Next month in Minneapolis, I’ll probably encounter some Kansas City area young people whose hunger I helped feed for careers in journalism.
We’ll be at the 40th anniversary convention of the National Association of Black Journalists. The people I hope to see were teenagers, dating back to 1982 when the Kansas City Association of Black Journalists started its journalism academy. Each year we invite high school and college students who want to be print or broadcast journalists to attend classes taught by working journalists in this community.
We hold the academy at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley. A goal of NABJ and its Kansas City affiliate is to help train and prepare young people — particularly minorities — for journalism jobs.
Newsroom managers have lamented that they’d hire journalists of color, but they couldn’t find qualified people. That excuse is used in many industries that traditionally have been closed to people of color.
More young people of color are needed in this profession to keep up with the changing demographics of the United States. When more journalists of color are in the newsrooms of America, it increases the likelihood that the news, photographs, commentary and artwork will better reflect the community that the newspapers, magazines, new media, and radio and television stations serve.
Without the staff diversity, stories will be missed or presented in a way that offends rather than informs. Instead of gaining readers and viewers, the news media with the multicultural minuses will lose them.
When I began my career 38 years ago, fewer than 4 percent of all newsroom jobs were held by journalists of color. That was abysmal, and stories on blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans either went begging or were poorly done. Nationwide, this industry had a huge problem. The American Society of News Editors has pushed to have the percentage of journalists of color equal the percentage of people of color in the population. The goal was to have parity by 2000. That didn’t happen so the deadline was moved back to 2025.
Journalists of color currently hold 13.34 percent of the newsroom jobs. The deadline is just 10 years away, and the news industry is chasing a rapidly growing target.
The percentage of people of color is more than 33 percent of the 320 million people in the United States. That percentage is expected to swell past 50 percent by 2042, leaving the news industry even further behind.
Some of the teenagers I worked with in the academy in the 1980s are adults now in their 40s to early 50s with adult children of their own. Seeing them helps me understand how veteran teachers feel when they encounter some of their early students.
Looking back, milestones for me included having teenage students in the 1980s who were half my age. That seemed so unreal. Another landmark for me was in the late 1990s when the students in the journalism academy were my daughters’ ages.
This year also was memorable because most of the six students were half my adult daughters’ ages.
KCABJ is grateful for the support, in-kind help and the time of committed staffers that the area news media provide to feed the young people’s desire to be journalists.
We hold our students to high expectations, requiring that they read the newspaper daily, take current events and spelling quizzes, attend news conferences, do stories outside of class, interview newsmakers, write several stories, endure our editing, do a lot of rewrites and do their own TV newscast. We work with them so that no one fails. We also promise to be those kids’ mentors, career counselors and references for life.
When the class is over, many parents and teachers marvel at how academically energized the kids have become. So next month, I’ll reconnect with some of our past academy graduates who work in the news media nationwide.
It is always a thrill to learn they’re doing great things in their careers. That’s another joy veteran teachers get in their jobs.