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Q&A with Jose Antonio Vargas #JournalismSoWhite
Founder, #EmergingUS
Since we are discussing ‪#‎OscarsSoWhite‬, can we examine why ‪#‎JournalismSoWhite‬? Has the Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, New York Magazine, et al, ever had a Black, Latino or Asian as top editor? How many people of color are columnists at The New York Times, POLITICO, Bloomberg View? Imagine if a Native American journalist was the head of CNN. More questions: Why is it that, when White journalists report on race, it's considered "reporting" and sometimes labeled an "analysis"; when journalists of color report on race, however, it's often considered "having an agenda." In a presidential campaign in which race and immigration are front and center, how many political reporters of color are covering the election? American newsrooms are less diverse now than when I started in journalism in 1999. It's a disgrace.

A new chapter in American history has begun. The minority is becoming the majority. Let's talk about race, immigration, and identity in a demographically-changing America. I welcome questions from the Parlio community.
This Q&A took place between 2/29/16 and 3/7/16. Unanswered questions have been hidden
8 questions
Director Multicultural Affairs at Rider University
Does this explain why MSNBC tried to take editorial control of MHP (Melisa Harris-Perry's) show?
I was privileged enough to have been a guest on Melissa Harris-Perry's show on MSBNC. Her show was, hands-down, the most interesting and inclusive in all of television. Not just cable, but television. It's a big loss, not only for people of color whose complex lives and stories were featured on MHP's show, but also for White viewers who would be hard-pressed to find those conversations elsewhere. I cannot speak to MSNBC's decision to sideline MHP, especially given how race and identity are central to this election. (That's why our core mission at #EmergingUS--reporting on the intersection of race, immigration and identity, is so timely and essential.) What I do know is MSBNC's decision--which led to MHP's email to her staff--was short-sighted, to say the least. (MHP's email, if you haven't read it:
Harvard Lawyer (Retired), CPA, Travel Photographer, Ironman
Is this primarily a concern with minority jobs in journalism, or a suggestion that certain viewpoints are being unheard? It's pretty well documented that the vast majority of journalists are politically liberal -- a fact that raises two relevant points here: (1) Should we be more concerned about viewpoint diversity in these newsrooms than about color and ethnic headcounts? and (2) Do you believe the current corps of liberal journalists are dramatically failing to present the minorities' "side" of key issues?
I, for one, am neither a liberal nor a conservative, and I'm constantly frustrated that people assume that I am Democrat/progressive/liberal because I'm gay, undocumented and a person of color (Latino name, Asian face). That assumption says more about the current state of the GOP and less about me. In my view progress should NOT have a party. In my experience, I've found that newsrooms tend to attract people of all races and backgrounds who identity as liberals and progressives, and most of them are White. Though I agree with you that I diversity of viewpoints--of people and viewpoints--is essential, especially in the media, I wouldn't necessarily assume that just because someone is a liberal or a progressive it means that they are inclusive in the way they cover the news--in other words, some White liberals I've worked with can be as condescending and patronizing as some of the White conservatives I know. Liberal or conservative, we should be concerned that we are not hearing and seeing and watching the full picture of what is happening in our country because the people who report the news and frame the conversation are not representative of what we look like as a country.
1. Why much of a role do millennial media owners and EICs play in newsroom racism?
2. Personally, I'm not too optimistic about white newsrooms making significant changes in newsroom diversity. Perhaps I'm wrong. What promising signs do you see in newsroom diversity?
3. How should minorities speak up about newsroom diversity without risking their jobs?
1) A big role. That's why I commend editors like Ben Smith and leaders like Jonah Peretti for how they address newsroom diversity, and the transparency in which they are doing it. (I'm sure you've seen this from Ben:
2) Newsrooms have been trying to diversity for decades and still they have done it. Most people who own newsrooms and run newsrooms still think that diversity is a slice of the pie--at #EmergingUS, diversity is the whole pan. This is why, after years of working for newsrooms, I've decided to build a newsroom myself in which diversity and multiculturalism are at its very core.
3) That's a hard question. As a journalist it is our mission to ask the hard questions, even of our own employers and bosses. But speaking up--speaking truth to power, insisting on asking uncomfortable but necessary questions--is in our DNA so the risk is directly proportional to our conscience. Would you rather be silenced?
Our media is too white and too liberal and not representative. I welcome your efforts to disrupt the former. You talk about a country that will be majority minority and transformed. But this has happened before; America used to be majority mainline Protestant, now its not, but the values that make us different have endured; constitutional governance, rugged individualism, free enterprise and pluralism. This fundamental transformation argument seems to rest on an assumption that we won't see the same ethnic attrition/assimilation in Asian and Latino immigrants that we see in past groups. Why do you believe that to be so?
I question the premise of your question. We are, in fact, seeing assimilation among Latino and Asian immigrant groups--have you heard of the terms "bananas" and "coconuts"? For Latinos, a coconut means someone who is brown on the outside but white on the inside. (Apply that to bananas.) Assimilation and integration (a big term within immigrant rights groups) is happening, and has happened. The big difference, however, is that Latinos and Asians do not look White and (for the most part) can't pass as White in a country that since its founding has been defined by a White and Black binary. Having said that, I do think that, as our country continues to diversity and multiculturalism becomes the norm, the American values of constitutional governance and the principles of individualism and free enterprise will endure. I love this quote from Ronald Reagan: "Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live and become an American." But my appreciation for the idealism of that Reagan quote is tempered by the necessity in which we understand how "White" culture evolved in this country before there was a United States:
CEO at The City Club of Cleveland, a Citadel of Free Speech
I'm a firm believer that everybody needs to bring their gifts and talents to this conversation about racial justice and dismantling white supremacy. When asked what should white people do about this, author Ta-Nehisi Coates replied that if you've got your foot on someone's neck, you shouldn't ask that person how do I get my foot off your neck? Ok. That's kind of a "macro" response. As you point out, major news orgs are full of white people in positions of power and influence. What should those individuals seek to do to create a more just future?
White people in positions of power and influence have been the defining reality of the media since the writing of the U.S. Constitution. But just because of freedom of press is guaranteed does not mean that people of color are guaranteed to be covered fairly and fully. For the most part, the lives and stories of people of color are told from the prism and perspective of White people. The great journalist A.J. Liebling once said that"freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Well, very few people of color own the media companies and therefore have considerably less power in framing the conversation. To me the question is less what White journalists in positions of power can and should do--and, yes, they should do something and they can do something. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. What I find more pressing is, how can we have more people of color in positions of power and ownership of the media? That's why I started #EmergingUS.
Hi Jose, thanks for joining us here. I think Donald Brown brings up a good point. The Melissa Harris-Perry situation casts this problem in a particular light: how important are these top editor/anchor/columnist roles if the ownership structure of the media companies remains the same? How will Emerging US differ from this?
At #EmergingUS, diversity is not a slice of the pie--it's not, "Oh, let's have one Black person, maybe one gay person, then someone Latinx, or maybe someone Asian." At #EmergingUS, diversity is the whole pan. That's a crucial and essential distinction. The question I have for media owners is: In a demographically changing country, what is your journalistic responsibility in ensuring that all voices are heard and that your newsroom is representative of the people you're trying to cover? Media companies want to make money, diversity be damned. #EmergingUS' sustainability and profitability depend on that very diversity.
What if newsrooms made good on the diverse hiring initiatives to which they claim to be committed — what if we suddenly, by the end of 2016, get newsrooms that look a little bit more like a real life? What's the next step from here — once you've hired all these employees, how do you retain them? We focus so much on hiring, how do we shift to retention? Do we think about hiring at the expense of thinking about retention?
Newsrooms have had decades to meet their hiring initiatives and have repeatedly failed. So I won't hang my hat on that. But, as you pointed out, hiring journalists of color is easier than retaining them and that has a lot to do with the culture of how newsrooms are run and the obstacles that journalists of color face. I've had experiences where my colleagues who are journalists of color have had to fight to get their stories published because their editors and bosses (mostly White) question their journalistic integrity. A colleague of mine who is Latino tells me all the time that he's afraid to write about immigration because once his editor (a White guy) always wonders if he has an agenda and questions his objectivity. Focusing on retention means examining our newsroom culture.
Social media editor for opinions at The Washington Post
What are some hands-on ways people of color can do to support each other in newsrooms? Shine a light on talent, outside and in? Support people of color outside your own community (I like to think that we are all stronger together, but that's frustratingly harder to achieve than to say)?
When I was starting in journalism, groups like NAHJ (National Association of Hispanic Journalists) and AAJA (Asian American Journalists Association) played such important roles for journalists of color. I assume that is still the case though I wonder what else must be done--online and offline--to increase support among all journalists of color and at the same time create an atmosphere for White journalists be a part of the diversity conversation. What I mean is, too often, when journalists of color talk about the need for diversity and inclusion, White journalists are NOT in the room. That's a mistake.