Black Journalists Demand Diversity in CNN Leadership

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) recently joined forces to urge CNN to diversify its executive news leadership.

“A newsroom that looks as diverse as America has the ability to raise awareness about issues impacting Black and Brown communities across the nation,” Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.) said in a statement on March 18. “CNN’s lack of Black representation among its leadership positions is truly troubling and must be addressed.” Bass added that CBC and NABJ “ask that CNN implement policies that allow African Americans to obtain equal representation within the newsroom.”

Other leading organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Color of Change, and the National Newspaper Publishers Association have joined the call. According to NABJ, its preliminary research found a lack of Black representation within CNN’s areas of executive news leadership and requested parent company AT&T “to conduct a Civil Rights audit on CNN.”

CNN did not meet the NABJ’s four-person delegation in January, and the organization noted that it was not the first time CNN has been dismissive. CNN President Jeff Zucker’s team argued that he could not meet NABJ representatives due to personal reasons, though NABJ believed “this reasoning is a distraction.” In 2015, the news outlet did not sponsor the organization’s convention due to differences with NABJ’s leadership at the time.

“NABJ has already met and continues to meet with other broadcast media companies – FOX, CBS, NBC, and ABC – about their diversity efforts. Those meetings have been positive, productive and collaborative. CNN is the only major network which has not met in an official capacity with NABJ’s delegation,” the association noted. This call to action comes amid a backlash against large media institutions with little ethnic and racial representation. In January, CBS News was lambasted for the scarcity of African Americans among its core team of journalists and producers chosen to cover the upcoming 2020 presidential elections. When Associate Producer Ben Mitchell tweeted a screenshot of the team, critics were quick to point out that the group did not include any Black professionals.

“This WH admin has made having a functional understanding of race in America one of the most important core competencies for a political journalist to have, yet @CBSNews hasn’t assigned a *single* black journalist to cover the 2020 election,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted at the time. “Unacceptable in 2019. Try again.”

Actress Kerry Washington also noted the lack of diversity within the CBS News team. “Dear @CBSNews, I am encouraged by the diversity you DID include. But when it comes time to discuss the inevitable role that race and racism will play in the election, who will you turn to for a perspective with nuanced & personal understanding of the African American experience?” she tweeted. In November, a Pew Research study on US Census Bureau data found that 77 percent of newsroom employees — including reporters, editors, photographers, and videographers in newspaper, broadcasting, and internet publishing companies — are non-Hispanic whites. Nevertheless, the study revealed that younger newsroom employees demonstrate greater gender, ethnic, and racial diversity than old ones.

A glaring example of this trend can be found in a diversity and inclusion report The New York Times released on Tuesday. Although there is a slight parity in gender across staff (51 percent male versus 49 female), 68 percent of all staff members were white in 2018 (compared to 73 percent in 2015), whereas 30 percent are people of color (compared to 27 percent in 2015). Seventy-eight percent of the leadership board was still comprised of white employees in 2018, compared to 20 percent who were people of color. In 2015, 83 percent of whites were part of the leadership team, while 17 percent were people of color.


About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.