As the NABJ convention starts today in New Orleans, diversity in journalism takes a big hit

By Steve Myers
African-Americans were disproportionately hit in last week’s layoffs at The Times-Picayune, meaning the newspaper serving the majority-black city will become less diverse unless the difference is made up with new hires.

“The lack of diversity that will be suffered in these newsrooms is unacceptable, and will result in more losses for these companies as consumers will go elsewhere to find news that is truly representative of their community,” said National Association of Black Journalists President Greg Lee in a news release last week.

NABJ opens its annual convention in New Orleans today. The association has offered free registration for its career fair to journalists cut from the Picayune and Advance’s three papers in Alabama.

The Times-Picayune reported that 84 of 173 people in the newsroom were laid off, a loss of 48.5 percent. According to a list I assembled (based on conversations with multiple people in the newsroom) 14 of 26 African-Americans in the newsroom lost their jobs — a 53.8 percent cut. That includes editors, reporters and administrative personnel.

A 5.3 percentage-point difference may not appear to be much, but it erodes the newspaper’s diversity. The Times-Picayune didn’t participate in the latest ASNE census, but according to the list I assembled, the newsroom would have been 15 percent African-American before the layoffs. If no African-Americans are hired into the new operation, it would be 13.5 percent. (Other departments of the company, such as the press room, have more black employees and were cut significantly.)

Even if the company hired no African-Americans to work at the company once it cuts back on print and shifts to the Web, the Picayune’s newsroom still would be more diverse than the industry average of 12.32 percent. (My figures for the Picayune account only for African-Americans; it would be slightly higher when other journalists of color are included.)

The whitening of The Times-Picayune newsroom matches an industry trend; the latest ASNE diversity census showed that minorities lost their jobs at twice the industry average in the past year. That follows two years of disproportionate losses for minorities.

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