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NABJ: Increase number of black journalists


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 18, 2000

PHOENIX -- A panel made up mostly of white media executives said Thursday they were disappointed with a decline in the number of African-Americans in newspaper and broadcast newsrooms across the nation.

"That's unacceptable," Rich Oppel, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, said of figures showing the percentage of African-American journalists slipping from 5.38 percent in 1994 to 5.31 percent in 2000.

Thursday's discussion marked the second day of the annual National Association of Black Journalists conference, which about 2,000 journalists are attending.

Dubbed a weeklong celebration of NABJ's 25th anniversary, the unspoken theme has been the lack of diversity in the media -- an issue as central to the organization's focus today as it was in 1975.

Contributing to the problem has been the inability of newsroom executives to retain African-American journalists they have hired, Oppel said.

Andrew Barnes, chairman and chief executive officer of the St. Petersburg Times, said the industry must continue to fight for change.

"If you don't keep pushing," said Barnes, who is also chairman of the Newspaper Association of America, "the damn thing stalls."

Oppel, Barnes and four other panelists had little problem defining the problem. Solutions, however, were harder to come by.

A new partnership announced Thursday offered promise. NABJ, the Scripps Howard Foundation and Hampton University in Virginia plan to establish a journalism school at Hampton.

Scripps Howard committed $4-million, which will help build a school on the campus, and NABJ made a five-year commitment to train students.

Panelist Paula Madison, vice president of news for NBC and a black woman, said change sometimes comes on smaller levels. She discussed how she sometimes played the role of an "agitator" in her career, stressing the less-than-popular message of diversity with her bosses. The advocacy, she said, occasionally strained her relationship with fellow managers.

Less than 24 hours earlier, another NABJ panel said industry executives were partly to blame for the lack of diversity in newsrooms today.

Pluria Marshall Sr., with the National Black Media Coalition, based in Maryland, said the lament by white executives who say they can't find qualified black applicants is a disguise for "employment discrimination."

"You've got to get the FBI to find a black news director," he said.

NABJ president William Sutton said that although African-American reporters, editors and managers are more common today than in 1975 when NABJ was founded, "in so many other areas, we've got a long, long, long way to go."

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