blame newsroom demographics that are paler (and maler) than the nation’s, said Joseph Torres, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ deputy director and a conference panelist. While a third of the nation is now minority, TV news, print, and radio have a 22, 13.87, and 6-percent minority workforce respectively, according to last year’s American Society of Newspaper Editors and RTNDA/Ball State University surveys. FCC studies also show that media consolidation also limits diversity in content (like when NBC dismantles local news offices at Telemundo, the Spanish-language network it bought in 2001, despite promising it would improve coverage for its Latino audiences; see “Tele-regional,” December 6-12, 2006).

Inspired by MLK’s high-mindedness (as Van Jones put it, the good doctor said “I have a dream” not “I have a complaint”), the media reformers in Memphis were peddling all kinds of prescriptives for Big Media, like (1) community-owned media (the Prometheus Radio Project said contact them about full-power radio licenses ‘cause there’s bandwidth northwest of San Antonio in need of people-powered radio); (2) having the FCC to hold broadcasters to public-interest obligations set forth by the 1934 Communications Act (i.e. is the station meeting local audiences’ needs and making license renewal contingent upon doing so); and (3) nurturing the digital-journalism ecosystem.

Diversity’s already looking better online than in traditional media, with minorities making up 26 percent of internet users and 30 percent of bloggers, according to the oft-cited Pew Internet and American Life Project. The digital world may be the only hope for Spanish-language media, said conference panelist Federico Subervi of Austin-based Latinos & Media Project, which monitored Spanish-language radio stations from Austin to San Antonio recently and found none had local-news coverage. (“I don’t know how anyone followed the ice storm,” Subervi told the Current.)

The male-female ratio looks good online, too. The 2000 Census said 41 percent of Americans have internet access, and, according to a 2005 Pew report, “women slightly outnumber men in the internet population because they make up a greater share of the overall U.S. population” (by about 5 million more people at the last national headcount). Percentage wise, 68 percent of adult males and 66 percent of adult females are wired.

But if the internet is to be the last local news’ hub, then as the “people formerly known as the audience” log in (in Pressthink’s Jay Rosen words), as Old Media hemorrhages dollars and diminishes, as communication technologies let loose the citizen journalist the same way the Gutenberg Press liberated the word of God from the priests (where did the Current hear that?), maintaining a potpourri of content creators will still be an issue, à la Digital Divide. The folks at the New America Foundation invite you to join in efforts to connect underserved communities through low-cost, high-speed, municipal and community-based wireless (projects in Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia lead the nation). And if you care about access points for affordable broadband, yak at your rep about the Wireless Innovation Act senators John Kerry and John Sununu introduced to open empty TV channel spectrum up for WiFi use. 

More Info:

See Van Jones and other Media Reform Conference broadcasts from Memphis:

Study up on barriers to minority and female ownership in communications:

Send the FCC comments on media ownership — docket 06-121:

Agitate about local and national media policy with the Texas Media Empowerment Project:

Set your own media policy with the Newsroom Diversity Game:

Parity Trivia:

The Current’s editorial staff is at both 57-percent minority and female in a 68-percent representation minority, 50.2-percent female town. The ASNE reports the Express-News has a 32.5-percent minority news staff (no word on its lady levels). The city’s only bilingual newspaper, La Prensa, told the Current its news staff is 100-percent minority and 10-percent female.


*If Hillary wins, we’d still be late-to-the-party gender radicals. Democracies in India and Israel hoisted female prime ministers (our tribe’s equivalent of commander in chief) on to their shoulders back in the “assassinate-your-leader” ’60s. Ever heard of Mataji, the Great Mother of India, aka Indira Ghandi (killed by her bodyguard)? Or Golda Meir (who oversaw targeted assassinations in response to the Munich Olympics terrorism)? By the ’70s, even England embraced the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher, despite much discomfort. (See Women Rulers Throughout the Ages: An Illustrated Guide by Guida M. Jackson-Laufer if you think sex is an electoral impediment. And saying the White House will never admit a person of color plays right into Hugo Chávez’s oil-for-poor, brown-alliance-building hands!)

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