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Minority job share doubles in pubcasting, but still lags behind progress of women

Originally published in Current, Sept. 18, 2000
By Geneva Collins

Members of minority ethnic groups have not advanced as rapidly as women into higher positions in public broadcasting over the past two decades, despite significant efforts within the system to make both programming and the workforce more multicultural.

In public television, 12.5 percent of full-time officials and managers are members of minorities; 18.1 percent in pubradio are, according to 1998 employment data (table at right). Those percentages are double what they were in 1978, when a CPB-funded task force looked at minorities in public broadcasting and found that "the scarcity of minority programs can be attributed directly to the insufficient number of minorities employed in public broadcasting, particularly in decision-making positions."

Minority employees in public TV and public radio

Percentages of All full-time jobs Officials and managers**

Sources: 1978 data from "A Formula for Change: A Report on the Task Force on Minorities in Public Broadcasting"; 1998 and 2006 data from CPB's annual reports to Congress on minority programming and employment.

* 2006 data added in update of this page, 2007. Figures are for combined public TV and radio employment.

**As defined by the FCC, including general managers, station managers, controllers, chief accountants, general counsels, chief engineers, directors of news, research and promotion, and these managers: facilities, sales, business, personnel and production.

In contrast, the percentages of women in fulltime jobs as officials and managers in pubcasting have tripled or quadrupled in about the same time, 1974 to 1998 [earlier Current article]. Women hold 43 percent of those executive jobs in public TV and 38 percent in radio. Twenty-four years earlier, women filled only about 10 percent of those top pubcasting jobs.

To put the recent employment numbers in perspective, minorities comprised 26 percent of the total 1997 U.S. labor force, but held about 19 percent of all pubcasting jobs and 15.2 percent of the officials/managers positions.

For women, the equity gap has narrowed faster. While women comprised 46.2 percent of the 1997 work force, they held about the same percentage of all pubcasting jobs and about 40 percent of executive-level jobs.

Although public broadcasting prides itself on its diversity efforts, the field's employment of minority officials/managers is in the same ball park as the broadcasting industry at large--14.2 percent, as figured by the FCC in 1998. (The four minority groups tracked by the CPB and FCC are African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian-Americans/Pacific Islanders.)

Leon CollinsLet's take a human perspective on the statistics: "I suspect I was the beneficiary of one of the first CPB experiments with increasing minority presence in public broadcasting," said Leon Collins, g.m. of public TV station WFUM in Flint, Mich., remembering being selected to participate in a nationwide minority internship program in 1969.

He went to work for WETA, then located on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. Collins later quit Howard in his junior year to take a fulltime job as a cameraman at the station.

Asked to describe the environment in broadcasting for people of color in the late '60s and '70s, Collins said, "Because of all the social unrest going on in the nation, it was positive—but for the wrong reasons. One of my first jobs was to don a gas mask and film the racial unrest that was going on in D.C. The station knew they could send me to neighborhoods where a white person couldn't go."

Collins and several other g.m.'s interviewed for this story said that public broadcasting isn't succeeding at retaining people of color once they reach the middle ranks. Money is the most oft-cited excuse: "Salaries aren't competitive; even the commercial sector is losing people to the dot-com world," said Eddie Wong, executive director of the National Asian American Telecommunications Association. But others cited harder-to-document factors like their comfort levels and opportunities for advancement.

"When you've got one minority worker in a station with 10 or 12 total employees, and the workforce isn't sensitized, they're not familiar with working with people of color—when you bring [minority] people in without support, there's frustration that sets in," said Cephas Bowles, g.m. of WBGO in Newark, N.J.

Klose to talk with black g.m.'s

Bowles said he has been arguing for more than a decade to increase diversity in public radio and criticized the NPR Board at its July meeting for its lack of minority representation. Of the 17-member board, 10 seats are filled by elected station members. Of these 10, Jose Fajardo of WMFE in Orlando, a Hispanic, is the only member of an ethnic minority. Two other elected members are women (Jo Anne Wallace and Brenda Pennell, both white). Of the seven public board members, one is African-American, Paul Delaney, and one seat is vacant.

NPR President Kevin Klose said he will meet with African-American station managers on Sept. 18 in Washington for "an expanded dialogue on how NPR can best serve their audiences"—one of a series of special presidential forums Klose has held periodically since his appointment. Klose also said that a now-vacant NPR Board position probably will be filled by a minority member.

The network may be especially sensitive to minority employment issues because it's a defendant in at least four discrimination cases pending in court or at the D.C. Human Rights Commission. Reporter Sunni Khalid is waiting for a trial date to be set; former NPR vice president Sandra Rattley Lewis's case has been pending for more than a year; two cases are still before the local rights commission, and a fifth may be filed, according to plaintiffs' attorney Lynne Bernabei. Most of these alleged incidents of discrimination occurred before Klose came to NPR.

Carol CornsilkMid-level employee retention and a voice in governance may be issues for some minority groups, but Carol Patton Cornsilk, director of programming and production for Native American Public Telecommunications, says for the smaller ethnic groups, "I don't see them even getting in the door [in entry-level positions]. Because Native Americans don't see themselves on public television, a career in public broadcasting doesn't enter their minds."

Despite a generation's worth of affirmative action programs, getting in the door is something minorities still have difficulty achieving in the mass communications marketplace, said Lee Becker, professor and director of the Cox Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia in Athens.

Becker and colleagues surveyed the nation's journalism and mass communications bachelor's degree recipients from 1987 to 1997 and found that minority graduates were less likely than whites to be hired. Furthermore, the employment gap appeared to be increasing, not decreasing, in the last four years of the study.

"One explanation for the gap between minorities and non-minorities is there are lots of informal mechanisms out there that lead to hiring decisions," said Becker, whose study was published this spring in the Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly. "An internship is one example. Once someone gets an internship, you often make the contacts that lead to your being hired later. Those informal mechanisms often give the advantage to non-minorities."

In the meantime, attacks on affirmative action have reduced FCC pressure for minority hiring. FCC hiring requirements for broadcasters were the subject of a court challenge, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod v. FCC. After the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1998 that certain aspects of the commission's previous EEO requirements were unconstitutional, the FCC suspended the filing of certain EEO forms by broadcasters while it drafted new recruitment guidelines. (That is why the most recent statistics on minority employment date back to 1998. The FCC reinstated the form 395 filings for broadcasters earlier this year.)

"The court felt our [old hiring requirements] seemed to create a preference for minority hiring and relevance of racial status in hiring," said Lewis Pulley, supervisory attorney in the commission's EEO office. "We had intended all along to not have a preference for anyone. Broad outreach is the primary goal of the program now."

Training grants have disappeared

Targeted training assistance had already fallen by the wayside as national politics moved to the right. From the mid-'70s until about 1989, CPB funded training grants for women and minorities that many pubcasting lifers credited for advancing them through the system.

One such grant recipient, Jacyln Sallee, a Native American and president of public radio licensee Koahnic Broadcast Corp., regrets that the grants are no longer available. "We as a system need to be investing in training broadcasters," she told Current. "Otherwise, we'll have no next generation of people who are skilled."

Koahnic operates not just KNBA in Anchorage, Alaska, but also a national broadcast training center for Native Americans.

"I would argue that CPB is spending more in 'training'—and I say 'training' in quotes—than ever," said Rick Madden, v.p., radio. "A simple definition of training is someone who has a gap in knowledge and finding a way to close that gap. . . . We're taking a more strategic approach. Instead of focusing on individual gaps, we're focusing on industry [knowledge] gaps" with the Future Fund.

Rather than financing a few dozen students' training, CPB disseminates information (minority audience viewing habits', for example) that has the potential to benefit all 15,000 employees who work throughout public broadcasting, and "we send stations $300 million in unrestricted grants" they can spend on training if they choose, said Madden.

Diversity in programming has been a public broadcasting concern since at least the late '70s, when the first of its five minority consortia sprang up.

Wong's and Cornsilk's organizations are two of the five "minority consortia" recognized and supported by CPB. The others are the Latino Public Broadcasting Project, the National Black Programming Consortium, and Pacific Islanders in Communications. The goals of the CPB-supported consortia are to develop, produce and distribute culturally diverse programming, which may indirectly bolster minority employment roles, but the fact is most of the groups are working with independent producers, not station employees. Most of the consortia's scarce resources go toward generating programming; little is left over for training except for occasional grant-writing workshops to teach producers how to raise money.

"Each consortium gets $634,000. That stinks," said Marlene Dermer, LPBP executive director. (Actually, says CPB, each group gets $944,000 a year, including an operations grant.)

Grooming the next Bagwell

PBS and CPB are collaborating on a new project called Producer's Academy that is designed to nurture new producers, including minority producers, said Cheryl Head, CPB project development officer. With $1 million set aside from the Growth Fund, the project will fund fellowships for six or seven people to work on a national strand or national production for a year or two. Another 50 to 100 people would benefit from stipends or scholarships to attend professional conferences.

"We want to give young producers, new producers, the experience to become the next Ken Burns or Orlando Bagwell," Head said of the fellowship program.

Head said she and CPB Vice President for Program Operations Yoko Arthur had also rethought the Multicultural Producers' Forum that's usually part of the PBS annual meeting "to mainstream the producers into the other open sessions," gaining them face time with general managers and making the environment "much less ghettoizing."

On the radio side, a two-year Kellogg Foundation grant gave new life to NPR's Diversity Initiative, which CPB had ceased funding, to help some three dozen minority journalists (or journalist-wannabes) polish their radio reporting skills at the beginning or mid-career, said Kathleen Jackson, NPR v.p. for human resources. NPR is seeking continued funding for the project, hoping to expand it next year to include training in classical and jazz program production.

If the numbers cited at the beginning of this story make it appear that public radio is doing a better job than TV at top levels (18 percent versus 12.5 percent of officials and managers as members of minorities), that's largely due to the existence of minority-controlled radio stations. There are 48, according to a 1999 CPB report to Congress on minorities in public broadcasting, but only seven such TV stations. According to the same report, these 48 stations account for 39 percent of all minority employment in public radio, suggesting that the system's people of color are unevenly distributed throughout the system.

"I would say it's better than nothing," said LPB's Dermer. "At least it's an opportunity where people are working in the field and they can use that experience to go to other stations."

The minority station numbers don't surprise Carolyn Bailey Lewis at all. Lewis, who is African-American, manages the Telecommunications Center (WOUB radio and TV) at Ohio University in Athens.

"In southeast Ohio, we have a 97 percent white population. . . . You have to go out of the boundaries, out of the box, to recruit" an ethnically diverse staff, said Lewis, who believes she may be only the second black female g.m. in public television.

The system has long recognized that the color of the people working in the stations will affect what gets aired, and vice versa.

"I'm thinking about the Latino child watching TV—it's so powerful to have somebody who looks like his father or mother telling him the story," said Cecilia Alvear, president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She believes the growth of the underserved audience is what will really drive minority hiring.

That's the view of Gary Poon, a former PBS planner and now consultant on digital TV, who argued in a Current commentary last fall that public TV should go after "the diversity market," which is substantial in size and growing bigger.

"PBS has an opportunity to help the system seize the market for minority programming right now before cable or anyone else does," Poon wrote. "Like everything else, this window of opportunity is a limited one, for if PBS doesn't do it, someone else will."

Leon Collins tells the story of how, as executive director of broadcasting for KUHT in Houston a few years back, he vetoed a rough cut of a documentary on the history of Texas ranching because it had no reference to Latinos or blacks working on the ranches of Texas. "I said, 'Even I know there were people of color. You need to shoot some more tape.' I sent them to the black cowboy museum [the Black American West Museum in Denver] and other places."

The producers came back with footage about black and Hispanic cowboys, the role of Buffalo soldiers in shaping the land, and other material to include in the documentary.

"I don't think it was a conscious exclusion, just that their white sources didn't know about any black cowboys," said Collins. "If I hadn't been there, they would have produced a white version of ranching in Texas."

Web page posted Sept. 27, 2000, updated May 15, 2007
Current: the newspaper about public TV and radio
in the United States
Current Publishing Committee, Takoma Park, Md.


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Commentary: Gary Poon on PBS's opportunity to "seize the diversity market."


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CPB's annual reports to Congress on service to minorities and diverse audiences.