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NBC's Paid Internships Bring More Diversity

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Journalists of Color Miss Out on Mid-Management Jobs

In Wake of Gaffes, ESPN Begins Sensitivity Sessions

How Should Journalist Groups Interact With Communities?

New ESPN Site Aims to Develop Black Sportswriters

Short Takes 

"We have been pleased with the increase in the ethnic diversity of our intern po

Journalists of Color Miss Out on Mid-Management Jobs

Craig RobinsonFulfilling predictions, NBCUniversal's decision to begin paying its interns last spring led to more diversity in its intern class, Craig Robinson, executive vice president and chief diversity officer of NBCUniversal, disclosed on Friday.

Advocates of paid internship programs have long maintained that unpaid internships discriminate against students of color and those without well-heeled parents.

Robinson, who is black and Asian American, spoke at the Asian American Journalists Association convention in New York, where registration rose to at least 1,150, Kathy Chow, AAJA executive director, told Journal-isms, larger than attendance by AAJA members at last year's Unity convention in Las Vegas or AAJA's stand-alone conference in 2011 in Detroit.

Ramon Escobar

Appearing on a panel with fellow diversity executives Crystal Johns, director of talent development and diversity for CBS News, who is African American, and Ramon Escobar, vice president of talent recruitment and development for CNN Worldwide, who is Hispanic, Robinson and his colleagues also said:

  • The word "diversity" itself is being reevaluated. At NBC Universal, Robinson said, the concept is now referred to as "diversity and inclusion" to reflect that the underlying issue is "who's at the table." Escobar said, "Diversity needs to be treated as a verb, not a noun. I think you do diversity. The word itself cannot be toxic. If you're not diverse, don't be scared of diversity, and if you are diverse, don't make it scary."

  • The failure of people of color to seek and train for middle management jobs has left journalists of color out of the loop when many of those positions are filled. "I have done outreach, and we ended up with very few or no applicants [of color] for the really terrific jobs," Robinson said. "We're not finding enough producers." By contrast, "We have more on-air candidates than we have on-air jobs."

  • The Internet is competing with broadcasting for the attention of those just starting their careers. A month ago, Robinson said, he went to a meeting of the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment and was told, "What makes you think we want to go into broadcasting?" "They're going to other forms of media" that are perceived as more compatible with their generation, Robinson said.

  • The African American audience is "extremely attractive" to television executives because blacks "overindex" in television watching. "The Asian American is largely online," Robinson said, and "underindexes television watching by 20 to 30 percent." Since audiences tune in to see people like themselves, "Who am I really going to choose" in hiring?" Robinson said. The issue is "how to bring that Asian American audience back to TV. Broadcasting is still where we make most of our money," Robinson said.

The issue of unpaid internships has received renewed attention as lawsuits against media companies challenge their illegality. The investigative website ProPublica took to Kickstarter in the spring and raised $22,000 to hire an intern for the fall to help it cover the intern economy as part of its series, "Investigating Internships."

NBC decided last year to begin paying its interns, starting in the spring, but refuses to say how many applied as a result, citing "company policy."

"While we don't share specific personnel figures publicly, we have been pleased with the increase in the ethnic diversity of our intern population, and we look forward to continued growth," Robinson told Journal-isms in a follow-up email.

However, an NBC News recruiter said students from such colleges as Mississippi State University, who could not previously afford to take an unpaid job in New York, are now applying.

Friday's panelists underscored the importance of making diversity a companywide priority and of journalists to become what Escobar called "holistic." For Escobar, CNN's website has become a place to find those with the skills to to work on other CNN platforms, he said. Robinson told the audience he urges colleagues to have "recruitment parties" instead of mixers, with the price of admission a candidate for one of the top 10 jobs open at the time.

The chief diversity officer also said it was important to craft diversity messages that everyone in the company can buy into. When he received complaints that "affinity groups" at NBCUniversal, such as Women's Network@NBCUniversal or the Black Professional Alliance, promoted "self-segregation," Robinson replied that keeping diverse groups satisfied "makes us a stronger company, which is good for everyone," including "white, straight males."

In Wake of Gaffes, ESPN Begins Sensitivity Sessions

In the wake of embarrassing racial and cultural gaffes by some of its journalists, ESPN has begun cultural sensitivity sessions that have so far attracted about 100 ESPN staffers, Jackson Davis, ESPN's director of diversity & inclusion, said Friday.

"The goal of it at the end of the day is our effort to be as inclusive as we can be," Davis told Journal-isms from the ESPN recruiting booth at the Asian American Journalists Association convention in New York. ESPN wants to be "smarter about what hot buttons can exist, about race, religion and gender."

Davis, who has worked as a diversity executive at other organizations, said the four sessions have used external facilitators. They look at stories ESPN and other organziations have covered and explore "how we can improve our coverage as the worldwide leader in sport."

An ESPN staffer disclosed existence of the sessions from the audience at a workshop on "The Year in AAJA Media Watch," at which ESPN was generally praised for its quick responses to racial gaffes and missteps.

They included Rob Parker's statement in December questioning whether Washington Redskins phenom Robert Griffin III was a "real" black man (Parker was suspended, then let go); an offensive headline about basketball sensation Jeremy Lin (its author was fired) and the use of the same ethnic slur by an anchor (suspended). The need for such training was underscored by panelist Ling Woo Liu, a former journalist who is director of strategic communications for Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

She cited a story from 2002 in a major daily that said Yao Ming, the Chinese-born former NBA player, would have "egg all over his chopsticks" and "is going to end up with egg fu young all over this face."

"What are you going to say when someone whacks him in his chopsticks?" the writer also asked.

When moderator Bobby Caina Calvan asked why so many of the gaffes are committed by sportswriters, Sachin Shenolikar, a senior editor at Sports Illustrated Kids, replied that "a lot of sports journalists feel the need to be stand-up comedians on Twitter" and said, "It does add to their persona, their personal brand." 

Some in the audience, such as Lori Matsukawa of KING-TV in Seattle, said such incidents ought to be teachable moments.

Richard LuiOne person's humor is another's insensitivity, as some have discovered. AAJA named Richard Lui, a reporter and anchor for NBC and MSNBC, its "member of the year." In making the announcement Thursday, Ken Moritsugu, the association's vice president for print, cited an essay that Lui wrote about the fake Asian names read on the air KTVU-TV in the Bay Area.

"My immigrant grandparents were named Lui Lee, and Quock Yuen Jow," Lui wrote for NBCLatino. "A hundred years ago, they endured plays on their names. In the 1980s, I even ridiculed Asian names. I wasn't Long Duk Dong. I was different; I was born here and didn't have a funny name. But then I realized I was mocking my grandparents. 'Funny-named' people come here every day. They shouldn't think acceptance takes a century. Sure, we will make more mistakes along the way. But they should know we are a country that respects more than 26 letters. A union built on names that sound different, look different, and are tough to pronounce. It is our badge of honor, our raison d’être. To be a country of many names."

Paul Cheung, national president of the Asian American Journalists Association,

How Should Journalist Groups Interact With Communities?

Randall Yip, a Bay Area broadcaster and founder of asamnews.com, which aggregates news about Asian Americans, spoke up Friday with a complaint that might be familiar to nearly all the journalist of color organizations.

"I also understand how frustrated they are with us," Yip said, speaking of Asian American community members.

"They don't understand it no matter how often you explain it." Journalists are not activists in the sense that some community members would like them to be, Yip said at the Asian American Journalists Association convention in New York. Yet, he said, the organization can do more.

"I don't think AAJA has to issue a statement on everything, but if people are concerned about the statement a DJ made on a radio station, just report it," Yip said from his seat on a Media Watch panel. "That's all we have to do. We're not the spokesmen for the Asian American community, but if we just report the news — we can do it from our [AAJA] website. People come to us. We can be a sounding board for story ideas."

How involved with community members should journalists of color be outside of their reporting? Black journalists used to be asked, "Are you black first or a journalist first?" a false choice.

In March, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists denounced the use of the term "wetback" by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, though it was not said in a journalistic context.

"I say as an organization that is made up of journalists and Latinos — it is our constitutional right to give voice to the voiceless," NAHJ President Hugo Balta explained.

Richard Lui, an NBC and MSNBC reporter and anchor who was named "member of the year" by AAJA, told Journal-isms that AAJA's convention next year, announced Friday as scheduled for the nation's capital, offers an opportunity for AAJA to partner with one or more of the 30 or 40 Asian American groups in Washington. AAJA's founding document, while not urging advocacy, "intimates connection with the community," Lui said.

(Latino, Asian American and African American media have a luxury that many Native Americans do not. Many Native media are owned by their tribes.)

Bob Butler, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, who was attending the AAJA convention, said, "When it comes to creating systemic change in the industry itself, we can't do that ourselves. We need other organizations to advocate."

For their part, the journalists can "tell their stories. They need to have their stories told. They have to be stories that they're going to want to publish. We can do that at our stations and papers."

Paul Cheung, the national AAJA president, was asked at a membership meeting Thursday about partnerships. He said AAJA was "talking to a variety of different partners perhaps for workshops or the entire convention" next year. But he said the group must be cautious.

Will they work "culturally and economically?" Cheung asked. "Strategically, does it make sense?" Are the organizations' goals compatible? "We have to think about what it is we're after. Whether the training is the same. Whether the way we engage the community is the same.

"Partnerships can be many different things," he later told Journal-isms, pointing to cooperation with local universities in staging programs during the current convention. Cheung also noted a recently announced journalistic partnership with the National Gay & Lesbian Journalists Association to cover underreported stories together in the heartland.

Still, he maintained, linking with other groups should proceed with caution. "It's like a relationship," Cheung told members. "You have to see how things go."

New ESPN Site Aims to Develop Black Sportswriters

"Finally caught up with Bill Simmons' podcast with Jason Whitlock last week," Ed Sherman wrote on the Sherman Report on Friday. "Aside from the incredible reversal in Whitlock's view of ESPN (Disney park theme music should have been included in this love fest), the reports of what he will be doing have been underplayed." 

As reported last week, ESPN president John Skipper snatched Fox Sports' top digital talent and longtime ESPN nemesis days before the new Fox Sports 1 was to go on the air.

"Whitlock actually is embarking on a noble mission," Sherman continued. "He will be assisting in the launch and will be the featured columnist in a new ESPN website that will be aimed at minority sports fans. He referred to the site as 'a Black Grantland,' which generated some headlines. But there's more at play here.

" 'I want to try to engage all sports fans, particularly minority sports fans, in a conversation about sports,' Whitlock said in the podcast.

"Now here's the kicker: the site will be looking to hire and develop young African-American sportswriters. It's hardly news that the profession has a dramatic shortage there. . . ."

Sherman also said, "ESPN president John Skipper addressed the new site during media day in Bristol Wednesday.

" 'We have lots and lots of African-American talent at ESPN.com, but we don't have a place where it's an African-American-themed, or centric, site, where that conversation can take place…We’re going to do a talent search. We're going to do what espnW did in identifying female reporters. Jason is going to help us look for new, young African-American sportswriters.'. . . "

Short Takes

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Comments

Cross-postings from The Root

Frank Griffin

It discriminates against the poor not blacks. Charity can be a good thing so I wish them luck in the particular aspect. The left does not have a very giving record with its own money historically. Other people's money is a different story of course.

Mongo_slade likes this.

Mongo_slade I agree. When I was in college my folks had cash to help me out so an internship wouldn't have been any hardship to me. But if I were poor, an internship would have been difficult.

Frank Griffin likes this.

Frank Griffin I just hate to see particular groups pick themselves out because they were black or women or handicapped when there is a wider non-insidious reason for something. In this case it was poor people that cannot afford internships with no pay. Of course many black people are among the poor but the internship thing for no pay was not a tool to be mean to certain people of color or even income level. it was a tool to get cheap labor, nothing more. Liberal organizations like NBC speak about evil companies but they themselves are an evil company using their own definitions.

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