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Media crash threatens newsroom diversity: AAJ president

Layoffs rippling through many North American media corporations threaten to leave newsrooms less ethnically diverse. And those who remain employed must be ready to master several mediums and work in all of them during a single shift.

That snapshot of news media in flux emerged from a gathering of journalists of Asian heritage, some from the U.S. and some from Canada, last week at the University of British Columbia School of Journalism.

Sharon Chan, National President of the Asian-American Journalists Association, said layoffs are ravaging newsrooms in the U.S. Due to seniority union agreements, the first to be fired tend to be the most recently hired – who more likely are young or people of colour.

Chan blamed the decline of newspapers in her country on “a failure of diversity -- not just regarding race and hiring, but in reaching out to different audiences, technologies and revenue sources.”

The newspaper that employs Chan as a science reporter, the Seattle Times, has long been a leader in promoting diversity, and has paid for her travel and time away as she carries out her role leading the AAJ.

But advertising in the Seattle Times is down 45 per cent this year, Chan said. Diving profits and readership mean “the house is on fire for a lot of these newsrooms, and suddenly diversity is no longer on the table.”

Winnie Ho, director of Fairchild News, Canada’s leading Chinese language broadcaster with newsrooms in Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary, said the diversity issue is different in her company. Every one of her journalists is of Chinese descent, but while most used to come from Hong Kong, more of them these days are from mainland China.

Ho said ethnic media have long strived to attract more advertising from outside their traditional communities, and Fairchild was finally getting a surge of “mainstream” advertising – until the downturn crashed that market last September.

Miyoung Lee, a reporter for CBC television and radio, said tight times have caused a profound shift within her organization’s work culture. No longer does it make sense to strive to be promoted up a well worn career ladder.

“There’s no more moving up; it’s moving this way,” she said, slicing her hand through the air horizontally.

The Vancouver operation’s television and radio newsrooms are merged now, and because most of the video editors have been laid off, reporters cut a lot of their own tape. Lee described a single day she spent covering a court case that included filing eight times to the web, contributing various reports to radio and television news broadcasts, and no time for lunch.

Her advice to colleagues: “Open up to the technology. Embrace it or be part of the layoffs.”

David Beers is editor of The Tyee.

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