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Survey: Asian American Journalists Worry about Commitment to Newsroom Diversity

August 1, 2007

MIAMI, Fla. – Most members of the Asian American Journalists Association have positive feelings about the work they do, but they worry that media consolidation and newsroom cutbacks will weaken the profession’s commitment to diversity, according to a new survey.

The AAJA-commissioned study, “Love and Fear in the Time of Media Consolidation: A Survey of Asian American Journalists,” is a new Focus Project survey underwritten by the World Journal newspaper and conducted by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Stephen Doig, the Cronkite School’s Knight Chair in Journalism, was the chief researcher on the project, which was released today at the AAJA national convention here.

“This study proves something we’ve long suspected,” said Jam Sardar, AAJA national vice president for broadcast and a correspondent with the Comcast Network. “We’re dedicated to giving people information they need to know about our communities, our cultures and our world. But the opportunity to perform this important public service is at risk. That’s why it’s incumbent upon everyone, particularly media owners and executives, to renew their commitment to diversity in this ever-changing corporate landscape.”

The 25-question survey was conducted online in June. AAJA members were sent e-mail invitations to take the survey, and a total of 223 current and recent AAJA members responded out of 1,689 contacted.

More than three out of every four respondents said they have positive feelings about the journalism profession. Even so, nearly a third of those with positive feelings said it was likely that they would leave journalism at some point to take up other career interests such as non-journalism writing, video and multimedia production, teaching or business management.

“I love the craft, the storytelling and inspiration I get from reporting, but I'm also a realist and understand how subjective and bottom-line focused the business can be,” wrote one respondent. Wrote another: “So far I still enjoy what I am doing, but what is going on in today’s media world is scary. If I leave the profession, it is not by choice but by necessity.”

AAJA members’ concern about how cutbacks will affect diversity in staff and coverage was evident in the survey results. At least three out of every five respondents said they expected that newsroom diversity would decrease “somewhat” or “considerably” because of media consolidation, buyouts and layoffs. And two-thirds said they foresee decreases in coverage of underrepresented groups for the same reasons.

But many respondents take pride in having personally helped their newsrooms do a better job of covering diverse communities. About half said they had made such an impact in their newsrooms, thanks to actions such as recruiting minority staff members and interns, mentoring staffers from underrepresented groups for promotion and leading diversity training sessions. And nearly two-thirds reported having taken direct action to improve coverage of underrepresented groups by their news organization.

“I have caught improper wording, suggested a story, suggested including other perspectives in stories I have edited, written stories about people of color,” a respondent explained. Wrote another: “I have a voice in editorial decisions, and (get to) shape stylebook/in-house policies, from defining words to ban in messages posted on stories online to suggesting the addition of different sources to enrich or present better balance in a story.”

AAJA members also expressed a strong desire for more professional training in order to stay competitive and advance in the profession. Half said they want to learn more about video/audio editing, computer-assisted reporting and/or web design. A third want to add newsroom management skills to their résumés.

AAJA members are typically Asian American or Pacific Islander and includes those from the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Commitment to the organization’s mission is the only requirement for membership, not race or ethnicity. Fewer than five percent of members are not Asian American or Pacific Islander.

Founded in 1981, the Asian American Journalists Association is a national, nonprofit educational association based in San Francisco that has approximately 2,000 members. AAJA encourages young Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to enter the ranks of journalism, to work for fair and accurate coverage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and to increase the number of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and news managers in the industry. For more information, visit www.aaja.org.

Founded in 1976, World Journal is one of the largest daily newspapers in the United States. World Journal is published in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Toronto and Vancouver and widely distributed wherever there are Chinese Americans. World Journal’s mission is to serve all overseas Chinese by helping immigrants bridge the gap to mainstream America, keep in touch with their homeland and local Chinese community news, and improve their quality of life.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication was named in honor of the former CBS Evening News anchor in 1984. The nationally recognized school, which offers professional programs on the undergraduate and master’s levels, this year won first place nationally in both the Hearst Journalism Awards and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence competition. The school focuses heavily on journalism diversity issues via applied research and professional programs. Last year the school conducted a major study on U.S. newsmagazines for the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and next year will release a study on diversity in the Washington press corps for UNITY: Journalists of Color Inc.