As Obama inauguration arrives, media diversity emerges as an issue -- finally
I've noticed an odd thing about being a professional critic, especially in TV and the news media:
That's the feeling I'm left with, after seeing a recent stories examining the lack of diversity among political reporters, especially those teeing up to cover the Obama White House, exemplified in this excellent story by Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz in Monday's edition.
He notes there are few reporters of color covering the White House, especially for television. At the networks, where the beat is a launching pad to the big anchor chair, there are no people of color reporting. On cable, Kurtz named three reporters, one of whom was laid off by NBC not long ago.
This was a trend I noted more than a year ago, after perusing the list of most featured reporters on network news shows in 2007, and noting there were no journalists of color in the Top 20. This matters, as Kurtz's piece notes, because journalists of color often know their culture better and can report on the intricacies of the black church, Hispanics' reaction to Obama, anger toward the GOP from black people over Katrina and Latinos over immigration. The trend didn't get any better last year, when the most-visible reporters of color on the networks were ranked somewhere in the 30s.
When my first item was linked on Romenesko, I got e-mails from a few people in TV news -- most notably, Keith Olbermann of MSNBC -- saying I was unfairly excluding pundits and other reporters of color they brought into their coverage. But it's now obvious that news outlets need to work harder on diversifying where it counts, in jobs where the primary responsibility is covering the nation's first non-white president.
Earlier today, I saw another bit of interesting news; CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts (below right), a former WFLA-Ch. 8 employee who has gone on to distinguish himself as a top reporter at the Tiffany Network, has finally been named as a regular correspondent for 60 Minutes, filling a diversity hole ripped open on the show when Ed Bradley died a couple of years ago.
Back in 2006, I wrote a column for the Times about how Bradley, a quiet mentor to journalists of color across the nation, never saw another black person in his own newsroom rise to his level. Not long after he died in November 2006, Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler was let go and CBS had one black anchor, Russ Mitchell, who said he felt "insulted" when asked whether race was a factor in getting all the jobs he held across CBS News.
Sometimes when you write a lot about these issues, people can tune out the observations, assuming that your passion for the subject leads to mistaken thinking. Now, news outlets are finally waking up to ways in which a diversity among reporters leads to more accurate, more sensitive and more incisive coverage. And Pitts, who I suggested would have been great on 60 Minutes two years ago, is finally getting a chance to make a difference on the most-watched TV news magazine in the world.
It's always nice to see things work out the way you thought they should. Even if you don't get much credit for it.
(Photos: AP and CBS News publicity)
Click below to read CBS News release on Byron Pitts:
CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT BYRON PITTS
NAMED A CONTRIBUTOR TO “60 MINUTES”
The veteran, award-winning CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts has been named a contributing correspondent to 60 MINUTES, it was announced today by Jeff Fager, executive producer of the broadcast.
Pitts, who has appeared on 60 MINUTES periodically since 2006, will be featured regularly beginning in the 2009-’10 season and will report at least six stories. He will also continue to work for THE CBS EVENING NEWS WITH KATIE COURIC, but with the new title of chief national correspondent.
“It was time to share Byron Pitts’ extraordinary talents with millions of viewers in primetime in addition to our Evening News audience,” said Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports. “Byron has certainly earned the opportunity.”
“Byron is one of the finest reporters in the news business and it is gratifying that he has worked his way up right here at home at CBS News,” said Fager. “He is a first class human being and a terrific correspondent. I am excited about working with him and proud to have him join us at 60 MINUTES.”
Pitts’ first story on 60 MINUTES, an interview with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin in August 2006, made national news. Prodded by Pitts about how long it was taking to clean up his city’s streets a year after Hurricane Katrina, Nagin shot back by mocking New York City’s longtime efforts to rebuild Ground Zero. “That’s alright. You guys in New York City can’t get a hole in the ground fixed and it’s five years later. So let’s be fair,” said Nagin, who later apologized. Pitts most recent story, a profile of USC college football coach Pete Carroll, drew nearly 19 million viewers last month, boosting 60 MINUTES to a third-place finish in the Nielsen weekly ratings race.
In his more than 10 years as a correspondent, Pitts has covered a range of prominent national and international stories, as well as the biggest stories in recent times, such as the September 11 attacks and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has also covered the military buildup in Kuwait, the Florida fires, the Elian Gonzalez story, the Florida presidential recount, the mudslides in Central America and the refugee crisis in Kosovo.
Pitts was named national correspondent in February of 2006 after being a CBS News correspondent since May 1998, when he joined THE CBS EVENING NEWS in the Miami bureau. He then moved to Atlanta the next year where he served until January 2001 before coming to New York. Pitts began his steady rise from local to national reporting as a weekend sports anchor at WNCT-TV Greenville, N.C., in 1984. He reported for local stations in Virginia, Tampa, Orlando, Boston and Atlanta before becoming a correspondent for CBS NEWSPATH, the 24-hour affiliate news service of CBS News, in Washington, D.C., in 1997.
Pitts was born on Oct. 21, 1960, in Baltimore, Md. He was graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1982 with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism and speech communication. He lives with his wife in Upper Montclair, N.J.