By Brier Evans | Editor
Black women make up roughly 3 percent of the total workforce of American newsrooms. And among U.S. newsroom leadership, Black women account for 3 percent of news executives, compared to white women, who account for 31.84 percent, according to the American Society of News Editors, in 2019. But since 2020, the news industry is slowly opening up to placing more Black women in charge of news operations.
“You put a woman in charge of HR or public relations; that’s an old corporate hack,” said Nayyera Haq, the co-host of “The World Tonight” on the Black News Channel. “We have more women being recognized and appreciated for the broader operations roles, the management roles, the editorial roles, that they [women] can be playing at more institutions,” said Haq, who spoke at BNC’s Virtual Media Day on Oct. 28, 2021.
Since nationwide protests in 2020 to call for more diversity and inclusion across American society, Black women have been gaining leadership roles in major media organizations. The shift was discussed by a panel hosted by the BNC and its streaming platform: BNC GO, and their team of on-air journalists. Student journalists from Historically Black Colleges and Universities engaged the professional journalists on the increase of women of color in U.S. media leadership positions.
“There’s been a greater recognition of what Black women have done, not only for community, but for the entire country in their service, in their leadership, and in their resilience,” Haq said. “Black women, in particular, need greater amount of support from people who are not Black, and need to not be put into a box,” she added.
In 2020, Warner Bros. Television Group named Channing Dungey as chair. She was the first African American to head a U.S. broadcast network when she served as president of ABC Entertainment. Earlier in 2020, Walt Disney Studios named Vanessa Morrison as its president of streaming, with the launch of Disney+. In 2021, MSNBC named Rashida Jones as its president, earning her the title of the first Black woman in this role in cable television. And Kimberly Godwin became president of ABC News, also in 2021.
Black and Brown women are also dominating print and digital media companies as well. Reuters, HuffPost, and Vox have also made news for hiring women of color to serve in chief positions. However, it is more than just leadership. When Black women gain power in newsrooms, they are able to challenge stereotypes, and ensure more stories make the headlines, the panelists shared.
For instance in television news, Black women have often been told they do not fit conventional beauty standards. However, more Black women anchors and reporters have broadcasted on-air with their natural hairstyles: from New Orleans’ morning news anchor Sheba Turk, to Lena Pringle in Jacksonville, Fla.; to sports anchor Samaria Terry in Memphis, Tenn.; and reporter Treasure Roberts in Orlando, Fla., who have all gone viral for wearing their hair natural on television.
“If you look good, you feel good,” said Michelle Fisher, the host of “The Morning Hype” on BNC GO. “I love that so many women now are wearing their hair natural on-air . . . because that’s going to impact how you feel walking through a newsroom,” Fisher added.
Black women in leadership in newsrooms also serve as gatekeepers for what stories are covered and receive priority by the newsroom. In 2020, over 260,000 girls and women were reported missing and one-third of the cases were Black women, despite making up only 15 percent of the total U.S. female population, according to data from the FBI. The missing case of 22-year-old Florida woman Gabrielle Petito was one of the top trending stories of September 2021. The same coverage is rarely provided for the countless women of color who disappear every day and whose disappearances are never covered in major news outlets.
“As a Black woman, I am terrified that if one day something were to happen to me, America will never go out of their way to find me,” said Sabrina Pierre-Paul, a Xavier University, political science/ Pre-Law major from Queens, NY. “There are so many Black girls who go missing each day, but their only coverage is from posts shared by friends on Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter. It’s ridiculous,” Pierre-Paul added.