Minneapolis-St. Paul News Coverage of Minority Communities

Chapter 3

Recruitment and Retention of People of Color in the News Media

“In general, the television news industry’s record on placing minorities in managerial ranks is embarrassing.”[1]

Given the importance of having diverse newsrooms and management, the Minnesota Advisory Committee investigated the efforts Twin Cities news media have made to recruit and retain people of color. The Committee found that a difference between the fact-finding meeting held in 1992 and the current meeting involved the discussions around this issue of recruitment and retention of people of color in the news media. The subject was barely discussed in 1992 and, when mentioned, it was addressed as something that needed to be taken more seriously. Based on testimony given at the 2002 fact-finding meeting, local news media managements appear to be taking measures to address the issue. Yet, as reported in the previous chapter, recruiting and retaining people of color in the newsrooms have proved difficult, although some improvement has occurred. The Minnesota Advisory Committee emphasizes that it is the responsibility of the news media to recruit and retain people of color. The Committee also asserts that news media must make it their priority and take responsibility for having an open environment in which people of color will more likely be willing to work and willing to stay.

In the aftermath of the widely publicized Jayson Blair scandal at the New York Times, the Committee also wants to stress that there was absolutely no evidence presented at the fact-finding meeting or found during research to suggest that any journalists of color in the Twin Cities were given a “free pass.” In fact, it appears from the evidence that a problem with the local news media is the lack of employee development programs, where people of color could be groomed into new, elevated positions. Journalists who are hired at mainstream media must “hit the ground running.” Thus, many new employees are lateral hires who are not provided enough opportunity to advance.

Positive Steps by Local Media to Recruit and Retain People of Color

The Committee heard about several recruitment efforts by the Twin Cities media sources. Both television and print media representatives discussed the programs their respective companies have installed to recruit people of color and make their newsrooms more diverse. Some of the local news media had internship or fellowship programs geared toward recruiting qualified young reporters to their station or paper. Many of these programs targeted young people of color in particular. Although the specifics of the individual programs may differ, all programs attempted to attract highly qualified people to report the news of the Twin Cities. The programs served as a way to introduce those from the area to the news media industry and to educate those outside the region about the Twin Cities. Although the programs differed, the spokespeople all concurred that more and greater efforts need to be made in order to have a more diversified news force.

The following presenters at the fact-finding meeting discussed the programs at their respective station or paper that aim to increase and maintain diversity in newsrooms.

Scott Libin, News Director, KSTP. [KSTP] is one of the very few companies in the [television news] industry to pay interns. We do so not because I insisted on it but because Stanley Hubbard, who owns the company, insisted on it. That, in itself, enables us to attract interns who honestly otherwise could not afford to do internships. We pay them for their time. They also get credit. We don’t pay them a great deal. It’s not much more than minimum wage, but we provide them the opportunity that interns everywhere get. But instead of working, as I did, for the privilege of paying my school to receive credit, they work and we also pay them for their time. And they tend to come to us principally through local universities. [In addition], the reporter trainee position didn’t exist when Zoua Vang [a local Hmong reporter now with a station in Fresno, California] became available, and we had to do some creative accounting. I was still young enough to be in my honeymoon period as a news director and perhaps was able to get away with some things that might have been difficult under other circumstances.

Scott Gillespie, Assistant Managing Editor for Local News, Minneapolis Star Tribune. We have a paid internship that I think is one of the best in the country. We hire 10 interns each year. They are all in newsroom crafts: reporters, writers, copy editors, photographers. We emphasize minority and female candidates. We recruit at all four major minority journalism conventions for the internship program and also elsewhere. We have hired several of our recent minority interns, and we are always keeping an eye on those folks. We stay in touch with them if they leave us to go to work for other newspapers. If they get out of college and go somewhere else, we try to stick with them, and we try to lure the most talented back to Minneapolis to the Star Tribune. We’ve had some success with that. We recently started a scholarship program with the University of Minnesota that’s funded by the Star Tribune Foundation, and we provide $5,000-a-year scholarships, renewable for three years. Last year was the first year of the program, and we awarded four scholarships to minority recipients. We plan to continue to have minority representation in that scholarship program. It’s an important part of that program. The participation includes a paid Star Tribune internship, and students must study journalism at the University of Minnesota. They must maintain a 2.75 grade point average during the program to stay in it. We’re in the process right now of choosing the students for the next round of that program. In addition, we have a companywide program called the Great Workplace program. As part of that, we have a diversity policy that goes beyond affirmative action to value diversity that’s not limited to race, ethnicity, or gender, but broadly encompasses age, physical disability, sexual orientation, educational background, economic status, and also culture.

Lynda McDonnell, Executive Director, Urban Journalism Workshop. The Star Tribune has something called Minnesota Youth News. I think they have one student from 15 or 16 school papers who work as essentially what we would call stringers. They write articles for the newspaper. They’re paid a small amount, but they work very intensely with editors to develop their skills. We had a student, a young African American student, who was in our program last summer, who has been working with them. He’s a kid who’s very determined and needs a lot of help developing his writing. This program has allowed him to do that. He did several rewrites to get his first piece in the Star Tribune, and no one could have been prouder of that experience. That kind of very persistent hands-on help provides students the confidence and the skills they need to really succeed at this profession and go to journalism school feeling that they can be successful. That’s the kind of commitment that I think it takes.

Dave Peters, Senior Editor/City Edition, St. Paul Pioneer Press. Probably most visible in the area of recruitment is the internship effort to attract young people into the profession. We now have a variety of internship programs, some in conjunction with Knight-Ridder, our parent company, and some that we have cooked up on our own. Typically we get about six or seven interns over the course of a year, usually three, four months at a time. Over the past several years, out of that six or seven, usually four or five are minority journalists, largely through several Knight-Ridder programs. These are people who are coming to us either right out of college or maybe with a year or two left, but are serious about journalism and going into the field. We’ve hired a few of these over the past four years—maybe four or five people we’ve hired up directly from that program. Others have gone on to jobs with the Washington Post, the Charlotte Observer, the Kansas City Star, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Raleigh News and Observer, Miami Herald, and some others. We try to make sure that every outside opening, every opportunity we have to hire, at least one of the final candidates—and that’s three, four, five people, usually—at least one is a minority candidate. So we are constantly searching for quality people that can fill those spots. We actively attend the national conventions for minority journalists looking for candidates. As a result, we have a database of people that we identify as prospective candidates. Senior editors try to identify a couple of people in particular and track them personally: keeping tabs, watching their careers, looking for opportunities to bring them here when the time comes. In addition to the internships we offer, we’ve been involved for years, as has the Star Tribune, with the Urban Journalism Workshop.

Bill Buzenberg, Vice President of News, Minnesota Public Radio. There is a very strong active outreach campaign going on and a recruitment effort [at MPR]. I believe that it is not enough to say, “We can’t find people.” That, to me, is never the right answer. The answer is we need to keep looking. There are people who want to work, who are good, and we want to bring them in, and we will be stronger when we do. I started a fellowship program when I got here, which has been successful. Many people have come in. And it’s working. There are ways to bring in and increase the diversity of the staff.

Gary Gilson, Executive Director, Minnesota News Council. The Minneapolis Foundation, Don Shelby [of WCCO-TV] told me, is going to put up money to identify kids of color in the fifth or sixth grade who have an aptitude and an interest in journalism, and they’re going to provide resources for them to learn. And if they show this interest and show some progress, they’re going to get scholarships to college, and they’re going to have guaranteed jobs in the news media down the line. That’s a new departure.

Retention Problems

Although it may not seem that retaining people of color to work in the news industry would be problematic, it is a significant problem in the effort to build greater diversity in Minneapolis-St. Paul newsrooms and throughout the news media industry. The American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) reported that the number of minority reporters at daily newspapers in the United States fell from 11.85 percent to 11.64 percent in 2000, the first decline in the 23 years the survey has been done.[2] According to Tim McGuire, former news editor for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and past president of ASNE, the two main reasons for the exodus of minorities from daily newspapers were the lack of advancement opportunities and the lack of opportunities to do new and interesting reporting.[3] Dr. Sherrie Mazingo concurs with these findings and stated that 30 percent of minority journalists are out of the field in five years because of these reasons primarily.[4]

Although ASNE cited the lack of advancement opportunities as a major reason for newspapers’ inability to retain people of color, the availability of new jobs was also a problem cited by presenters at the fact-finding meeting. For example, during the week of the meeting, Dave Huddleston, an anchor for Channel 4, announced he was leaving the station for a main anchor position in Philadelphia, the nation’s fourth largest market. Minneapolis is the nation’s 13th largest market, so it is not uncommon for local talent to leave when opportunities in larger cities become available. In addition, larger cities may present more opportunities for journalists of color to hold main anchor positions. The exact reasons for Mr. Huddleston’s departure, however, were not presented at the fact-finding meeting. Also during the course of the research for this report, a senior manager at the Star Tribune who is an African American woman left for a position in Atlanta. As Gary Hill of KSTP explained, “Frequently it is kind of a two steps forward and one step back process that I witness. Even in our own newsroom, we’ve done a pretty good job over the years of hiring people of color and a fairly lousy job of retaining them. In our industry, it’s not uncommon for people with those skills to move on to better jobs, better paying jobs elsewhere in the country.”

Despite these challenges, for some who spoke about retention at the fact-finding meeting, the problem focused around the issues cited in the ASNE study. Lynda McDonnell of the Urban Journalism Workshop at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul summarized the situation regarding the opportunities for nonwhite reporters and anchors to do interesting work:

I can tell you from being at the Pioneer Press, that having a talented, young Arab American woman in our newsroom meant that the paper did a far better job of covering the impact of 9/11 and the reaction in the local Muslim community than we would have done otherwise. But without training, promotional opportunities, and genuine effort to diversify the way we define and deliver the news, people like this young woman will get tired or angry or lonely and either leave the profession or move on. It gets tiresome to be the one voice who is arguing for a particular kind of story or who is expected to find out what is going on in a particular community.

If the newsroom remains a white, male culture, it is unlikely that new reporters of color will feel engaged and welcomed unless they accept that culture. Lorena Duarte, a reporter for La Prensa newspaper, evoked a generalized scenario regarding advancement that young journalists of color may face in the field: “You have to be white and/or conform to whatever the newspaper or TV station that you’re working for, conform to their culture, their internal culture, to their priorities. Then at a certain point, someone else gets promoted instead of you, someone else who happens to be white gets the anchor job instead of you.” Therefore, some presenters argued that to retain nonwhite employees, management and editors must strive to broaden the culture of their newsrooms. They must provide a more open environment in which diverse people with diverse perspectives can coexist in a productive manner.

Although news media representatives openly acknowledged the difficulties in retention, no solutions to the problem were proposed.

Recruitment Problems

Despite the positive steps taken to recruit people of color to local newsrooms, presenters at the fact-finding meeting frankly discussed major impediments to attracting reporters and managers of color to the Twin Cities. One of the major concerns was the relative lack of diversity of the region compared with other major cities. Reporter Duschesne Drew, who was raised in New York and went to journalism school in Chicago, discussed this issue:

Because [journalists of color] don’t tend to have the roots that many of our white colleagues have, it makes life more difficult. I don’t have an aunt who lives here. I don’t have cousins who I grew up with who are here. All of my family is on the East Coast. It’s hard. It’s very hard. This is a very different community than the one I grew up in. It’s not as diverse. It does not have the history of having lots of people of color. And that was a real adjustment for me, as it tends to be for other people. When I think about some of the other folks I work with who are from Florida or from Chicago or from L.A., those of us who are here have made a pretty good adjustment and like it here. There are obviously very good things about life here, but it’s different. It’s sort of a different sort of sales pitch that goes on. We were talking before about recognition. Some of that is about the size of the paper you’re at. We’re a good-size paper, so that helps. We get the pay that goes along with that, so it helps as well. But there is sort of that constant competition with other papers in our circle.

Because of this difficulty in attracting people of color who are from more diverse parts of the country, as well as the importance of having people with ties to the local communities of color, many panelists discussed the need to nurture young students in the Twin Cities to become journalists. As Howard Orenstein, senior policy advisor to St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, discussed:

The schools are the one place in the Twin Cities where we’re integrated. They don’t do a very good job in housing and other areas, but we do in the schools. And we have many people of color succeeding in our schools, high achievement, and we ought to be making sure that they see journalism as a career that’s enticing to them, so that we’re feeding the pipeline at the starting end and not just relying on bringing folks in from other cities who are not members of our community when they move here. I don’t want to mean we’re not welcoming to them. If they want to bring in a senior management person who’s a person of color, that’s great. But it would be even better if the person grew up here.

The local news media has made initial efforts to develop homegrown talent to work in the news industry. The Urban Journalism Workshop is one of the clearest examples of this effort, but the program also reveals challenges at the local recruiting level as well. Located at St. Thomas University, the workshop coordinates “an industry-wide effort to attract and train more young minority students for careers in newspapers, television or online reporting, writing and production.”[5] These efforts are centered on a two-week summer residential program for 16 students who “work with journalism faculty and professionals, write articles for publication in daily newspapers and produce a 15-minute television news broadcast.”[6] The new director of the workshop, Lynda McDonnell, briefed the Committee on challenges the program faces in its effort to attract more local journalists of color:

When I go to schools, what I find is that often there are not very many young men of color in these journalism classes. There will be a lot of young women because they are attracted to writing, but there are not always a lot of young men. The same thing shows up in terms of applications for the summer program. We had 45 applications. They were terrific applications, but of those only 10 of them were from young men. Also, there are certain underrepresented groups like Native Americans, which may be a result of their community paper, The Circle, having an internship program. I got a lot of applications from young Asian American women. So, part of our challenge is to figure out how do we increase our reach into a variety of communities that we would like to attract and have them at least get a taste of journalism to see if this is something that would appeal to them.

Possibly the most positive sign occurred during the fact-finding meeting’s open session when Mary Vidas came before the Minnesota Advisory Committee to present information about Broadcast Media Education at North Community High School in Minneapolis. Ms. Vidas has been teaching grades 9 through 12 for the past 10 years at this school, which has a student population that is approximately 86 percent African American, 13 percent Asian American, and 1 percent Hispanic American. From her experience, Ms. Vidas was able to tell the Committee that “there is a swell of young people coming up in the ranks who are very much interested in continuing to pick up where others are now, reporting at the various newspapers, television and radio stations in town.” Her good news regarding the strong interest in journalism among her students was presented along with a challenge to the local news media. As Ms. Vidas said, “I am here as well to challenge the media that they need to do more outreach to our young people. They need to be walking through the door and assuring our young people that there is a place here in Minneapolis for them.”

Some news media outlets are beginning to answer the call to this challenge. Duschesne Drew described the work the Star Tribune is doing in this area:

We are in the schools. I started a program with a few other folks in our paper a couple months ago at North High, which is a place we’ve been trying to get into for a while. And as you may know, both Minneapolis and St. Paul schools now have shifted to schools within schools, and they’re encouraging their principals and other leaders in the buildings to reach out to folks in the community who have expertise to help draw and strengthen their programs. North has a communications program. They’ve had it for years. They didn’t previously have a whole lot of interest in working with us. But, they called, and I went, and now we’re there every couple of weeks. We might be there every week by next school year. There are a number of us who are interested in helping some of the folks who are from here who really are going to be here long term, or more likely to be here at least, come into our ranks. We’ve had a program at Johnson High in St. Paul, similar to the one at North, for about four years now. You know, it’s not going to yield on its own the kinds of numbers that we’d like to see, but it’s incremental. It’s a piece of the pie.

This involvement has yielded measurable results. As Scott Gillespie told the Committee, “I’ve got a wonderful little aside from the Johnson High School journalism program. Susie Vang, a Hmong student who was Johnson’s valedictorian last year, is also a Star Tribune scholar at the University of Minnesota under the first year of the scholarship program. One of the reasons she got interested in journalism was because of the Johnson program. She became valedictorian, and she was selected in our first group of students to receive the $5,000-a-year scholarship at the University of Minnesota. So we’re very happy about that and hope she’s just a start in that area.”

[1] Jim Kirk, “D.C. Post Lures Vickie Burns from Channel 5,” Chicago Tribune, Business Section, Aug. 28, 2003, p. 3.

[2] American Society of Newspaper Editors, “2000 Minority Employment Results Tables,” Apr. 12, 2000, <http://www.asne.org/index.cfm?ID=1460>. In 2001, the numbers rose again.

[3] Tim McGuire, interview, Dec. 4, 2001.

[4] Sherrie Mazingo, interview, Dec. 4, 2001.

[5] University of St. Thomas, Urban Journalism Workshop, “Training Tomorrow’s Journalist’s of Color: A Program for Twin Cities Minority High School Students.”

[6] Ibid.