Dexter Rogers

Dexter Rogers

Friday, February 1, 2008

More African Americans should become journalists

Terrence Moore, an African-American columnist at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, recently told the Associated Press: “One of the best-kept secrets in sports is how you have all these African-Americans playing sports, but so few African-Americans covering sports.”

Moore continued, “I’m generally one of the few-and many times, only-African-American in the press box. That has got to have a huge impact on how the news is presented.”
I thought that variety was supposed to be the spice of life, but the following numbers clearly indicate otherwise.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida studied the racial makeup of the sports staffs at more than 300 newspapers in 2006. The study found that 94.7 percent of sports editors, 86.7 percent of assistant sports editors, 89.9 percent of sports columnists, 87.4 percent of sports reporters, and 89.7 percent of copy editors/designers are white.
In short, 92.8 percent of what we read in the sports pages is manufactured from a white vantage point.

The two daily Fort Wayne newspapers have similar percentages. Of the 89 employees at the Journal Gazette four are African American, about 4 percent. One African American is a features writer and another covers IU sports.

Of the 37 employees at the News Sentinel two are African American. That’s 5 percent. One is sports editor and the other is a designer.

Clearly a wide gap exists between the numbers of African Americans who play sports compared to those who cover sports.

Many African Americans neglect majoring in journalism in college because of lack of visible role models. They rarely see someone who looks like them in papers so their pursuits lie elsewhere.
That’s why it’s incumbent for more African Americans to be included. Here’s an example of how diversity could have worked if more African Americans were present.

Dave Seanor, the former Editor of Golfweek Magazine, was recently fired because he approved a controversial cover. The magazine was to run a story about Kelly Tilghman’s infamous Tiger should be “lynched” comment she made three weeks ago. The cover of the magazine had a large noose on it. According to Seanor the decision to run the cover was a joint effort.
Bad move. Seanor was sent packing.

If at least one conscious African American had been involved in the decision-making process Golfweek could have saved themselves a lot of embarrassment. If I were on staff I would have said, “Dave, don’t run it. Having a noose on the cover would be offensive and here’s why. …”
Hopefully Golfweek and others will think twice before they act.

The few African-American writers today rarely use their collective energies to affect change. Like the professional athlete, a universal commitment by writers to ignite change is absent.
This being Black History Month I want to thank a few writing pioneers. Their efforts produced opportunities for those who write today. I’m one of them.

In the 1940’s there was no internet or ESPN yet great African American writers Sam Lacy, Wendell Smith, and Joe Bostic utilized their collective platforms to help get Jackie Robinson in the Major Leagues. They used the might of their collective platforms and pens to speak out and ignite change.

I ask that you to find your craft, whatever it may be, and do your best work. That’s what I’ll continue to do until my casket drops.

All true change starts at the top. I challenge newspaper editors who hire to not only seek but embrace diversity-in the long run it represents an opportunity to learn in the workplace.
Despite what the percentages indicate, I firmly believe that variety is truly the spice of life.

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