As editor of a thrice weekly online journal about media and diversity, Richard Prince starts his day perusing at least 30 news-related websites. Working at a laptop from his home in Alexandria, Va., to produce Journal-isms, he checks social media, reads newsletters that arrived overnight by email and tunes into a mix of broadcast programs.
Despite the proliferation of new media outlets, much of what he sees is old and tiresome. A lack of diversity in top management, the perpetuation of racial stereotypes in coverage, a penchant for ignoring the pervasiveness of racism — problems Prince says existed when he began working as a reporter at The Washington Post in 1968.
That same year, a commission appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered a report on civil disorders that included a critique of the media, which still resonates nearly 50 years later.
“The media report and write from the standpoint of a white man’s world,” the commission said, adding that “the white press,” as many black people call it, “repeatedly, if unconsciously reflect the biases, the paternalism, the indifference of white America.”
There has been some change.
Last month, while doing his daily survey of the news landscape, Prince saw an announcement by NBC that the network was creating a nine-member team to cover the media industry. But “the only person of color on the team was an Asian woman with a background in technology,” Prince recalled.
Prince posted a news brief about the NBC announcement, with a headline that said it all: “NBC Names Team to Cover Media; Scant Diversity.” Last week, much to his surprise, NBC announced that Eric Deggans, a well-known media critic who is black, was being added to the team.
“I won’t say I had anything to do with it, but I think it’s great,” said Prince, who at age 70 has been editor of Journal-isms since 1991. “That team needed somebody who was attuned to the importance of diversity and racial issues in news coverage.”
Prince stressed that you don’t have to be black to be attuned to diversity issues. It’s just the people initially selected for the NBC team had backgrounds in other areas, and black journalists who were experienced with diversity in the media had been overlooked.
But one hire hardly makes a dent in the problem that troubles Prince the most.
More than 230,000 newspaper jobs were lost between 2001 and 2016, more than half of the industry’s employment, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The recession and the shift to digital media contributed to significant job losses for everyone, but journalists of color were disproportionately affected.
Between 1997 and 2013, the number of black journalists working at daily newspapers in the country dropped 40 percent, according to the American Society of News Editors. That represented a loss of almost 1,200 black journalists — from 2,946 in 1997 to 1,754 in 2013.
The rate of job losses for white journalists was 34 percent, ASNE said. And in the past 16 years, the ranks of Hispanic and Asian journalists have also declined, losing 13 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
Nevertheless, whites still make up more than 80 percent of the nation’s newsroom workforce, even though the country is roughly 40 percent people of color.
Among the nation’s growing cadre of media watchdogs, Prince stands alone with a singular, 24/7 focus on making newsrooms more diverse and improving the coverage of people of color, no matter what.
His interest in the issue dates to the late ’60s, soon after his graduation from New York University. Newspapers in urban areas throughout the country were suddenly in need of black reporters to cover riots.
In 1972, four years after joining the Post’s local staff, Prince and other black reporters presented executive editor Ben Bradlee with a memo containing 20 questions for him to answer.
Among the questions: Why were there no black assignment editors on the foreign, national, sports, financial and style desks? Why only one black reporter assigned to the national desk?
Not satisfied with Bradlee’s response, the group filed a racial discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Commission.
The commission found that the reporters had grounds to pursue the case in D.C. federal court but lacked to funds to pay an attorney.
Still, the reporters had made their point.
Over the next few years, more black reporters would be hired — and some even promoted into management. During the Great Recession, however, newspapers were especially hard-hit. After a few rounds of buyouts, layoffs and a hiring freeze, many of those gains were erased.
Prince, who had returned to The Post as a copy editor on the foreign desk, was among those who left.
But not for long. He had more questions.
In May, he wrote an article for Journal-isms headlined, “Where Are the Black and Brown Journalists Probing Trump?” And he got answers, one from Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, that illustrate the complexities of race and the media that Prince wrangles with every day.
“There are not enough investigative reporters who happen to be African American or Latino,” replied Baquet, who is black.
When Prince asked what the Times was doing to “increase the pipeline of investigative reporters,” Baquet wrote, “I should point out three Black editors — me, [national editor] Marc Lacey and [deputy international editor] Greg Winter are deeply involved in Trump Coverage.”
Scott Wilson, then-national editor of The Washington Post, also gave an upbeat answer, emailing Prince to say that diversity in the newsroom “is well-represented on some of the biggest beats and assignments by African American and Latino reporters.”
The Post does fare better on diversity than any of its large competitors.
Sixty-eight percent of the staff is white, while journalists of color make up 31 percent of the staff. At both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, journalists of color make up 18 percent of the staff.
Yet the answers from editors at the nation’s top two newspapers were thought-provoking, and they would provide more grist for Prince to probe how the media deals with racial issues in the Age of Trump.
“There were lots of stories about the oppressed white working class believing Trump had the cure for their economic woes,” Prince said.
“The black working class sure didn’t believe it, but nobody asked them.”
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.