Where Are The Journalists Of Color Covering The Business Beat?

By Christopher Nelson, freelance journalist and graduate student, Georgetown University Law Center

I recently had the privilege of attending the Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference in Indianapolis, Indiana as a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow. It was an enriching experience, a welcome opportunity to have an up close and personal introduction to the world of business and economics reporting.

Still, one thing struck me while there: the lack of people of color at the conference. Given the importance of reporting on the economy, including jobs numbers, the growth or lack thereof of national and international companies, consumer spending, tax policy, trade policy, and myriad other issues, it was quite startling. So I decided to explore the topic of diversity in business reporting.

As an African-American journalist, I decided to look at this in terms of the state of the black business journalist.  From personal experience, I know members of the National Association of Black Journalists who cover business news, including: Kortney Stringer, retail editor, the Associated Press; Michelle Singletary, Personal Finance Columnist, the Washington Post; Alfred Edmond Jr., Editor at Large, Black Enterprise magazine; Sharon Epperson, senior commodities correspondent and personal finance correspondent, CNBC; and Valerie Coleman Morris veteran business news anchor, just to name a few.

Yet, I wondered why there aren’t more faces that reflect America’s growing diversity?  “The thing about blacks and business journalism is we need to be there,” said Shartia Brantley, a segment producer for CNBC’s “Street Signs.”

Back in late 2008 media columnist Richard Prince used his column to explore whether the state of the economy would make business reporting more attractive for journalists of color.

Brantley who earned her master’s in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism also has her MBA from the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University.  Before becoming a journalist she was a marketing analyst and corporate consultant. For her, working for CNBC  has been a way to merge her multiple passions and a prime opportunity inform viewers about a subject in which she is well versed.

“With all that’s happened with the mortgage crisis, the credit crisis everyone is more engaged,” she added.

In order to fill the void she sees, she files weekly business briefs and other reports for TheGrio.com, NBC News’ African-American oriented videocentric news site. Brantley’s cadre of stories ranging from the need for consumers to do more to protect their pockets, to the credit crunch’s impact on black churches shows there are stories waiting to be told.

A recent Nielsen report completed in conjunction with the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the consortium of African-American newspapers, notes that by 2015, “African-Americans are projected to spend $1.1 trillion annually.”

Economic empowerment of consumers is also a top priority for civil rights organizations like the National Urban League, and the NAACP.

Traditionally any effects of the economic crisis have hit the black community particularly hard, by some measures such as the jobless rate.  So who will ensure that communities of color aren’t overlooked, that business stories appeal to a wider cross-section of Americans? Will more journalists of color look to business and economics as a specialty?

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9 responses to “Where Are The Journalists Of Color Covering The Business Beat?

  1. Black journalists covering the business beat are needed, for sure. But the depth of the problem isn’t in covering issues such as the credit crisis, stocks, regulatory policies and unemployment. The seriousness of the problem is indicated by the widening of the chasm of understanding of today’s 21st century Innovation Economy. While some journalists and media put stock in Black purchasing power that predicted to grow to more than $1 trillion, the same journalists ignore the fact that all of the 1.9 million Black-owned businesses produced less than 1% of the nation’s GDP. That was in 2007 before the economic collapse. And that was the HEIGHT of Black business revenues as a contributing factor to the economic strength of America.

    Today, America has invested heavily in the Innovation Economy as a platform upon which job growth and wealth creation will be built in the 21st century. Anyone care to guess where Black-owned businesses are today? What’s the INVESTMENT power of Black America versus the PURCHASING power?

    We don’t even speak the language of job growth and wealth creation. That’s how far behind the curve we are. And that’s why Black journalists covering business is essential! While leaders in the Congressional Black Caucus called for a “jobs bill” last fall and Tavis conducted his “Poverty Tour” while the CBC demonstrated the depth of out-of-work desperation with its Job Fairs, another movement was occurring in Congress. Consider the JOBS Act (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) in the House and CROWDFUND (Capital Raising Online While Deterring Fraud and UNethical Disclosure). How much has been written in Black media or by Black journalists about these legislative acts? President Obama is ready to sign this JOBS Act into law, which zero resemblance to the much debated jobs bill from last fall.

    The depth of the problem is realized when even the language of the Innovation Economy is foreign to Black audiences: Startups, founders, accelerators, angels, venture capitalists, M&A, IPO, R&D, SBIR, tech transfer, commercialization and the list goes on.

    President Obama traveled to Silicon Valley last year and an iconic photo was taken of his meeting with some of the Valley’s leading CEOs. None of the Black leadership followed suit. Yet, the hub of innovation is in Silicon Valley. New hubs of regional innovation clusters are cropping up around the nation. NONE in Black communities. None spoken of by Black leaders … or Black journalists. America is moving on into the 21st century global innovation economy with, or without us. At this juncture, it is apparent we have little understanding of the game to play it.

    That is why we need more Black journalists and more media targeting Black audiences to help us understand what’s going on.

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  5. Chris,

    Thank you for your article and for attending the SABEW conference in Indianapolis. I’m a SABEW board member, chair of our diversity committee, and I appreciate you raising what I think is an important issue for the media industry and SABEW as an institution. Diversity is an issue that has hit newspapers particularly hard, but it affects the entire media and corporate landscape.

    I also was troubled by the recent ASNE census count that showed minority representation in U.S. newsrooms falling last year, while the numbers basically remained stagnant for the past decade. Meanwhile the overall employment numbers rose slightly, with minority numbers plunging for a third year. It’s a huge issue for newspapers and also for large media media organizations like Reuters, where I work as an editor.

    One of the reasons I ran for re-election on the board this year was to promote diversity issues, and also to maintain greater diversity on our board. We’ve had a long-standing committee to address these issues, and I hope more members from NABJ will consider business journalism as a concentration, and SABEW as an association to get important financial training and networking opportunities with some of the best journalists in the business. We also have established the Benita Newton Fund, which SABEW used to fund a pair of Indianapolis conference travel grants for minorities this year.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful article.

    Best regards,

    Walden Siew
    @waldensiew
    sabew.org

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