A new study on the representation of visible minorities in the news media concluded it’s pretty much business as usual at major newspapers and television stations in the Greater Toronto Area, which is to say almost everybody is white.
The research, by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, found few visible minorities represented at the corporate level or among newsroom leaders.
And an analysis of news coverage suggests that very few visible minorities make it onto television news or into daily newspapers, although we live in a metropolitan area where nearly half the population is something other than white.
Visible minorities appeared in only 23 per cent of newspaper photographs. On the broadcast side, only one of the 11 television hosts, 25 of the 98 reporters and 146 of the 896 sources (16 per cent) featured in stories were visible minorities.
The report points out that this under-representation is problematic from a leadership point of view since media organizations play a role in defining society’s leaders and in shaping the ambitions of individuals who want to be leaders.
For journalists, the implications are chastening: The lack of diversity in news coverage makes for stories that are bland, boring and bad.
Reporters often have little choice but to quote a white guy: Mayor David Miller is what he is. Lots of times, however, there are options. John Miller, professor emeritus at Ryerson’s School of Journalism and the report’s lead media researcher, points to a story about teenagers buying prom dresses by way of example.
The television piece quoted only white girls who all said the same, predictable things.
“If the reporter had made different choices and interviewed people from different cultures, it would have been a richer story,” Miller suggests, noting that teenagers from different backgrounds might offer other perspectives on the prom dress rite of passage.
Another television story about March break captured images of people of all colours descending on Pearson airport, but only white folks en route to Cuba or Florida were interviewed. “It wasn’t very interesting,” Miller observes.
Reporters’ biases may play a role in all this. But I think the warp speed demand of news reporters is also to blame. It takes time to meet different prom dress shoppers and to interview numerous travellers in pursuit of the best quote.
Then again, telling uninteresting stories is bad for business and a disservice to the community. We can and should do better.