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Minorities Make News Comeback

A new study shows that the number of minorities has increased at local radio and TV news operations, while the level of women has remained about the same. The caveat is that some of those gains are either just recouping earlier losses or may be attributable to improved response rates.

According to an annual Ball State survey for the Radio-Television News Directors Association, minorities made up 21.8% of local TV news staffs, up from 18.1% in 2002. The percentage in 2001 had been 20.6%, but surveyors said the dip in 2002 could have been attributable to a lower major market response rate that year.

The news management gains were even more impressive, with minorities accounting for 12.5% of TV news directors, compared with 6.6% in 2002.

The percentage of minority employees in radio still trailed TV by a wide margin, but showed impressive growth at 11.6% in 2003, compared to 6.5% in 2002. The percentage of minority radio news directors jumped from 5% in last year's survey to 8% this year.

Still, both radio and TV percentages are well below the 32.8% minority population, and there are some caveats. Ball State changed the methodology to boost the response rate, says survey author Bob Papper, plus the margin of error is probably in the 3%-4% range, which means that, statistically, the numbers have changed little in the last decade, which is cause for concern, says Papper.

Some of the gains were simply recouping losses, pointed out RTNDA President Barbara Cochran. "The percentage of people of color in newsrooms has not increased for a decade, while the American population is steadily becoming more diverse," she said. "RTNDA is committed to helping newsrooms become as diverse as the communities they serve."

Women in the news workforce remained virtually the same at 39.1% vs. 39.3%, with women TV news directors at 25.2%, down slightly from 2003, but the percentage of radio news directors was up dramatically, from 14.4% in last year's survey to 25.9% in this year's.

The following is RTNDA's description of survey methodology:
The RTNDA/Ball State University Survey was conducted in the fourth quarter of 2003 among all 1,295 operating, non-satellite television stations and a random sample of 1,482 radio stations. Valid responses came from 838 television stations (64.7 percent) and 133 radio news directors and general managers representing 437 radio stations. Data for women TV news directors is a complete census and is not projected from a smaller sample.