Why Aren’t Minorities Working in Radio Journalism Anymore, and Why Hasn’t the FCC Done Anything About It?

by David Honig on November 30, 2010

Minorities have been disappearing from radio journalism in the past decade, despite the importance of diversity in communications. The Radio Television Digital News Association, or RTDNA, reported that in 2009, minorities represented only 8.9% of the radio work force while the U.S. minority population was 34.4%. Unfortunately, this is not a new trend.

In 2008, using RTDNA data as a starting point, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) calculated that minority news employment at U.S. English language, non-minority owned radio stations was statistically almost zero.

The collapse of minority employment in radio journalism is a result of word of mouth recruitment from a homogeneous workforce. Relying on word of mouth recruitment is dangerous because the practice will allow non-diverse workforces to consolidate and replicate themselves over time. Word of an open position will generally extend to employees’ usually homogeneous family and social groups. If a workplace were homogeneous to begin with, word of mouth recruitment would reproduce and usually enhance the homogeneity. However, if a workplace were diverse, the practice would preserve that diversity.

In the information age, the value of news is the degree to which it addresses individual and community needs. In this respect, diversity is key. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center illustrated that a majority of African Americans regularly listen to Black radio news or talk shows. In communications policy, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recognizes the role diversity plays in a robust democracy. According to the Commission’s 2007 report on diversification of ownership in broadcasting services, “It has long been a basic tenet of national communications policy that the widest dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.”

Since 1968, the FCC has maintained rules to combat discriminatory employment practices in broadcasting. The FCC prohibits employment discrimination and requires broadcast licensees to comply with recruitment and outreach measures.

In recent years, the FCC has seldom enforced these rules, however. The level of enforcement is merely 1% of what it was between 1994 and 1997, and the FCC hasn’t issued a single equal employment opportunity (EEO) decision in seventeen months. The FCC’s current EEO policies cannot be supported by accurate data because the agency has abandoned collecting EEO reporting data due to long unresolved issues of confidentiality.

Further, the FCC has not amended its rules or practices to reflect the two recommendations made by the FCC’s Advisory Committee for Diversity in the Digital Age to provide greater focus on career development and retention of diverse candidates.

It is not too late for the FCC to move back in the right direction. Nowhere in history has a multicultural democracy succeeded when its mass media outlets excluded minority groups. Minorities will become the majority of the U.S. population by mid-century, and the government has acknowledged the importance of source diversity. It follows that the government should provide access to opportunities that allow underrepresented minority communities to gain the skills and experience necessary to succeed, thereby ensuring our nation’s prosperity in tomorrow’s economy.

  • David Honig is MMTC’s President and Executive Director. He co-founded the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) in 1986. MMTC has represented over 70 minority, civil rights and religious national organizations in selected proceedings before the FCC, and it operates the nation’s only full service, minority owned media and telecom brokerage.

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  • Stupid

    Can the FCC drop the ball any more? What else can they do wrong?!

  • Scobe52

    It’s so depressing to hear about this purge of minorities from journalism. Funnily enough, we see a lot of minorities today in television news, but I don’t think anyone really realizes how few there are in radio journalism. I hope something is done to turn this situation around soon.

  • Guest

    This is scary I had no idea! WHY is this still an issue in the 21st century?? It’s 2010, folks! Can we make some progress and stop taking steps backward?

  • Yourmo M.

    I never noticed this before. Wow. Its crazy what will come to light when people start investigating.

  • Bill Edmonds

    “… statistically almost zero.” Whoa, that should sound an alarm.

    Newspapers have made diversification of their newsrooms a priority — why has the radio broadcast industry not done the same?

    This is shocking — and shameful.

  • Ava L. Parker

    Clearly, radio stations cannot be trusted to do the right thing, left to their own devices.

    The FCC needs to take action — and American listeners need to take note. We should not be supporting stations that run newsrooms with no minorities.

    Stunning report.

  • Mjaye1

    With no criticism of the author of this article, this is not news. During my 30 years of radio there has always been a lack of minorities in the newsroom. Word of mouth is only part of the problem. The major problem is lack of radio outlets that still carry news. With deregulation, the number of newsrooms began to decline. Especially on the African American owned level. If there are no newsrooms to work in, then guess who will be out of work more than others? The FCC has always turned a blind eye to this issue. If they delve into it they are opening a Pandora’s box they don’t want to deal with. There is an answer, but the FCC won’t enforce it nor will station owners implement it.

  • Bill-the-Pony

    I work in radio news and I think an issue that goes unmentioned is that it is nearly a requirement that you have to work for a conservative talk radio station if you want to get into radio news.
    I can see that being a major turn off for minorities considering career choices.

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