Does TV News Need Its Own Brand of Affirmative Action?

By Guest Comment

Anyone who worked closely with me during the past 40 years knows how technically inept I am. That helps explain how my Facebook account came to be “Rosenwasser Rosenwasser.”

But these days, I do regularly visit Facebook. And what I read there troubles me.

Because during this political season, a number of my FB friends regularly comment on the presidential election. And when they do, they routinely mock the Republican candidates, particularly Donald Trump. They portray him as a buffoon and all of his millions of supporters as ignorant yahoos, or, worse, haters.

Who really cares what my FB friends think? Nobody. Except for this: many of my pals are either former journalists, now free to publicly share their personal opinions, or still-practicing journalists, who aren’t free to do so (or shouldn’t be) but do anyway. And though the electorate is deeply divided, most of these journalists seem to come down on the same side of the political spectrum every time.

They are, as the then-New York Times public editor wrote about his own newsroom four years ago, overwhelmingly progressive, politically and culturally.

Let me backtrack for a second. I am no apologist for Donald Trump or any other candidate, Democrat or Republican. After decades in the media, for better or worse, I have come to be agnostic in practically all matters. My favorite bumper sticker read: “No Heroes.”

It seems to me that unless we are employed as op-ed columnists, our fundamental role as journalists is to investigate, to inform, to explain, to challenge everyone about everything without favor or bias — but not to opine about the news. I am Uncomfortable about how comfortable my fellow journalists, active and retired, now seem to be posting their views. Their posts confirm the worst suspicions of those who believe journalists in the mainstream media have some sort of political agenda to advance when we show up for work.

Despite these troubling Facebook posts, I do believe those suspicions are essentially unfounded. In all my years around newsrooms, I rarely heard partisan political opinions expressed. To this day, I strongly believe that my former colleagues at The Associated Press, ABC News, NBC News, CBS News and PBS are extremely honorable people, who actually do try to achieve “fair and balanced” in their reports – and I don’t mean false equivalence.

Accuracy and fairness first. Always.

Nor is there some sort of liberal conspiracy. I’m sure newsrooms would become more ideologically diverse, if the major networks or major newspapers moved their headquarters from New York to Dallas or rural Kentucky or Salt Lake City. But until that happens, and as long as many young journalists are being hired out of the nation’s most elite (and liberal) colleges, chances are that the newsroom mix won’t change.

So what to do to achieve greater balance in our newsrooms?

I have a simple solution. It’s this: let’s have a greater push for affirmative action!

“Huh?” you say.

Let me explain.

While I strongly support affirmative action for African-Americans and Hispanics and believe it has helped make our newsrooms more representative of America, maybe we should also extend a helping hand to other under-represented groups in the national media.

Why not actively recruit evangelical Christian students? Pew surveys have found that while Americans are becoming less religious, about half still pray every day and a quarter identify themselves as evangelical Protestants.

Know many people in the national media who fit that description?

Or who hunt?

Let’s also extend affirmative action in the newsroom to white students from working class or poorer backgrounds, who might be attending community colleges or state schools rather than Ivy League institutions. After years of stagnant wages and difficult times, the parents of these kids, a big part of Trump’s base, have their own grievances and likely are wondering: “where’s ours?”

Like many young minority students, the kids from these less affluent white families probably also lack the personal connections to get that vital first job that can launch a career.

Having them around in our newsrooms might help sensitize us to their struggles and fears.

The point is that too many of us come from similar backgrounds, have the same orientation, and hold similar world views. We need newsrooms where people of all backgrounds with every perspective are represented. That will help us understand — and better explain — the complexities of the nation and the world that we cover.

From 1975 to 2015, Marc Rosenwasser, the author of this post, worked as correspondent for The Associated Press and as a writer and producer for ABC News, NBC News, CBS News and PBS. He was the co-creator and, for its first two seasons, executive producer of PBS NewsHour Weekend.

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