Black women in journalism on the decline

Whites — mainly male — still dominate U.S. news media

Dr. Avis A. Jones-DeWeever
Dr. Avis A. Jones-DeWeever

Media on all platforms are failing women, especially Blacks and other women of color, according to the new Women’s Media Center (WMC) report. The Status of Women in U. S. Media is the fourth annual report released earlier this month by the WMC, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization.

It analyzed over 27,000 news content platforms from October 1 to December 31, 2014 and found gender inequality in all forms of reporting, whether in print, online or television, and on nearly all news topics. Males, mostly White, dominate by more than two-to-one.

“The bottom line is this: Overwhelmingly, men still dominate media,” says WMC President Julie Burton in her executive summary. As for Black women and other women of color, the “major underrepresentation” in the media is no different than in any other industry in this country, noted Dr. Avis A. Jones-DeWeever, founder and owner of Image Unlimited, a Washington, D.C. executive consulting firm, in an MSR phone interview.

Graphic: The Status of Women in U.S. Media Report
Graphic: The Status of Women in U.S. Media Report

Jones-DeWeever pointed out that a key difference from last year’s WMC report was that it “focused generally on gender.” This year’s report, she explained, is more detailed and includes women of color “because our stories can be different and can be very tainted because of race.”

The report “is important because it shows where we are at, where are the advances and where we need to improve, and can we go around improving it,” continued Jones-DeWeever. “We need to do more to ensure that [there is] more Black women representation” in the media. “We need to make sure that our image is reflective of and authentic of who we truly are” and not caricatures.

“What I see [are] unfair depictions of Black women in multiple forms in the media, whether we are talking about movies [or] music and the music industry,” said Jones-DeWeever. “Those types of depictions make life [difficult] for the typical Black woman of today out here trying to create a life. I am very sensitive to that.”

Media influences almost everything in our lives, she said. “It has power. It has the power to impact popular culture…and how people are viewed” in society.

The WMC report also points out that although women outnumber men as undergraduates by two-to-one in journalism schools, women grads are seeking jobs in areas other than journalism, such as advertising and public relations. Blacks and other people of color have seen “an almost five percentage-point, year-to-year decline in new grads landing full-time jobs” since 1995 — 55 percent in 2013, down from over 68 percent in 1995, while 72 percent of White grads found full-time jobs in 2013.

Jones-DeVeever said that Blacks, especially women, not getting or even seeking journalism jobs concerns her, and should concern the community as well. “Journalists are a very critical part of our society,” she stated. “The power of journalism and journalists is tremendous. They have the ability to shape what we consider is important and how things are seen in the media.”

The WMC also looked at the racial composition in newspaper newsrooms using 2014 American Society of News Editors staffing report results. It found 55 percent White males, 31 percent White females, and a little over two percent each Black males and Black females. The percentage of other people of color was even lower than that of Blacks. Newsroom leaders such as editors are overwhelmingly White and male as well.

“It’s very important that the people who are making those decisions — what is and what is not a story, and what is not covered — and the people who are actually writing the stories or are in front of the camera, or are going to ask the questions” reflect the population, which is growing more diverse, said Jones-DeVeever. “It is critical that we have diversity.”

Jones-DeVeever suggested that more Blacks “take more control” in all areas of the media. “It’s critically important that our voices tell our own stories. It is my hope that more women and more girls of color are not just the persons who watch and consume the media, but ultimately become the producers of media.”

Related content: WMC report: More Black women needed behind-the-scenes; the entire report can be found at www.womensmediacenter.com.

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.