October 27, 2000

Freedom Forum, Newspaper Editors Announce Diversity Fellowships

San Antonio — An initiative to increase both the number and percentage of journalists of color working at daily newspapers with circulations of less than 75,000 was announced today by The Freedom Forum, the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) and the Associated Press Managing Editors (APME) at the APME annual convention here.

Through this partnership, The Freedom Forum will fund up to 50 two-year fellowships of $20,000 each to supplement salaries for journalists of color who bring their talents to newspapers in this circulation range and who participate in fellowship activities beyond their newsroom roles. Newspapers seeking to participate must demonstrate that hiring a Fellow will increase staff racial diversity in both percentage and number of newsroom professionals. Fellowships may not be used to maintain the status quo in staffing.

"Increasing diversity in the nation's daily newspaper newsrooms is a top priority for The Freedom Forum," said Charles L. Overby, chairman and chief executive officer of The Freedom Forum. "So we're delighted to join with APME and ASNE in this innovative effort toward that goal. We realize that this program may be seen as radical, but what has been tried so far has not worked. We are willing to step boldly into uncharted territory to reach our goal."

In April, 2000, The Freedom Forum announced that it would commit $1 million to this three-way partnership to identify and support more effective ways of recruiting journalists of color for the newspaper industry. The program is designed to help place journalists of color at small to mid-size newspapers because the lack of diversity among newsroom staff is typically more acute there than at larger papers. Small and mid-size papers make up more than 90% of U.S. newspapers and serve as a crucial training ground for novice journalists to build the skills and experience that can enhance their prospects for success.

The initiative was developed by a joint steering committee of the three groups, which also will select the Fellows and participating newspapers. Recruitment for the program will begin this fall and continue until all 50 Fellows have been selected and placed.

"This initiative should solve two big problems —increasing the number of minority journalists and placing more minority journalists at smaller newspapers," said Jerry Ceppos, president of APME and vice president/news at Knight Ridder. "Everyone should benefit —the journalists, the newspapers and the communities involved."

ASNE's annual census, released in April, showed that about 12% of journalists at U.S. daily newspapers are people of color, in contrast to the 28% minority population at large. The Freedom Forum's recent "Newsroom Diversity" report pinpointed some specific obstacles to achieving parity between newsroom staff and the larger society by 2025, a goal set by ASNE, including:

Poor retention rates among journalists of color. Since 1994, journalists of color have left the newspaper business at almost twice the rate of white journalists. Over that same period, U.S. daily papers have hired an average of about 550 new journalists of color each year, but about 400 have left the newspaper business annually.

An inadequate "pipeline" for journalists of color. To meet the goal of achieving parity, about 625 additional journalists of color must join the newspaper workforce every year until 2025 — above and beyond the current annual average of 550. But college journalism programs are producing only small percentages of graduates of color in print journalism, far from what is needed to meet the demand.

To help overcome these obstacles, this initiative provides financial incentives for journalists of color to choose newspaper work and to take jobs at smaller papers. The program requires both Fellows and their newspapers to give explicit attention to Fellows' career advancement. For example, papers must provide both a mentor and a partner colleague for the Fellow, provide the opportunity for the Fellow and a key editor to attend one professional meeting a year together, and ensure that quarterly career discussions take place between the Fellow and a key editor. In addition, The Freedom Forum will pay membership dues for two years for Fellows to join one of the four associations for journalists of color. The foundation also will make a career coach available to Fellows and their editors.

"This is a very concrete and immediate effort to address the so-called `pipeline issue' inhibiting newsroom diversity," said Rich Oppel, president of ASNE and editor of the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman. "We intend to get more people of color into the newsrooms of smaller newspapers as soon as possible. This is good news for the communities that will be affected, and good news for society."

Journalists and newspapers interested in participating in the program can find details on the Web sites of The Freedom Forum (www.freedomforum.org), ASNE (www.asne.org) or APME (www.apme.com), or can contact Mary Kay Blake, vice president/partnerships and initiatives at The freedom Forum, at 703/284-3508.

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