Soledad O’Brien on Diversity in the Media: ‘It’s not that hard’

(from L to R) Soledad O’Brien, CEO of Starfish Media and Keith Lorizio, VP of U.S. sales and marketing at Microsoft

Media types gathered last night at the 40/40 club in New York to kick off MSN’s partnership with Interactive One. The event was part of an ongoing trend necessity for media companies to focus on diversity, and Microsoft is looking to do just that not only with Interactive One, but also through partnerships with Lisnr and the Marcus Graham Project.

Interactive One’s chief content officer Smokey Fontaine spoke to the crowd about how the company evolved over the years to keep in line with America’s changing demographics. “We changed our focus from being solely African American to… all of the folks who demographically and psychographically are part of the multicultural landscape.”

Why? “Companies have no choice but to serve multicultural. If you want to stay relevant, you have no choice but to serve that market. But you do have a choice whether you’ll serve that market really well.”

Census data shows that minorities will be the majority in the near future, and Pew continues to document how little change there is in terms of minorities in the newsroom. “I’ve been having the same conversation about diversity for 26 years, since I started in TV news,” Soledad O’Brien told FishbowlNY. “Sometimes, that’s really disheartening.”

The former CNN anchor and now CEO of Starfish Media had some advice for media companies that aspire to serve the multicultural market well: “It’s actually not that hard. All you need to do is tell the stories of diverse people and hire diverse people,” she said. “You can make sure that you’re promoting and supporting your diverse candidates who you want to be in leadership positions, because that’s really how the tone in an organization is set.”

She admits that there has been an increase in diversity “around the table… but [that’s] not where the power is.” While media companies are quick to fire an employee for racism (intentional or otherwise), “that really is not going to move the needle on the bigger picture,” she said. What is needed, is diversity at the top: “You and I both know that ‘promoting diversity’ and actually genuinely supporting diversity are two different things.”

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