2021 in Review: The Ups and Downs in Multicultural Media
2021 was a year unlike any other — even in the recent spate of unprecedented years. Less than a week in, the Capitol was stormed and President Trump was on his way to a second impeachment. The world rode a rollercoaster from the peak of the first COVID-19 vaccinations to the valley of the delta variant surge. And still, the end is not yet in sight.
In media news, the year saw journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov sharing the Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression.” The Pulitzer Prizes gave a special citation to Darnella Frazier “for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd,” and the 1619 Project author Nikole Hannah-Jones fought a public tenure battle with the University of North Carolina before opting for a position at Howard University instead.
Multicultural media also had a year of ups and downs. Here were some of 2021’s top stories on ethnic media and diversity.
News About the News
One of the biggest stories in the business of news in 2021 was the downfall of Ozy Media. The company co-founded by former TV journalist Carlos Watson was embroiled in allegations of inflated audience numbers and other misrepresentations.
In a New York Times op-ed, Lauren Williams, CEO and a co-founder of Capital B, contemplated what Ozy’s rise says about the appeal for advertisers of “the perfect, brand-safe opportunity for folks to say they were supporting a Black media company.” Capital B is a nonprofit focusing on news from Black communities which is set to debut in early 2022.
Meanwhile, Sophia A. Nelson wrote for the Grio that the scandal would negatively affect other Black-led media companies.
The Ethnic Media Landscape
In November, Axios looked at the importance of ethnic media in covering communities underserved by general-interest outlets and the recent growth in Black and Hispanic media. Using data from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, the story mapped the more than 300 African American, 400 Native American, 600 Hispanic, and hundreds of Asian American publications giving voice to these communities in the U.S.
To evidence the growth of multicultural outlets, Axios cited the creation of Word in Black, an endeavor combining ten leading African-American publications. Debuting in September, the website and newsletter aim “to be the most trusted news and information source for, about and by Black people.”
Another move highlighted in the Axios piece was the increase in streaming news options for Hispanic audiences. In this vein earlier this month, Univision announced the launch of Noticias Univision 24/7 on its streaming platform Prende TV.
Diversity plays a key role in ensuring that media are telling the full breadth of stories in their communities, and it has been a goal in the industry since 1978 when the American Society of News Editors challenged newsrooms to match the demographics of their communities by 2000. Those efforts have gained steam since the racial reckoning the U.S. has undergone since the death of George Floyd.
Numerous outlets published diversity surveys and reports in 2021.
In February, the New York Times posted a call to action on the company site. The key finding was “The Times is a difficult environment for many of our colleagues, from a wide range of backgrounds. Our current culture and systems are not enabling our workforce to thrive and do its best work.” The report cited struggles voiced particularly by Asian American women and Black and Latino employees.
In mentioning the progress that had been made in diversifying, the Times noted increases in the percentages of people of color at the company (34%) and in leadership (23%) as well as increases in the overall number of women (52%) and in leadership (52%).
On the local front, the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) released a survey of diversity in local news in June. The overall trend was positive. The report found that there were more people of color working in local TV news and in management positions than in the previous year. Results were mixed for women in TV news as the number of women news directors hit an all-time high, but overall representation decreased. In radio news, representation of people of color was up versus the previous year with public radio tending to be significantly more diverse than its commercial counterpart. On the other hand, women saw declining representation in radio news.
Axios reported on two industry-wide efforts to track the progress of diversity: the aforementioned RTDNA data and the American Society of News Editors survey which has been on hiatus since 2019. Low participation led to the halt. The article concluded that while gains have been made in recent years, “newsroom employees are still more likely to be white and male compared to U.S. workers overall.”
Similarly, Richard Lapchick at ESPN encapsulated conclusions from the Sports Media Racial and Gender Report Card: Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE), stating, “Over the three-plus years since the previous study was released, progress was achieved, but it was minimal. The story of our media is that it remains predominantly white and male.” The report from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport gave the industry a B+ on racial diversity in hiring and an F on gender diversity.
The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting also released comprehensive diversity reports in 2021.
NiemanLab noted that while most newsrooms still lag behind the goal of matching the demographics of the communities they cover, the top spots at the 20 largest papers in the U.S. have gotten much more diverse in the last year. Of those publications, 12 are now led by someone who is either a woman or African American or Hispanic or both. A number of high-profile hirings of African Americans, particularly African American women, at major papers and other news organizations have led the way.
In Other News
Here are a few other notable multicultural media headlines that you might have missed this year:
- NPR’s diversity tools: The goal of a diverse newsroom is to accurately and authentically present stories from all the people in our communities. In 2021 journalists at NPR got a new tool to aid in finding diverse sources. Poynter reported in August that Dex allows journalists to enter demographic information about sources so that they can track and understand source diversity in real time. Separately, NPR also maintains a database of diverse sources with experts searchable by geography and topic.
- Haaland’s first day: In March, then-New-Mexico Congresswoman and Laguna Pueblo citizen Deb Haaland became Secretary of the Interior. She is the first indigenous person to hold a cabinet position, and she chose to take her first media call with Native American journalists.
- Hispanic newsletter: Also in March, Axios joined with Noticias Telemundo to launch Axios Latino, an English-language newsletter for the Hispanic community. According to a press release, the newsletter intends to provide top stories and analyses from a Latino perspective.
- Indigenous outlets: In June, Nonprofit Quarterly profiled Indian Country Today’s rebirth story. Since briefly shutting down in 2017, the news website has had a rapid resurgence, recently partnering with AP and becoming the first indigenous outlet to have a story run on the wire service and beginning TV news broadcasts. In March, Indian Country Today found new ownership in IndiJ Public Media, a nonprofit. Both outlets are among our must-read Native American news sites.
- Journalism + Opera: September saw the first opera by an African American composer to play at the Metropolitan Opera when jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones opened. The work is based on African American journalist Charles M. Blow’s memoir.
As the year closes out watchers of multicultural media can look forward to 2022 with the hope of continued progress and excitement about new outlets covering more stories in all of the U.S.’s communities.
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Nicole Howard is a product manager at Cision, as well as an editor and freelance writer. When not working or reading, she enjoys word puzzles and the outdoors.