In the after-shock of widespread urban rioting in the '60s many white Americans wondered why no one - notably the news media - had forwarned them of the latent black rage of the inner cities.
Journalists and journalism educators from both sides of the racial divide met at the University of Michigan yesterday to wonder why - a decade later - the news profession remains what one called among "the most segregated institutions in American life."
It was that same condition which the Kerner Commission on civil disorders cited in 1968 as a major factor in perpetuating "the black-white schism in this country."
Yesterday's conference - entitled "kerner Plus 10: Minorities and the Media" - was organized by the Marsh Center for the Study of Journalistic Performance to assess how well the news industry has responded to the Kerner Commission charge.
The consensus: not very well.
An informal and unpublished survey by the Marsh Center staff reinforces what several studies have disclosed in recent years: Minorities in the media continue to assume an extremely low profile. Outside the major cities, they present almost no profile at all.
The conference found: The ten-fold increase in the number of black newspaper reporters and editors since 1968 is impressive only if it is forgotten that U.S. daikies employed just 25 to 35 black professionals at that time. The estimated 300 black journalists today represent less than one per cent of all print journalists. They are almost totally absent behind supervisory and policymaking desks. And their role in shaping public opinion through editorials and signed columns is negligible.
In broadcasting the picture appears somewhat brighter but the survey implied that it was perhaps, a case of deceiving appearances. It noted: "Critics suspect some stations are concealing the true employment picture for minorities and women behind . . . titles . . . As evidence they cite increasing numbers of minorities and women counted in four top job levels and their declining numbers in the low categories . . ."
Referring to the "cultural and racial myopia" of the media, a conference panelist, William Worthy, said improved reporting on minorities and race-related issues requires journalists witha sense/of history and people's cultural background. Worthy, a veteran black journalist, is director of the Afro-Journalism Duo-Degree program which began last fall at Boston University. The program is designed to train journalists who know more than "just how to write a lead."
In spite of several such training programs, the number of minorities employed in the media appears to have leveled off. Participants at the Michigan meeting advanced several reasons: institutional racism which blocks the rise of minorities into middle management and higher echelons; the "hassle" that blacks and other minority reporters can experience with racially insensitive editors, and the resistance of many smaller newspapers - traditionally training grounds for the large urban press - to hire blacks because "we've had no riots," as one speaker put it, or because there is no local black community.