Do Birmingham publications suffer from a lack of diversity?


Do Birmingham publications suffer from a lack of diversity? Do they reflect the city they serve?

The questions were prompted by a glance at the redesigned landing Web page for the Birmingham News. Granted, these are just the columnists, but the News and AL.com decided these are the ones to feature prominently with mug shots.

birmingham-news-columnists

Birmingham News columnists

All white, with two women out of eight columnists. The city population itself is 73.5 percent African American.

Compare that with the recently launched B-Metro magazine, which also features its columnists on the front page of its site …

b-metro columnists

B-Metro magazine columnists

We see a little more diversity, with three men out of nine contributors, one African American.

birmingham magazine columnistsAt Birmingham Magazine, the four columnists featured are all women, all white. (See graphic at right.)

(The Birmingham Business Journal doesn’t include writers’ photos on its site.)

The questions we have:

  • Should the writers featured on a Web site (and in the publication, too) reflect the diversity of its audience and market?
  • Do advertisers care about staff diversity? Do readers care? Or publishers?
  • Does diversity make a difference to the bottom line?
  • Can publications diversify, even as they’re cutting resources and staff members?
  • Are smaller publications — Birmingham Weekly, Black and White, Birmingham Times — facing the same issues?

Your comments are welcome below.

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17 responses to “Do Birmingham publications suffer from a lack of diversity?

  1. It is definitely an issue, but who is accessing the webite?

    What I would like to see is the demographics of people viewing Al.Com. Odds are pretty high that the number of Caucasians accessing the website is 80/20 to minorities.

  2. Jeff, our best guess: the demographics of online readers of the Birmingham News mirror those of the print readers in terms of race and gender, but probably decades younger.

  3. Really? I would be intereted to see the differance?

    What are the demographics for the readers of the print edition?

    I cannot believe that the statistics for the print edition are very good compared to the online version.

  4. Sunday Newspaper Readership by Race/Ethnicity
    Percentage nationally who read latest Sunday edition, 1999-2008

    Sunday Newspaper Readership by Age Group
    Percentage nationally who read latest Sunday edition, 1999-2008

    From the State of the News Media 2009 report.

  5. With all do respect these are statistics from a national level and I do not believe they represent what the circulation of the Birmingham News is.

    Am I total off base here?

    • Jeff,

      Why do you think the Birmingham News’ audience demographics are significantly different from the national audience demos?

      I’d do two things: 1. Ask a local media buyer about the News’ demographics. Common joke: “65 to dead.”

      2. Order a Rate and Ad Kit. Call the salesperson and ask for specific demos.

      Let us know what you find out.

  6. My opinion is not only is there a lack of diversity of writers, there is also a lack in editorial photography. As I grow familiar with the wonderful talent we have in Birmingham, I am overwhelmed at how each larger name publication uses the same photographers for features. There are other talented photographers, and writers alike, who are looking for opportunities to contribute to such entities.

    • Lynsey, we agree: Diversity in staffing, especially at the top levels, has never been great in journalism. Certainly, few titles have staffs that reflect their community’s diversity.

      The only way to make a dent is to be persistent.

  7. There is definitely a lack of diversity when you see the columnist’s pictures. I believe that readers like to see diversity, as well as advertisers–specifically if you’re trying to reach a certain demographic.

  8. MOB, you’re right. And, we must continue to be persistent if we are ever going to see change. As a freelance writer, I know how discouraging it is to wish to write for publications that appear as if they are lacking diversity initiatives. Hopefully, we’ll see more diversity soon….

  9. Hallelujah!!!! Someone finally noticed. As an African American journalist, this has been VERY frustrating.

    Thank you for the courage to ask this question. It has also been fuel for me (and others) to do my own thing which is coming soon. Stay tuned.

  10. MOB, thanks for posing this question. i have had the pleasure of working for al.com and to my dissapointment, there is not only a lack in diversity on the editorial staff of the News, but al.com as well (the ratio of men to women and of white to any minority). i have seen the demographics for readership with the News and al.com and the honestly, the number of black readers are with out a doubt related to the “black voice” of the paper and website. thats not to say that blacks or any other minorty do not read/veiw the News or al.com, but the relatability between the voice of the staff and the voice of the community is not always there.
    sad truth, but nontheless thruth.

  11. I think our area is still too divided to be served by one “diverse” media voice. TV has succeeded by nullifying race in its standard-issue personality type, and that’s as far as print has gone, too. There’s a way forward in the model of assimilation, but its not the same as the goal of diversity.

    Regarding that goal, there may be black faces that show up from time to time, but rarely a black voice. This criticism has even been leveled at the “Birmingham Times”. Everybody’s caught between galvanic extremes and distrustful of hands reaching out because they’ve born rotten fruit so often and for so long.

    If I were going to recommend a course of action to really shake things up, I think you have to start at the top. Either put an African-American editor in charge of a major publication with a mandate to engage our majority African-American population directly, or leverage an existing editorial team with an established voice in the black community and inject it with some high-calibre journalistic resources.

    These days, I don’t know that anyone but Wade will see a good reason why its worth the trouble, though.

    • John,

      TV appears to be ahead of print in terms of visible diversity. They’d never get away with being in people’s living rooms every day without a mix.

      You are on to something about leadership at these publications. More diversity at the top would help diversity in the newsroom, in readership and and in advertisers.

      Thanks for your comment.

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