Many journalism students in Seattle are accustomed to brushing their teeth while watching Joyce Taylor anchor the KING-5 Morning News, or eating breakfast while reading a column by Jerry Large in The Seattle Times. But until this past weekend, few had been fortunate enough to hear them speak about their experience as minorities in the newsroom.
More than 200 aspiring and professional Black journalists gathered in the auditorium of the African American Academy last weekend to participate in the Seattle Association of Black Journalists' inaugural Student Career Workshop.
While dozens of Black reporters, anchors, writers, editors and producers were present on Saturday, the fact still remains that outside of that auditorium, newsrooms continue to lack the diversity of the places on which they report. This reality is often reflected in both the stories that are covered and the stories that remain untold.
"We believe that people and especially people of color need a voice," said Joyce Taylor in her welcoming speech. "And as journalists you can be that voice."
Aaron Day, a producer at KING-5 News and Vice President of the SABJ, got to be that voice when his concern with the Jena Six trial in Louisiana led to more coverage on the station.
Similarly, Shaniqua Manning, an anchor at Northwest Cable News, got to be that voice when Tavis Smiley's new book came out and she expressed a desire to do an interview with the award-winning African American author, journalist, activist and talk show host. As it turned out, she was the only one in her newsroom who knew who Tavis Smiley was.
"Even if you are the only one," said Manning. "Remember that you might be the only one who recognizes the importance of a particular story that affects your community, and some other people might not get it."
Kevin Henry, a Seattle-based freelance journalist and public-affairs radio host on KBCS-FM, was the voice when he stopped his paper from running a picture of the famous blues guitarist B.B. King in an article about Martin Luther King Jr.
"There is some knowledge that we take for granted," said Henry. "But our presence is really important in the newsroom, even if we are the only one."
Gary Washburn, a sports reporter for The Seattle P-I, found that as an African American man in a baseball press box, he was few and far between.
"I wasn't generally asked questions about baseball, but if one reporter had a hip-hop question, who do you think they asked?"
While the demographics of newsrooms have changed since these veterans were first getting their start in the business, the progress has been slow. According to a 2005 study from the Knight Foundation, only 13 percent of newspapers across the country had a staff whose percentage of non-Whites was equal to or higher than its percentage of non-Whites in the community it served.
Manoucheka Celeste, a doctoral candidate in The University of Washington's Department of Communication, says that this trend of people of color leaving the newsroom is not uncommon. "People of color often feel isolated in the newsroom," said Celeste. "They often become educators in the newsroom, because others assume you know everything about your race."
There was one message that came across loud and clear: Having African Americans in the newsroom is important. As communities continue to become more and more diverse, there is an increasing need for the demographics of the newsroom to reflect that.