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On the Hunt for Minority Talent

Aug 2, 2004  •  Post A Comment

While most news directors agree that finding talented people can be a challenge, recruiting top-notch minority journalists can be even tougher. But it doesn’t have to be, some say.

After all, the upcoming Unity 2004 Convention, set for Aug. 4 to 8 in Washington, is a feast for recruiters as it’s expected to attract more than 7,000 attendees, many of whom will be minority journalists. The conference is one of many ways to reach out to journalists of color.

News directors and general managers say a big part of their days at Unity will be spent in interviews with job applicants. “You should not wait until you have an open position,” said Larry Wert, general manager of NBC-owned WMAQ-TV in Chicago. “You will be behind the eight ball. You need to recruit your diversity ahead of time. It’s too hard to find the appropriate people. If you wait until you have the need, your task will be that much more difficult,” he said.

Beyond the conference, news directors and general managers offered a host of tips on where to find, grow and mentor journalists of color.

Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, said that the RTNDA this year implemented a program funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to develop broadcast journalism projects for high school students, an effort that helps expose a wide swath of ethnicities to journalism from an early age.

The Fox Entertainment Group has also pursued the high school crowd and may dip down to an even younger group: middle school students. “I think the main thing is it starts as early in the education process as possible,” said Gerald Alcantar, VP, diversity development, Fox Entertainment Group, which includes the Fox TV stations and the Fox News Channel.

In Los Angeles, Fox has instituted its “Journey to Excellence” program in which it works with about 16 inner-city high schools in Los Angeles County to expose the students to possible careers in media. The student population there is about 80 percent people of color, Mr. Alcantar said. “We focus on three areas: communication, business or finance. Those kids in high school are getting ready for the types of jobs we have,” he said.

Mr. Alcantar added that Fox expects to implement the program in other cities where it has multiple Fox operations, such as Washington, Atlanta and Chicago. He would like to extend the program to the middle school level and track those students through high school.

Fox Entertainment Group plans to have a major presence at Unity for the first time to bring more journalists, producers and staff into all areas of Fox.

Lisa White, the assistant news director at Viacom-owned CBS station KPIX-TV in San Francisco, said her station has an opening for a reporter and does not plan to fill it until the station attends Unity. “Unity is an opportunity to be able to talk to people in person and have access to a huge range of people. We are definitely looking to increase our diversity,” she said.

Another tactic for any news director wanting to cast as wide a net as possible when hiring is simply to ask journalists of color to recommend others, she said.

Paula Madison, president and general manager of NBC-owned KNBC-TV in Los Angeles, has made mentoring a big part of her career in an effort to help mold news leaders of tomorrow, often of color. “Spot people early on and maybe that talent isn’t ready to come to your station, but you mentor that person and try to get that person into a good station,” she said. She has mentored many journalists, and some of them eventually come to work for KNBC. She said her goal is to help young journalists, primarily minorities, get jobs in suitable markets.

If news directors or general managers are invited to speak at a college or a place like the Poynter Institute, they can use those engagements as opportunities to develop relationships with young journalists, she said.

News directors and general managers should surf through the local news channels when out of town, Mr. Wert said. He actually found weekend anchor Anna Davlantes that way while on a trip to Houston a few years ago.

Relationships with community leaders from different ethnic groups can also lead to introductions, since they often have access to a network of people across the country and can recommend someone for an opening, he said.

NBC News has a one-year news associates program designed to train future news managers. While the program is not specifically aimed at minorities, the vast majority of people in it are minorities, said Michael Jack, VP of diversity at NBC and general manager and president of WRC-TV in Washington.

Despite the importance of recruiting people of color, diversity can be a touchy issue, said Marc Watts, president of Signature Management Group in Chicago, which represents on-air talent. “You can’t just go out and say I am looking for a black journalist, because what does that say to the scores of white journalists?” he said.