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Women Of Color, Who Are Underrepresented In U.S. News Media, Share Frustrations, Triumphs

Fifty years after the Kerner Commission criticized the news media for not sufficiently covering race issues, a new special report shows that women of color continue to be underrepresented in U.S. newsrooms and face multiple challenges in achieving equality in hiring and promotions.

The Women’s Media Center report  “The Status of Women of Color in the U.S. News Media 2018” offers a rare look at where women journalists of color are — and aren’t — in legacy print, radio, TV, and digital news. It is an important extension and extrapolation of data previously published in the Women’s Media Centers annual “The Status of Women in the U.S. Mediastudy, and includes data about minority journalists released after the most recent version of that report was produced in 2017.

Women of color represent just 7.95 percent of U.S. print newsrooms overall, 12.6 percent of local TV news staff, and 6.2 percent of local radio staff, according to industry research that is based on news organizations’ replies to professional association queries.

“Whether intentional or not, it seems like there is a cap on people of color in newsrooms,” said Rummana Hussain, assistant metro editor, Chicago Sun-Times.

Among the journalism professionals offering their trenchant views in the report on what’s broken for women journalists of color, and how to repair the breach are journalist and author Dana Canedy, the first black female and youngest person to helm the Pulitzer Prize organization; such marquee broadcast news leaders as Soledad O’Brien, Ann Curry, Maria Hinojosa and Joy Reid; MacArthur “genius grant” winner Nikole Hannah-Jones; freelance journalist Jenni Monet; and women of far less fame who likewise excel in practicing their craft.

“There are so many micro-aggressions that come with being a journalist and female and not White,” according to Soledad O’Brien, founder and CEO, Starfish Media Group. “If you spend too much time seeing yourself — in terms of how they see you — as only those things, you will lose your mind. Because there are just a lot of slights.”

The report comes at a time when the nation’s population is changing rapidly. The U.S. Census projects that Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and those who are multi-racial will be the majority of the population by 2050.

“Women are more than half the U.S. population, and people of color nearly 40 percent,” said Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center.  “But you wouldn’t know this from our media — because U.S. media does not look like, sound like, or reflect the diversity and experience of more than half the population.”

While acknowledging their successes, the women journalists of color say systemic racism, the old boys’ network, and gender bias, among other obstacles, are some of the reasons newsrooms are slow to change.

“Many, many talented women of color are rising through the ranks, as they have since the late ’60s and ’70s,” said Ann Curry, executive producer, reporter, host, We’ll Meet Again on PBS. “One of the most significant reasons they fail is that men tend to groom men.”

News staffs that reflect our nation’s racial, ethnic, and gender diversity are intrinsic to creating a credible media and to the nation’s democracy, said Gloria Steinem, WMC co-founder.

“Missing women of color in the newsrooms of this country is an injustice in itself, and an injustice to every American reader and viewer who is deprived of great stories and a full range of facts,” Steinem said. “Inclusiveness in the newsroom means inclusiveness in the news. Racism and sexism put blinders on everyone.”

“Women of color represent a substantial proportion of the population, and yet their stories are too rarely told and their voices too infrequently heard on most media platforms,” said Maya Harris, WMC co-chair. “The perspectives and findings this Women’s Media Center report offers not only illuminate this lost opportunity, but also help to identify what we must do to work toward a more inclusive democracy.”

Said Pat Mitchell, WMC board co-chair: “Fifty years after the Kerner Commission report, women of color are still battling systemic racism and sexism in the news media.  It is imperative that Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Native women be more visible and powerful in media. The Women’s Media Center won’t rest until our newsrooms are inclusive, representative, and equal.”

The report, compiled and written by journalist and custom content producer Katti Gray and edited by Cristal Williams Chancellor, WMC’s director of communications, offers solutions to editors, producers, publishers, and other news executives, including the need to intentionally search for talented women of color, increased accountability and transparency by news organizations, and innovative recruitment and hiring strategies. Both Gray and Williams Chancellor are veteran, award-winning journalists.

 “I don’t believe in embarrassing and shaming people, but I do believe in giving them actual solutions, people they can hire tomorrow,” said Benét Wilson, founder and editor-in-chief of Aviation Queen LLC and vice president of the Online News Association. “We don’t want to hear the excuses anymore.”

The industry studies on gender and race used in the report were released last year by the American Society of News Editors and the Radio Television Digital News Association.

The Women’s Media Center, co-founded by Jane Fonda, Robin Morgan, and Steinem, works to make women visible and powerful in the media. We do so by promoting women as decision makers and as subjects in media; training women to be media ready and media savvy; researching and exposing sexism and racism in media; and creating original online and on-air journalism.

For more information, contact Williams Chancellor at cristal@womensmediacenter.com or 202-270-8539.

The full report is available here.

The infographic is available here.


Letter to the Editor: The Black Girl Magic of “A Wrinkle in Time”

By Ronda Racha Penrice, Urban News Service

“Black cinema” and “blockbuster” are suddenly becoming synonymous. “Black Panther” is already nearing a billion dollars in global box office receipts and Jordan Peele just became the first African-American to win an Oscar for best original screenplay for his surprise 2017 racially-tinged hit “Get Out.” And on March 9, Disney will release its highly anticipated film, “A Wrinkle in Time,” a $100 million film with a black female director and young black female star.

Unlike “Black Panther” or “Get Out,” “Wrinkle” is a mainstream movie with an intentionally African American face. Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 science fantasy novel of the same title, from which it is adapted, centers on a middle school-aged white girl, Meg Murray, who is battling with self-esteem issues. Through the help of three celestial guides – Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who – she tries to find her missing scientist father, whom she mourns desperately, by traveling through other worlds with her brother Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin.

On the big screen, Meg is an African American girl, with Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling portraying the guides.

What viewers see on the screen is the result in large part by decisions made behind the camera. That begins with trailblazing director, Ava DuVernay. Prior to being tapped to direct “Wrinkle,” whose $100 million budget is the largest ever for a black female director in Hollywood, DuVernay was known for quiet films like “Middle of Nowhere,” which garnered her the Best Director Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, the first for an African-American woman. Before “Wrinkle,” “Selma” (2014) about the Voting Rights Act campaign led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was DuVernay’s biggest budget feature film at just $20 million.

But DuVernay took the leap only because of the opportunity provided by a black Disney executive.

“It wasn’t a likely marriage but when you have a brother inside, Tendo Nagenda, who said ‘I can see this happening’ and he imagined what it could be before I imagined what it could be,” DuVernay said of Disney’s executive vice president of production during her acceptance speech for the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) Innovator Award in February. “The thing I really remember is Tendo saying, ‘Ava imagine the worlds you can build.’”

That conversation she said “started to get me to ask questions about what I wanted to assert in that story and the real core of it was: who gets to be the hero? Because, right now, we’re in this space where we’re on the cusp of “Black Panther” and all its gloriousness and we get to re-imagine who is at the center of the story. This story, our story, she’s not a superhero; she’s not royalty; she’s not a Disney princess. She’s just a girl with glasses in a plaid shirt who ends up saving herself and her family and the universe from darkness.”

The actress who plays that unlikely hero, Storm Reid, was familiar with the story but admits to not being personally invested in it until now. “I read the book in sixth grade for a book report and I never saw myself being Meg, especially because she was written as a young Caucasian girl, so I just really never thought about it,” she said during an interview at a posh hotel in her native Atlanta last week. “But once I got the script, it all clicked and I thought it was just an amazing take on Meg.”

Even as young as she is, Reid, whose previous credits include “12 Years A Slave,” (2013), “American Girl: Lea to the Rescue” (2016) and “Sleight” (2017), has felt the sting of Hollywood limitations for actresses like her. “There were fewer roles meant for me and fewer lead roles meant for me,” she said.

That reality is why Reid especially cherishes her role as Meg. “I feel like it was so important for me to play Meg because I’m basically representing little girls that look like me and I’m representing them in the right way because you don’t really get to see a little African American girl with glasses and curly hair save the world without superpowers,” she said.

Reid, who turns 15 in July, does see changes in Hollywood and hopes it will continue. “I feel like we are breaking barriers, slowly but surely, but there needs to be more representation. I don’t feel like diversity should just be a thing right now. I feel like it should be a normal thing.”

As for the “black girl magic” tag that’s now been extended to herself, but has long been attributed to “A Wrinkle in Time” director Ava DuVernay, Reid said, “I feel like people are just now recognizing our magic, but we’ve always been magic and it just recently became a hashtag.”



College Students to Install Solar Systems for Inland Empire Homeowners During Spring Break

RIVERSIDE, CA- Twelve North Carolina State University (NC State) students are spending a week with GRID Alternatives Inland Empire (GRID IE). As part of GRID’s Solar Spring Break program, college students from multiple universities will travel across the country to bring clean, renewable energy to families and help them significantly reduce their electric bills. The NC State students will be installing four solar electric systems in addition to learning more about the renewable energy industry in the Inland Empire. Later in the week, on March 8, they will be celebrating with a few of the 2,700 job trainees and volunteers GRID IE has trained during GRID’s annual Volunteer Appreciation Celebration event.

Since its inception Solar Spring Break has grown expeditiously from six teams in 2014 to 19 teams nationwide in 2018, coming from diverse universities and colleges such as University of Michigan, California State University East Bay, Duke University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This program takes an interdisciplinary approach by providing an opportunity for passionate students to combine sustainability, community development, and renewable energy technologies education.

The NC State students, all engineering majors, will spend 24 volunteer hours installing solar on four homes in both Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Their hands-on training will be led by GRID’s professional installation supervisors and SolarCorps construction fellows. Additionally, these students will visit the Mars Petcare solar farm and University of California Riverside (UCR) College of Engineering Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) facility to supplement their engineering studies. The students will also hike in the San Bernardino National Forest accompanied by experts on Southern California ecology.

The students’ impact during their spring break week include offsetting 315 tons of greenhouse gases by the installed solar systems and $154,000 in lifetime savings for the four homeowners. To date, 1,340 Riverside and San Bernardino County homeowners have gone solar with GRID at no cost to them. Mars Petcare and UCR CE-CERT are excited to collaborate with organizations such as GRID to continue to bring sustainable change to the Inland Empire.

“We are excited about this year’s Solar Spring Break and welcome the students from NC State,” said Bambi Tran, Regional Director for GRID Alternatives Inland Empire. “The students will have a fun and educational experience, putting into practice what they have learned in the lecture halls. More than that, students will learn, implement, and experience how the power of the sun can bring real-world benefits to real-world economic problems in our communities.”

Dr. Alfredo Martinez-Morales, managing director of UCR’s Southern California Research Initiative for Solar Energy at CE-CERT is hosting the spring break team for an afternoon. “We are looking forward to interacting with the students from NCSU and complementing their experience by showing them some of the exciting research on solar energy being done at UCR,” said Dr. Martinez-Morales. “This program provides a fantastic opportunity for students to learn first-hand the direct and positive impact that solar energy has towards disadvantaged communities, the environment, and the local economy. GRID’s program is an excellent way for sustainable-minded engineering students to spend their spring break by taking their education outside the classroom.”

Every student on the team has their own reasons for dedicating their vacation to GRID. Jonathan Schertz, the student leader and second time Solar Spring Breaker, says, “As an engineering student, it’s easy to get bogged down with all the technical parts and forget why we are here – to make the world a better place. GRID brings the technical side to the humanitarian.” Jonathan feels that, “[The] Solar Spring Break program’s message and education is crucial to raising a generation of adept, socially-mindful engineers.”

GRID provides income qualified families throughout the Inland Empire with long-term relief from unpredictable utility costs, while training individuals for positions in the solar industry. Currently there are more than 250,000 solar workers across the U.S., and more than 100,000 of these solar jobs derive from California. GRID is an industry leader and recognized as the largest non-profit solar installers in the nation.

About GRID Alternatives

GRID Alternatives is a nonprofit organization that makes renewable energy technology and job training accessible to undeserved communities, bringing together community partners, volunteers and job trainees to implement solar power and energy efficiency for low-income families. GRID’s work has helped 9,800 families to date, saving $307 million in lifetime electricity costs, and over 35,000 people have received solar training. GRID Alternatives has nine regional offices and affiliates serving California, Colorado, the mid-Atlantic region, and Tribal communities nationwide. For more information, visit www.gridalternatives.org.