It's a tough field, this world of TV journalism. What, with all the makeup, the three-inch heels, the power suits, the toothy smiles. The speech, diction, grammar lessons. The shade of your skin, the size of your nose, the shape of your mouth. That all matters.
It's even tougher if you're a person of color, minority journalists say.
The Miami/Fort Lauderdale market is probably not the place for an Asian American journalist. Network news, for a Mexican American with a thick Spanish accent, is seemingly out of reach, say Miguel Angel Garcia, 25, and Antonieta Gonzalez, 32, who both work at Telemundo.
Traverse City, in northern Michigan, is not ideal for an African American journalist, Marquita Pool-Eckert, a CBS affiliate producer, tells Irene Warren. The women are at the Career Expo for this week's Unity: Journalists of Color convention, the nation's largest gathering of minority journalists. "Now, Detroit. That would be fine; you know what I mean," says Pool-Eckert.
Warren nods. "I get you."
That exchange is just one example of how restrictive life in front of the camera can be. There has been plenty of progress, for sure, but turn on the television in many markets, especially the smaller ones, and what comes to mind after all these years, minority journalists say, is old-fashioned tokenism: the token African American reporter, the token Asian American reporter (Chinese? Korean? Japanese? What's the difference?), the token Latino reporter, minus the accent.
"It just takes time," explains Sue Kwon, sotto voce, while standing in a recruiting booth. With the minority population of the country inching toward 33 percent, the number of minorities in TV's workforce -- the anchors, reporters, producers and others behind the camera -- has been at 20 percent (plus or minus 2 percentage points) every year in the past decade, according to the Radio-Television News Directors Association. There was a slight bump this year, to 21.8 percent. The newspaper industry is lagging further behind, with minorities at nearly 13 percent of the workforce.
"News executives, in hiring on-air talent, need to factor in a lot of things," says Kwon, 36. She's a Korean American reporter for KPIX, a CBS affiliate in the San Francisco Bay Area.
"Who's their audience? Who would their audience be comfortable with?"
She pauses, takes a sip of regular coffee.
"Look at it this way. You don't see too many Asian American men in TV news because, in general, when society thinks of Asian American men, they think of . . . something else. But, really, we know that not all Asian American men are karate-chopping engineers."
Not Brian Ojima. Dressed in a deep-brown suit and a striped tie, Ojima, a Japanese American sports anchor at KTEN, an NBC affiliate in Denison, Tex., stands in a racially mixed crowd snaking its way to the busy NBC/Telemundo booth. Some want a job. Some want a better job. (Telemundo and Univision Communications are serving the nation's fast-growing Hispanic market.)
"What can I say that won't get me in trouble?" the 28-year-old Los Angeles native says, laughing. "What this comes down to is breaking stereotypes, and I have to say that in the past three or four years, with athletes like Yao Ming [of basketball's Houston Rockets] and Ichiro Suzuki [of baseball's Seattle Mariners] doing pretty well in the major leagues, there's been, I think, more acceptance."
But the issue of representation is not just in front of the camera. Several of the TV journalists interviewed yesterday talked of the need to get more people of color behind the camera, especially into management. That's where the decisions are made, from hiring to what airs at 6 o'clock.
"Journalists, may they work in print or broadcast, are responsible and accountable to their entire communities," says Yvette Miley, an African American and vice president for news at WTVJ, an NBC affiliate covering the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area.
"There's no denying that. I'm a journalist who's in a minority group. I'm guided by both -- in the news we cover and in the people we interview."
One of Miley's reporters, Trina Robinson, is a 13-year veteran of TV news. She sees another issue, a generational gap when it comes to that sense of accountability.
"It's tough these days, you know, with a lot of the young folks and folks new to TV news not realizing that it's not all glamorous, that there's a certain responsibility that comes with being a person of color on TV," says the 38-year-old African American.
" 'Why do you want to be on TV?' I ask them. 'Because I want to be on TV,' most answer back. That's not what this is all about."
One of those aspiring journalists is Warren, 35, a journalism graduate student at American University. She prepares to do a stand-up in front of a camera, a CBS Washington banner as her backdrop. It's practice. She takes an 800-word article and writes a 23-second summary. ("Al Qaeda," she reminds herself, is pronounced "ahl ky-dah.") Nervously, she says in front of the camera: "A senior al Qaeda figure planning to attack London's Heathrow airport was among 12 terrorism suspects arrested in Britain two days ago . . ."
Then Pool-Eckert offers her critique.
"I looked too serious," Warren says.
"But it's a serious topic," Pool-Eckert says.
"I know," says Warren. "But the lighting wasn't right. I looked horrible."
The exchange gets a little tense.
"It's more than just lighting," says Pool-Eckert. "People on TV make it look easy. Once the camera starts rolling" -- she snaps her finger -- "they're there.
"Maybe you should think about a career behind the camera. I, for one, have never been that comfortable in front of it."
"I strongly disagreed with her," Warren says later. "What gave her the right to say that?"