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?