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The diversity problem in business journalism hurts coverage

July 21, 2022

Posted by Chris Roush

Talking Biz News is running excerpts this week from “The Future of Business Journalism: Why it Matters for Wall Street and Main Street.” Here is the fourth one.

The US economy—business owners and consumers—has become more diverse across all races and will continue to become more diverse in the next few decades. In 2010 the US population was composed of 310.2 million consumers, with 65 percent of people classifying themselves as white, 18 percent classifying themselves as Hispanic, 12 percent classifying themselves as Black, and 5 percent classifying themselves as Asian. In 2000, just ten years earlier, the population was 75 percent white.

By 2050 it’s expected that the US population will be 46 percent white, 30 percent Hispanic, 12 percent Black, and 8 percent Asian.

Business journalism, however, is dominated by white males in virtually every newsroom, which holds many newsrooms back from reporting on stories that affect other demographics. A more diverse newsroom would help business news organizations find better stories in areas and with subjects where they never thought to look.

Raju Narisetti, a former Wall Street Journal editor, cited the following reasons for a lack of newsroom diversity: “Weak leadership; Lack of real intent; Unwillingness to take risks by reaching deeper into the ranks when the top layers are not historically diverse; Not focusing enough on building a diverse starter pipeline; Being satisfied with tokenism in the masthead; . . . Poaching from each other [rather] than adding to the diversity pool.”

Hispanic, Black, and Asian women make up less than 5 percent of newsroom personnel at traditional print and online news publications, according to data from the American Society of News Editors. The total minority workforce in the average newsroom is 17 percent. Without minorities in the newsroom, it’s hard for business news organizations to understand economic and job-related stories that affect these populations.

The gender situation is slightly better. Female reporters composed 38 percent of journalists covering business and economics stories in 2014, according to data from the Women’s Media Center. That was up from 36 percent in 2013 but still below the American population, and it’s below other areas of journalism. Women cover 50 percent of lifestyle stories, 55 percent of education stories, and 49 percent of health stories.

Some media organizations understand the significance of a diverse population in business journalism. Laura Zelenko, the senior executive editor of Bloomberg News, wondered whether American news organizations would have latched on to the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 earlier if African American reporters covered the Federal Reserve. Many banks targeted Blacks to sell their higher-risk home loans. Bloomberg has mandated that its reporters find more female sources to quote in its stories. It is also training female executives on how to appear in the media.

Sherrell Dorsey, who runs a news site that focuses on Black-owned entrepreneurs, wrote for Columbia Journalism Review about how the mainstream business media have failed to cover Black-owned technology businesses. She notes:

Today, there are roughly 2.6 million Black-owned businesses in the US. Of those, 8 percent operate within the technical and scientific services field, whose overall growth has brought with it an uptick in media outlets—TechCrunch, Mashable, Engadget, Gizmodo, DigitalTrends, and more—focused on covering the hottest startups, founders, and technologies. Insufficient coverage of Black business leadership—particularly in the technology space—furthers the trope that Black people are only successful in entertainment and athletic industries, argues Dr. Richard Craig, associate professor at George Mason University.

There are 1.1 million businesses owned by women and another 1 million owned by minorities, according to the US Census Bureau. Health care is the industry that has the most women-owned businesses and the sector with the most Black-owned businesses. The Brookings Institute notes that the percentage of women- and Black-owned businesses is less than their percentage in the population, meaning that they are underrepresented in entrepreneurship. But businesses owned by women and Blacks have seen strong growth since the recession that started in 2007.

Simply put, if business journalism wants to improve and start providing content that will attract readers, it needs to diversify who’s writing, reporting and editing its stories.

This is an excerpt from “The Future of Business Journalism: Why it Matters to Wall Street and Main Street” by Quinnipiac University School of Communications dean Chris Roush.

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