The sad news out of San Antonio this fall is that Cary Clack, one of the stalwarts of that city’s journalism community— hell, one of the gems of modern Texas media—has left the San Antonio Express-News. The former columnist is now a senior adviser and campaign spokesperson for state Rep. Joaquin Castro’s congressional campaign.
Since the mid-1990s, Clack almost single-handedly directed news coverage to the chronically underreported black community in one of the 10 largest cities in the nation. Clack knew things—that San Antonio’s Percy Sutton served as Malcolm X’s lawyer and was the owner of the Apollo Theater in Harlem; that St. Philip’s College, one of the state’s important institutions of higher learning, battled to stay afloat.
His departure is one of 10 by African-American columnists across the nation this year. In the last few years some of the highest-profile minority journalists in this state—Linda Jones and Ira Hadnot of The Dallas Morning News, Carlos Sanchez at the Waco Herald-Tribune—left their venues.
National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) president Kathy Times said, “it’s heartbreaking to think that one-third of the black journalists in newsrooms in 2001 are not there anymore.” A study by the American Society of News Editors, released in April, shows that the percentage of minorities in newspaper newsrooms slipped for the third straight year, to 12.79 percent. With the departed went cultural reference points, institutional memories, and the righteous pressure they put on other news outlets. The Observer has struggled for years to have a staff that reflects the diversity in the state. Former editor Lou Dubose says: “During the 11 years I was there, the staff was all white, mostly male. We tried.”
Staffing is one matter, content another: Susan Currie Sivek, who did her graduate work at the University of Texas School of Journalism, wrote in a 2008 analysis of Texas Monthly that its coverage of minorities was “especially problematic.”
Sivek documented that Hispanics were on 1.8 percent of the magazine’s covers; blacks were on 3.6 percent of the covers. Hispanics were the topic of a feature story 5.6 percent of the time; blacks were the topic 4 percent of the time.
An NABJ study of 74 of the largest TV stations in America, released in September, found that staffing doesn’t match city demographics. Although they compose 35 percent of the U.S. population, people of color filled only 12 percent of broadcast newsroom management positions at the stations surveyed. In a nod to one of the bright lights, the NABJ study noted that Dallas-based Belo Corporation (which owns several TV stations, as well as The Dallas Morning News) was “closest to matching the diversity of the nation with 10 percent of its managers being of color.” Still, “its station in Charlotte has no diversity, and there is only one person of color in management at its station in New Orleans.”
The solutions? As always: Hire more minority journalists, overhaul the news menu, support the creation of minority news sites.
Clack says, “There’s a reason why minority groups will always need their own news sites. Mainstream media don’t have the knowledge or interest to cover those communities as thoroughly as they should.”
And now, some journalists of color have complained about the lack of minority representation at online news/social media sites. Citing a Pew Center study showing that blacks and Hispanics are more than twice as likely to use Twitter as whites, some journalists say new media sites are succumbing to old media habits.
Former Fort Worth Star-Telegram assistant managing editor Jean Marie Brown addresses the gulf in an excellent article for the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard called “Familiar Patterns of Minority Exclusion Follow Mainstream Media Online.” Her thesis: Don’t get lulled into believing that the democratic tendencies of new media will result in instant diversity.
“Mainstream online media are caught in the same loop that ensnared legacy outlets,” Brown writes. “Their view of minorities is limited… Rather than fostering understanding that might help us find common ground, mainstream online media maintain the divisive ‘us vs. them’ mentality that is evident in many of our contemporary conversations about race.”