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Big-city news directors a diverse bunch

Feb 18, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Women and minorities are moving more and more into key news management roles at English-language stations within larger markets, with Los Angeles and Chicago surpassing New York in diversity among news directors.
The numbers of women and minorities serving in news director roles in major markets speak for themselves.
In Chicago, female news directors are now in the majority. The market has one black female news director, one Latino female news director, two white female news directors and a white male news director.
At WMAQ-TV, News Director Vickie Burns is the first black female to serve in that role in the market.
“We have a 19 percent African American market, but more importantly we have an extremely diverse marketplace, and that includes on- and off-air employees and the audience that we serve,” said WMAQ General Manager Larry Wert. “We’re also fortunate to have an experienced news manager that is a Chicago native. [Ms. Burns] is very connected to the community. She does get scoops through her connections.”
In San Francisco, there is one white female news director and four white male news directors.
Philadelphia has one white news director and two white female news directors. At the moment, WB affiliate WPHL-TV is seeking a news director to replace departing Richard Scott, who is white. NBC-owned WCAU-TV, Philadelphia, recently had to fill a vacancy left by Steve Schwaid, who is now transition leader at NBC affiliate KNTV, San Jose, Calif. WCAU promoted assistant news director Chris Blackman, an African American, to the role.
“There is no question in my mind as someone who tracks this-the top markets are more diverse than they’ve ever been,” said Bob Papper, professor of telecommunications and director of the annual Radio-Television News Directors Association Ball State University survey on diversity in radio and television news. “One of the most dramatic things we’ve seen in the last few years, even [among] women directors, they mostly grew at small stations and in small markets. That’s no longer true. Women are just as likely to be news director in large markets as they are in small markets, and that’s really a dramatic shift in the last five to eight years.”
According to talent agent and former station general manager Mendes Napoli, Los Angeles is more diverse than it’s ever been. “I think it’s fantastic, and it’s great that for the first time in [the] history of this very diverse market that the news directors are as diverse as the community,” Mr. Napoli said. “As people move up in market size, you have to have diversity in smaller markets for it to rise in larger markets, and these are very talented, very highly qualified people.”
Los Angeles for the first time has two African American news directors in addition to a Latino news director, two white female and two white male news directors.
RTNDA President Barbara Cochran said, “I think it’s a sign of the times that you have a city like Los Angeles, where the population is so diverse, that there are opportunities for people.”
Meanwhile, all the news directors in the New York market are white. The market, which includes two female news directors, used to include African American news directors Will Wright, who recently left UPN affiliate WWOR-TV to become executive producer of “BET Nightly News,” and former WNBC-TV News Director Paula Madison, who was promoted to general manager at KNBC-TV Los Angeles and also is VP of diversity for NBC.
Mr. Papper said some talented minorities are taken out of news director roles and promoted to general managers, as Ms. Madison was. “Empirically, we know that minority general managers are considerably more likely to have minority news directors,” he added. “However, we have not been able to find evidence that stations with minority news directors have more diverse staffs. Interestingly, there is no evidence that women general managers are more likely to have women news directors or minority news directors.”
In October, Ms. Madison hired Kimberly Godwin as one of the first African American female news directors in the Los Angeles market. Ms. Madison believes it is essential to have more minority news directors in major markets. “It’s important that news coverage reflect the issues that impact the communities we serve,” she said. “Traditionally, newsrooms-both print and broadcast-have not reflected diversity well. As the demographics of the United States evolve to include many more people of color, journalists need to ensure that the news content is fair, balanced and inclusive.”
Former WMAQ news director and WBAL-TV, Baltimore, News Director Princell Hair, an African American, is the new KCBS-TV, Los Angeles news director. Late last year, while holding the title of director of news for the Viacom Television Stations Group, Mr. Hair hired African American Ken Jobe as news director at CBS-owned WWJ-TV, Detroit.
While the most recent hires at KNBC were two African American reporters, both KCBS and KNBC are the only stations in the market that still have some all-white main anchor teams. “I think today a good news director is real sensitive in having an on-air staff that looks like their audience,” Mr. Papper said.
Mr. Hair, who started working for KCBS in January, vows to focus on hard news during his tenure, and is also a proponent of increased diversity for the station.
“I think the newscast has to reflect the community,” Mr. Hair said. “Diversity is one of those things you have to achieve not just on air but also behind the scenes. We definitely want to analyze the product from top to bottom. As you look to hire and recruit, diversity has to be a major focus.”
KABC News Director Cheryl Fair, who is white, has been in the business since the early 1970s, and she said increased diversity in top markets is inevitable. “If you’re interested in management, you’ll make it to the top of the food chain,” Ms. Fair said. “The whole issue of diversity for me is you open the door as broad as possible. The odds of getting someone diverse increases, but you hire the best person. If you look at the most successful stations, they do a good job of reflecting the market they serve. I like people when they look at KABC to say we look like Southern California.”
Ms. Fair was the first news director at a major station to reconfigure the anchor teams so that not a single team is all white. KABC’s main evening anchorman is Marc Brown, an African American. Ms. Fair likes to tell the story about how Los Angeles native Mr. Brown’s mother used to tell him that a “black man would never anchor the 11 p.m. news” there. Mr. Brown was promoted to that spot in August 2000.
Ms. Fair got her share of negative mail from viewers when she initially made minority hires and mixed up the anchor teams. But that quieted down as Los Angeles became increasingly diverse, with growing Asian and Latino viewership.
Fox-owned KTTV’s Jose Rios is the veteran minority news director in the Los Angeles market. His career has grown in the market for the past two decades. KTTV General Manager Dave Boylan, who has worked in five markets, said Los Angeles is the most diverse market he’s been in.
“I think diversity is important in both a newsroom and in news management, because we all see our local community in different ways. Hopefully, those varied viewpoints are reflected in our daily coverage,” he said.