Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

Can affinity groups help industry expedite diversity growth in sports departments?

By Angel Franco
SJI Class of 2018

For years, sports departments across the Unites States have been primarily white, but advocated for minorities and women across the country are working to close the gap.

On May 2, 2018, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, (TIDES) released its 2018 APSE Racial and Gender report card. This study evaluated over 75 newspapers and websites with the intent to measure the hiring practices.

The report concluded that 82.1 percent of sports reporters who worked for APSE-affiliated newsrooms were white. Despite increases of minorities and women working in sports departments, there is still a large gap.

Over the years groups such as the National Association of Black Journalists Sports Task Force, Association for Women in Sports Media (AWSM), Asian American Journalists Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists have had separate conversations with APSE.

However, these conversations have been held by each individual group, but never as a group, which could provide strength in numbers to help facilitate more progress on the diversity front.

“We do joint conventions every few years NAHJ but beyond that there’s no formal partnership although our paths inevitably cross on certain matters,” said Sherrod Blakely, chair of the NABJ Sports Task Force. “I personally think the lines of communication have to remain open, but I’m not sure we are at a point where we can start operating with the kind of synergy that works for all involved.

“Diversity is the never-ending war we all face. While it certainly can’t hurt to be as united as possible, we each serve a very specific niche when it comes to diversity and I wouldn’t want to do anything to water that down.”

Blakley said despite the lack of formal organization among the different affinity groups, the key to creating more diversity is to recognize the fact that newsrooms across America lack people with different backgrounds.

“First and foremost, acknowledgement that there is an issue,” Blakely said. “I think that there’s a lot of newsrooms that are so out of the loop on diversity that they don’t even see that it is a problem.”

Blakely said once newsrooms have acknowledged the lack of inclusion of minority groups, the next step is to create opportunities in the job market.

“I think there needs to be steps taken to create a more balanced, competitive marketplace (and) pool of candidates for job openings when they do come open,” Blakely said.

However, Blakely believes that the topic of inclusion in newsrooms will continue to be discussed because the work is never ending. In a perfect world, Blakely said the newsroom is reflective of the readerships the newspaper serves.

“It’s one of those fights that is never really going to be over, because the minute you believe that you have arrived, you’re going to realize there’s going to be so much that needs to be done. In an ideal world, you would have newsrooms that are a reflection for the communities that they cover.”

According to the TIDES study, in 2017 there was an overall increase of Latinas and Asian women in sports editor, columnists and reporting roles.

Iliana Limón Romero, sports content director at the Orlando Sentinel and AWSM vice president of fundraising, became the Sentinel’s first Latina sports editor and as of March 20, she was the only Latina sports editor at a major newspaper in the United States.

Romero said in order to have a newsroom that reflects the community in which it serves, there needs to be an open and fluid conversation.

“We have to have an open conversation about where we stand and the value of having diverse voices within newsrooms,” Romero said.

According to Romero, the more diverse a staff the better a media outlet can be on providing their readership with stories that reflect the community that they live in.

“The questions people ask and the approaches that they take to the people that they cover are influenced by (the reporters’) personal backgrounds,” Romero said. “Having a wide range of personal backgrounds represented on your staff is really helpful in better chronicling the community.”

Romero said the way to improve this issue is by creating opportunities for more diverse interview pools. Romero said this can be done through mentoring college students and provide internship opportunities to prepare them for the industry.

“Making sure hiring managers know,” Romero said, “that they can reach out to different organizations like NAHJ, NABJ, AWSM and lots of other groups that are out there that serve minority members and make sure they know they can reach out to them and say, ‘Who are your experienced, talented, up and coming people from different backgrounds who it would be worth talking with?’ as long as they’re given a fair chance to apply, I think you’ll start to see changes all across the board.”