By Danielle Ulman
Newspapers once struggled to recruit minority reporters, but today the industry is struggling to retain them.
Journalists of color are leaving the industry much faster than those entering, said panelists at Thursday's APME/UNITY summit "Improving Diversity Through Better Retention."
"We're at a crisis point," said Jeanne Mariani-Belding, national president of the Asian American Journalists Association.
The APMEA joined with UNITY: Journalists of Color last year to investigate what both groups perceived to be a mounting problem. They held a series of roundtable discussions with 50 journalists of color with newsroom jobs or who newly left careers in journalism.
What they found at four roundtable sessions in Delaware, Florida, Arizona and Ohio surprised Karen Magnuson, outgoing president of APME.
Each roundtable discussion had at least one participant who was considering leaving journalism.
"I'm very frustrated with the fact that many talented journalists of color appear to be leaving the industry," Magnuson said.
The percentage of journalists of color dropped from 13.87% in 2006 to 13.62% in 2007, according to an American Society of Newspaper Editors' annual employment survey.
While in 1994, editors hired nearly 600 minority reporters for their first full-time newsroom jobs. By year's end, 698 journalists of color had left journalism for other careers.
The losses may not seem large, but minorities make up more than 30% of the American population, a number not mirrored in newsrooms.
"The newsrooms of the future are not going to survive if we do not accurately reflect what's going on in the country," Magnuson said.
Panelist Rafael Olmeda, assistant city editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, said minorities leave journalism for a variety of reasons, including a lack of recognition for their work in the newsroom, low salaries and fewer opportunities to move into senior management positions.
"It's not just about money," he said, "although that is important."
Many panelists complained that they often get saddled with the minority beat.
"You don't have to be Hispanic to cover Hispanic issues," Olmeda said. "We can do more than cover ourselves."
At least one panelist disagreed: After bouncing from one newsroom job to another, covering black issues suits her best, she found.
"I have wanted to leave the industry," said Karlayne Parker, The Sun of Baltimore's assistant features editor and editor of the newspaper's African-American lifestyle section UNISUN.
"Now I'm very happy in what I do," she said. "Should that change, I can't say that I'll stay."