No won­der there are so few mi­nor­ity jour­nal­ists

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - OPINION - Es­ther J. Cepeda Es­ther J. Cepeda Colum­nist

Shaun King, a civil rights ac­tivist and se­nior jus­tice writer for the New York Daily News, had to pref­ace his re­sponse to the re­cent hate crime com­mit­ted against a dis­abled Chicago-area man with four full para­graphs of dis­avowal be­fore mak­ing this point:

The next day, Julio Ri­cardo Varela, co-host of the Latino-cen­tric po­lit­i­cal pod­cast “In the Thick” tweeted up a storm about the evolv­ing story of sus­pected Florida air­port shooter Este­ban San­ti­ago, cit­ing jour­nal­ists and news out­lets that chose to play up San­ti­ago’s Puerto Ri­can her­itage. Varela, who also hails from Puerto Rico, wrote:


Oh yeah, he fought in Iraq & checked a gun.”

An­other tweet con­cluded: “If cable out­lets in­sist on em­pha­siz­ing ?#Este­banSan­ti­ago’s Puerto Ri­caness, good time to ed­u­cate about how many boricuas served in iraq.”

And so it goes for mi­nor­ity jour­nal­ists in the era of Trump — when a mem­ber of their tribe does some­thing un­speak­able, they’ll have to jump in to make clar­i­fi­ca­tions be­fore peo­ple make as­sump­tions or they’ll be called to ac­count.

These news peo­ple will be bom­barded with mes­sages im­plor­ing them to con­demn an ac­tion or with ugly im­pli­ca­tions that they are in sol­i­dar­ity with the ac­cused be­cause they have not is­sued a pub­lic de­nounce­ment — as if they, the jour­nal­ists, speak for ev­ery other non-jour­nal­ist who shares their race or eth­nic­ity.

Of course, af­ter a decade of ris­ing im­mi­gra­tion-re­lated xeno­pho­bia, jour­nal­ists with His panic sound­ing names have been get­ting trolled on a daily ba­sis, re­gard­less of whether or not a break­ing news item has to do with a Latino sus­pect.

Vic­tor Manuel Ramos, a staff writer at News­day, re­cently posted to Face­book a photo of an en­ve­lope he re­ceived that read: “Are you an Amer­i­can — or merely a holder of cit­i­zen­ship?” Ramos cap­tioned the im­age: “Some­times when one cov­ers im­mi­gra­tion, the let­ters (in this case, the en­ve­lope) from read­ers be­come per­sonal in­quiries. Re­ceived to­day.”

And peo­ple won­der why there aren’t more mi­nori­ties in jour­nal­ism.

Last year, the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of News Ed­i­tors put the per­cent­age of mi­nor­ity jour­nal­ists in daily-news­pa­per news­rooms at about 17 per­cent. It was slightly better for on­line-only news sites, where mi­nori­ties made up about 23 per­cent of the work­force.

Decades-long in­dus­try­wide hand-wring­ing about why the na­tion’s press corps doesn’t ad­e­quately re­sem­ble the peo­ple they re­port on is tone-deaf.

Hmm, let’s see ... it costs tens of thou­sands of dol­lars to get an un­der­grad­u­ate jour­nal­ism de­gree from even a mid­dling state school (and in the hun­dreds of thou­sands if at­tend­ing a highly se­lec­tive school — and that’s not count­ing grad­u­ate stud­ies).

Then, upon grad­u­a­tion, a new jour­nal­ist can ex­pect to barely make a liv­ing wage as a news as­sis­tant, graph­ics spe­cial­ist or on­line writer or pro­ducer. In 2016, for the third straight year, Ca­reer­cast. com rated “news­pa­per re­porter” as the worst job, at the very bot­tom of its list of 200. “Broad­caster” was the third worst.

Yet, when a white per­son com­mits a hor­ri­ble crime, no one ex­pects white re­porters or white opin­ion writ­ers to specif­i­cally deny re­spon­si­bil­ity or em­pa­thy for a cul­prit’s ac­tions. It is gen­er­ally un­der­stood that the crime and the crim­i­nal are not defini­tively linked to a spe­cific race or eth­nic­ity.

Can mi­nor­ity jour­nal­ists ever hope for that same as­sump­tion of rea­son­able jour­nal­is­tic de­tach­ment from news sub­jects?

Ul­ti­mately, if peo­ple can’t rec­og­nize that all jour­nal­ists have opin­ions and bi­ases that may or may not have any­thing to do with their eth­nic or racial back­grounds, there will be fewer and fewer mi­nor­ity jour­nal­ists to ha­rass.

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