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Opposition to lack of diversity in cable news growing, but do executives care?

Eliot_spitzer Even while on vacation, I couldn't help feeling a bit excited by the growing criticism cable newschannels are facing over their lack of diversity in general, and especially during prime time programming.

Since I've been out of the office, MSNBC has added even more names to it's employment roster, scooping up TIME writer Mark Halperin and departed Washington Post blogger/reporter David Weigel to augment its political coverage, joining former Newsweek writer Michael Isikoff in a growing stable of former cable TV pundits-turned-employees.

CNN and MSNBC have filled two very big jobs in recent weeks, with former West Wing writer Lawrence O'Donnell following Keith Olbermann on MSNBC and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer joining columnist Kathleen Parker at 8 p.m. on CNN. All of which only served to highlight how no leading cable newschannel has any anchors of color leading programs in early evening and prime time.

Now that Larry King has announced his retirement, CNN has another chance to pass up any moves toward reflecting the nation's growing diversity in appointing his successor. Given that rumors have included CNN Headline News host Joy Behar, America's Got Talent judge Piers Morgan and American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, there's not much chance that job will help CNN's ethnic diversity quotient, either.

I wrote about this lapse last week in this space and on the Huffington Post. Since then, the Daily Beast has weighed in and the National Association of Black Journalists has sent a letter criticizing CNN's moves. They did not mention that NBC News, which is getting an award for its diversity initiatives from the group next month, has hired a succession of reporters and analysts for MSNBC without including any people of color).

When a politician who resigned in the wake of a call girl scandal has an easier time getting a prime time anchor job than any of CNN's half-dozen or so anchors of color, something's wrong.

I think cable TV news executives feel their audience won't watch a show hosted by an anchor of color, and the ratings competition is too intense for any of them to take a chance. I also think that's not necessarily true -- especially given that CNN is willing to risk its 8 p.m. hour with a politician who has only anchored a few times and a newspaper columnist who has never anchored a TV show before.

Below is the NABJ memo:

Nabj Dear Cable News Executives:

It is 2010, but the National Association of Black Journalists sees our cable news networks moving backward when it comes to who they believe is worthy of anchoring prime time news shows.

NABJ was founded in 1975 to encourage news media companies to hire and to promote more Black journalists. At that time, black journalists originally hired to cover riots during the turbulent 1960s found they were not being assigned to meaningful beats or were only allowed to cover "Black" stories.

NABJ's advocacy for fair hiring practices paid off. Many of our founders, including columnists Les Payne in New York and DeWayne Wickham in Washington, D.C., and anchor Maureen Bunyan in Washington, D.C. remain prominent figures in the media.

NABJ continues this advocacy today. To be candid, we have been focusing our talks with media executives on ways they can increase the diversity of their news management teams. It is our belief that a diverse management team improves coverage decisions and hiring practices. It seems, though, that the companies have taken that to mean that we don't care about who is on the air. We're watching, and we do.

Over the past several years, NABJ Executive Board members have met with leaders of the top media companies. Our message: "Let us help if you are looking for diverse talent."

Some of the companies have reached out, but the names we have submitted never seem to be called in for interviews.

Three years ago, Ebony magazine's Kevin Chappell noted, "While CNN has the most Black news anchors with eight, the other cable networks don't fair as well... and none of the national cable stations has any Blacks in prime-time slots." Find this article here.

Nothing has changed. NABJ questions CNN's decision to hire former New York governor/attorney general Eliot Spitzer to co-host a new show in Campbell Brown's old time slot. The company missed another opportunity to place a person of color in prime time. It just seems that cable news can never find diverse candidates who are good enough to meet their standards. We want to know your standards.

Are you telling us that CNN could find no one better than an ex-politician who quit being New York governor after consorting with prostitutes to grace America's living rooms each night?

CNN does have Tony Harris anchoring in the morning, and Fredericka Whitfield, T.J. Holmes, and Don Lemon on the weekends. But that's not prime time. The same can be said about MSNBC which last week named veteran Lawrence O'Donnell as the anchor of its new 10 p.m. show.

"In his story, Chappell talked with NABJ Member and CBS News anchor Russ Mitchell who summed up what many of us have witnessed over the years. Mitchell told Ebony "I've been to journalism conferences over and over again, and heard some executive say 'I'd like to hire more African-Americans, but I just can't find any qualified ones out there.' That was b.s. then, and that's b.s. now."

NABJ couldn't agree more.

The National Association of Black Journalists


[Last modified: Thursday, August 12, 2010 2:15pm]


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