Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

Study: Survey participants drop as diversity remains low in sports departments

By Tashan Reed and Allana J. Barefield
SJI Class of 2018

Four years later and very little has changed. That was the conclusion some had after reading the latest Associated Press Sports Editors racial and gender report card.

The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida released its report on May 2. APSE received a D-plus overall grade, its lowest ever. APSE earned a B in racial hiring practices for the second straight time and an F for gender hiring practices for the fifth consecutive time. The report analyzes the people of color and women, respectively, holding positions as sports editors, assistant sports editors, columnists, reporters and copy editors.

The percentages improved in nine of the 10 categories, with the largest increase being the number of female assistant sports editors jumping from 9.8 percent to 30.9 percent. Of the 75 APSE newspapers and websites that participated, 20 percent of the total staffs were minorities and 17.9 percent were women.

“The number that jumped out to me was that there were only 75 newspapers that were involved in the survey,” said Sherrod Blakely, an NBC Sports Boston reporter and chair of The National Association of Black Journalists’ Sports Task Force. “Typically, that number is usually higher. Diversity more often is a benefit rather than a decimate.”

There were more than 25 fewer respondents to the report than there were in 2014. Also, the overall number of members in APSE decreased for the second straight report, dropping by almost 400 people. Both the lack of respondents and drop in membership are likely factors in the percentage increase of people of color and women. On top of that, the number of white males represented remains extremely high at 67.1 percent.

“I think two things are happening,” said Jeff Rosen, APSE president and sports editor of The Kansas City Star. “One, longtime APSE members are aging out of the system. That is, members who’ve been a part of the organization for years are retiring or moving on to different careers. Two, new journalists are coming into the field without necessarily knowing what APSE can offer them.”

Rosen emphasized that targeting young journalists and educating them about the core values of APSE are crucial in order to establish a larger and more diverse group of members. These talented youths must be discovered, developed and introduced to editors and managers across the nation in order to create a reflective and rich pool of candidates.

“Mentor programs are key,” said Iliana Limón Romero, sports content director of The Orlando Sentinel and vice president of The Association for Women in Sports Media. “We must help promising students gain experience and provide positive feedback for those early and mid-way through their careers, putting them on equal footing with other job candidates.”

Romero asserted that the reduction of media opportunities has led to more pressure being placed on hiring managers, which deters them from taking “risks” on hiring minorities. This can lead to fewer women and people of color being interviewed or hired.

Even once these young people are hired, more work lies ahead.

“To increase diversity within the organization, we need to be more inclusive,” Rosen said. “(We must be) better listeners. Offer women and people of color a place that speaks to them, feels nurturing as opposed to threatening in any way, and meets their needs as developing journalists.”

Many times, minority journalists feel singled out and pressured in the newsroom.

“The lack of diversity in the newsroom and burden of speaking for all minorities can be a challenge for some journalists,” Romero said.

Fortunately, not all APSE members are struggling. ESPN made up the vast majority of the hires of people of color and women as sports editors, assistant sports editors and columnists. For example, 51 of the 70 people of color who are assistant sports editors and 75 of the 89 women who are assistant sports editors work for ESPN.

“I believe it’s this simple: ESPN prioritizes diversity in its workplace and then does something about it,” Rosen said. “Namely, ESPN doesn’t just talk about fostering diversity; ESPN actually hires an abundance of women and journalists of color for key positions. Fellow members of APSE should take a cue here. ESPN doesn’t do everything right, but it certainly has done this particular thing particularly well.”

“ESPN has a higher number of employees that they can employ,” Blakely said. “It’s great that ESPN has clearly made diversity an issue and initiative that they want to take on.”

In an era where newspapers are being bought and downsized, Blakely said that diversity should remain a concern.

“Newspapers are putting the desire and the need for diversity on the backburner,” he said. “There’s no silver bullet answer or solution to that problem but at the same time at the very least, you have to start making strives to become more diverse and recognize that you have a problem.”

In order for more APSE members to meet the standard set by ESPN, Richard Lapchick, the director of TIDES and primary author of the report, recommended that it adopts what he calls the “Ralph Wiley Rule,” named after the late African -American writer.

“The Wiley Rule would be like the Rooney Rule in the NFL and would call for a diverse pool of candidates including people of color and women for each opening of these key positions,” he said. “According to (past APSE president) John Cherwa, many of the individual newspapers have adopted such a rule.”

Along with the gradual adoption of the Wiley Rule, APSE has taken further steps toward improving diversity. APSE’s Diversity Fellowship offers a nine-month program that targets minorities pursuing managerial roles in sports journalism. The continued growth and evolution
of such programs will be key in improving APSE’s diversity in the future.