Newscasts put more minorities into the mix

Jul 23, 2001  •  Post A Comment

With census figures for the year 2000 officially showing whites as a new minority in California, Los Angeles-area newscasts are already beginning to better reflect the area’s population mix.
According to final census figures released in March, the black population fell from 7.7 percent of the total population in 1990 to
7.1 percent in 2000 in the six-county Southern California area that includes Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. In that same region, Latinos increased from 29.9 percent to 35.1 percent of the total population, while Asians, who accounted for 8.6 percent of the area’s population in 1990, grew to 10.3 percent. The white population in the area fell from 52 percent to 41.4 percent.
In Los Angeles County alone, the Asian population grew 20 percent to 1.1 million.
Terry Anzur, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Southern California and a former Los Angeles anchorwoman, considers KABC-TV one of the most diverse stations in the market. Last year, KABC News Director Cheryl Fair promoted African American Marc Brown and Japanese American David Ono to weekday evening anchor positions. The promotions were notable because KABC became the market’s only Big 3 network-owned station not to have an all-white anchor team on any of its weekday evening newscasts. Other stations still have all-white main-anchor duos. The two KABC promotions may set a trend in a market defined by white male anchors.
“Historically in L.A., this is the market that developed the prototype of the strong white male [anchors]-George Putnam and Jerry Dunphy,” Ms. Anzur said. “In popular culture, that developed into the [“Mary Tyler Moore Show”] character Ted Baxter. So it has meant that minority women have accounted for most of the diversity on L.A. anchor teams, because [at] most of the stations, when they are casting a newscast, the role of the white male is not negotiable. That’s why Marc Brown is such a success story, because it goes against the grain of the history in the market.”
Setting precedents is nothing new for Ms. Fair. When she came to KABC seven years ago, her first hires were Asian American Rob Fukuzaki and African American Leslie Sykes. Ms. Fair made history hiring Mr. Fukuzaki, who was the market’s first Asian male sports anchor.
“We believe that it is in our best interest to reflect our audience, and Los Angeles is such a diverse place,” Ms. Fair said. “I remember vividly Rob’s tape-I was looking the other way and wasn’t looking at the screen, and I heard this great voice and turned around. I don’t want people to like Rob because he’s Asian, but you want them to like him because he’s good talent. If you open the door wide enough, you’re going to find talented, diverse people.”
Mr. Fukuzaki does receive attention from the growing Asian viewership, including fan mail from women, he said. “When I first came to town, it was a rarity and people said, `Wow, we never saw an Asian on the air.’ But for me, I grew up [in Hawaii] watching Asian faces on the air, so it wasn’t a big deal.”
KABC’s on-air talent is 44.1 percent whites and 55.9 percent minorities-35.3 percent Latino, 11.6 percent black and 9 percent Asian.
Julio Moran, executive director of the California Chicano News Media Association, said the diverse viewership may feel comforted when watching on-air talent that reflects their own ethnicity.
“I think people do tune in because they want to see someone who has a similar experience [to theirs],” Mr. Moran said. “To have someone like Marc Brown, a black man, and Laura Diaz, a Latina, co-anchoring a main newscast is unheard of. I think stations are generally afraid to alienate their white audiences by having two people of color anchoring, but both Marc and Laura are skilled and professional. That’s the key. Forever, stations argue they can’t find qualified people of color. There are plenty of qualified people. They just need the opportunity.”
Ms. Fair said many of KABC’s top anchors are also natives of the area, such as Mr. Brown, who is from the South Bay, Ms. Diaz, who is from Santa Clarita, and Ms. Sykes, who is from Compton. Even the KABC news management team is diverse, which Ms. Fair says “diversifies the stories we cover.” Ms. Fair is one of two female news directors in the market; the assistant news director is Latino, and there are two executive producers, one black and the other Latino.
Loren Ghiglione, dean of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, said there is still a long way to go in terms of diversifying management in the industry. “We haven’t done as good a job, especially at the management level, where people can make decisions about hiring other people,” said Mr. Ghiglione, who used to work at the University of Southern California.
It is getting harder to find males pursuing careers in television journalism, let alone male minority members. “One of the challenges for journalism school with people of color-we have very few African American males. I don’t know what all the reasons are, but 85 percent of the students going into the graduate school program at USC last year were women,” Mr. Ghiglione said.
At KCOP-TV, longtime Los Angeles-area news director Larry Perret has seen the face of the market change in recent years. In January he hired anchors Gina Silva and Kent Ninomiya to anchor weekend newscasts. Mr. Perret hired Sam Louie, who became one of only three full-time Asian male staff reporters in the market along with Ted Chen and Gordon Tokumatsu at KNBC-TV.
At Fox-owned KTTV, Los Angeles, half of the 14 anchors are nonwhite, including main anchor Christine Devine, who is of black and Latin extraction, and Rick Garcia, the weeknight sports anchor. A little more than 50 percent of the station’s reporters are minorities, including the market’s only full-time environmental reporter, David Garcia.
KNBC-TV, Los Angeles, has made changes recently, especially under General Manager Paula Madison, who doubles as NBC’s diversity vice president. KNBC general assignment reporter David Cruz was promoted to anchor of the midday newscast last August and in March he added the morning newscast to his duties. In March, Latina anchor Michele Ruiz was assigned to the 6 p.m. newscast.
At KNBC, 47 percent of the on-air talent is white, 23 percent is Latino, 20 percent is black and 10 percent is Asian. In KNBC’s professional ranks, 16.4 percent is black, 26.9 percent is Hispanic, 9 percent is Asian and 1.5 percent is Native American. The station’s total work force is 13.6 percent African Americans, 21.1 percent Hispanics, 7 percent Asians and 0.5 percent Native Americans.
In May, KNBC celebrated Asian Pacific Heritage month for the first time by airing a segment pertaining to the topic in the 5 p.m. newscast each Tuesday. But rival stations point to the all-white news team of Paul Moyer and Colleen Williams, both popular veteran anchors, at
5 p.m. and 11 p.m. The station’s evening newscasts also feature longtime weekday sports anchor Fred Roggin and weathercaster Fritz Coleman, both of whom are white.
But with the No.-1-rated 11 p.m. newscast, KNBC News Director Nancy Bauer-Gonzales sees no need to change that lineup. “You just want to touch it if you can make it better-if we had a case where we can make that better, then we would,” Ms. Bauer-Gonzales said. KNBC has tweaked its morning newscast in recent months with a new anchor lineup of Mr. Cruz and Kelly Mack and weathercaster Christopher Nance, who is black. “Over the years we have promoted really good reporters into positions of anchor,” Ms. Bauer-Gonzales said. “Ultimately, they have to be good reporters and good journalists.”