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Why are there so few minority journalists?

A new Pew Research study shows that newsrooms are not representative of America. A look at the reasons minority students don't pursue journalism.
Journalism professor Nick Hirshon, left, with students at 1010 WINS Radio.
Posted at 1:39 PM, Apr 12, 2023

When it comes to what you’re watching or reading in the news, do you know the demographics of the people who are creating the content?

A new study this month from Pew Research Center shows that the coverage areas of American journalists vary greatly by race, ethnicity and gender. In the survey of nearly 12,000 journalists in 2022 covering 11 major beat areas, 76% were White, 6% Black, 8% Hispanic and 3% Asian.

All minority groups were underrepresented relative to the U.S. population, which is 19% Hispanic, 14% Black and 7% Asian.  

No safety net

There are deep root causes as to why minorities do not pursue journalism as a profession, even after spending years majoring in the subject, said Nick Hirshon, journalism professor at William Paterson University in New Jersey, where 60% of students identify as people of color. 

“Students from these groups face challenges I never encountered as a White person going to college,” Hirshon said.  

Many come from impoverished families who do not have extra money or access to a car. They often do not have enough money for public transportation, he said.  

The journalism model of telling a young student to go to Iowa for a year or two to get experience doesn’t work for many first-generation immigrants because they do not have the support system, Hirshon said. They don’t have the money to be able to move to a different location. 

There’s also pay. Most of his minority students do not go into the journalism profession because they cannot pay the bills on the salary. They do not have a safety net, Hirshon said.

“There’s an inspiration gap,” he said. “They don’t believe they can ever attain success in journalism.”

Beats based on race and gender

The survey asked journalists to identify topic areas they cover regularly. Men were far more likely than women to cover certain beats, such as sports, while women were more likely to cover education.

The most underrepresented group in the survey is Asian when it comes to sports coverage — at 1%.

One reporting area that stands out in the race and ethnicity of people who cover it: social issues and policy. Hispanic and Black journalists are most likely to cover the area, at 20% and 15%, respectively. 

Men account for 83% of the surveyed journalists who said they cover sports, compared to 15% who are women. Men also account for the majority of those who cover political news, at 60%, and news about science and technology, at 58%. 

By comparison, women are more likely than men to cover three of the 11 news beats studied: health, education and family, and social issues.