Book Review: Coloring the News


Rebecca Aguilar
Coloring The News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism by William McGowan
October 1, 2017

Diversity goals by U.S. media companies are a complete failure. That’s what William McGowan determined in his book, “Coloring The News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism” published in 2001. If you are white, this book will anger you and if you are a minority this book will anger you too.

In the first chapter, McGowan attempted to understand why media companies need diversity in their newsrooms and news coverage. “Given the industry’s past sins of racial, ethnic and cultural exclusion, the steps it has taken to enhance minority representation in newsrooms and in news coverage represent a worthy, overdue, and historically necessary effort” (p.7). That message is about as positive as the author gets on the topic.

I had two questions on my mind as I read the book. How much of “Coloring the News” was the interpretation of a man looking at journalism through what I call “white lenses?” And how much was it the outcome of a white reporter who was possibly passed over for a job given to person of color?

The book is broken up in chapters by issues: overview, race, gay and feminist, reporting by the numbers, immigration, reasons why, and consequences. The author examined how stories were reported, how minority reporters covered issues, and hiring practices by media companies. “…relying on quotas, favoring less qualified minority candidates in filling positions, and violating hiring freezes when minority journalists have come up in short supply.”

He talked about attending a meeting of newspaper editors in December 1992. “Diversity was the new religion and anybody who wanted to be anybody in the news industry had to rally behind it” (p.10).

Minority hiring practices were less than perfect. For example: Time-Warner which owns Time magazine, set up a bonus system for executives to increase minority employees and in 1991 an editor at the New York Times set up a “quota plan” to improve minority hiring “by hiring one nonwhite for every white hired” (p.19).

Vincent Carroll reviewed the book in February 2002 for Commentary Magazine. He found it partly credible “…assembles example after compelling example of bias and distortion….book is somewhat long on anecdote and short on analysis…”

McGowan contradicted himself in several parts in the book. He ripped apart any theories where diversity in media coverage would benefit the audience, but then applauded black reporters like Leon Dash with The Washington Post who uncovered important topics in the black community. “Dash’s chilling story cast a light on the malfunctioning moral compass of children as they developed into stone-cold killers…an important dynamic to understand in any debate about inner-city pathology” (p.44)

The author always found something negative to follow the positive. Editors at “The Washington Post” he said, promised “uplifting” stories after Dash’s story was criticized by news insiders for making the black community look bad. “…the journalism I have scrutinized has a slant to it, and that this slant may not be such a good thing for our country” (p.8).

Missing was the point of view from the minority journalists. Lonnie O’Neal has a different take on diversity in the newsroom. The African-American female today is a senior writer at ESPN.

In May, 2017, O’Neal told NPR that a diverse staff brings diverse stories to the forefront. “Because I’m experienced, because I’m a woman, and because I’m African American, I can go right up to people and find an entry, a portal, a way to talk without layers and layers of translation.”

Trymaine Lee is one of three black reporters credited for bringing the nation’s attention to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The black teenager killed by an off-duty security guard. The Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter was a writer for The Huffington Post. He told Poytner in April 2012 “…I can’t help but believe that our being black men played some role in our motivation to get out there.”

McGowan does point out mistakes that should never happen in covering a story. He had good examples of sloppy reporting and bias reports.

Nat Hentoff with the Village Voice said in his May, 2002 that McGowan uncovered major flaws at the New York Times “… failure to seriously cover diverse viewpoints on issues has lead to clear political correctness in the pages of the Times…as in the paper’s unflagging support of collective affirmative action…”

Blaming sloppy bias journalism on diversity was unfair. While the author talked about minorities less qualified getting newsroom jobs, he failed to look at the other side. What about the white reporter who got a job with less qualifications? They exist.

He talked about stories covered in the minority community and at times minority reporters being more sympathetic than they should be; what about the stories done in the white community with the same treatment? White reporters have been softer in their approach on some stories.

McGowan has no idea what it is like to be a person of color in a newsroom or out covering a story. He has no idea what it is like to fight the “token” label in newsrooms. He talked about experienced white reporters being passed over for jobs and opportunities. It happens to minority journalists probably more often. McGowan would have had a balanced and fair book if he would have made the effort to talk to minority journalists who continue to be denied jobs and opportunities no matter how much experience they have on their resume.

Surprisingly enough I would recommend this book for anyone who cares about diversity at any company. It is capable of teaching us how some white men look at diversity in newsrooms. There is another issue not covered in this book, the threat white men feel that diversity is taking away their jobs and some day they won’t be running newsrooms as they do today.

Book Report: Citations:

AP Style

Carroll.Vincent (February 2002) Commentary: Coloring the News. Commentary Magazine.

Abbady,Tal (May 1, 2017)The Modern Newsroom is Stuck Behind The Gender and Color Line. NPR.”

Hentoff, Nat (May, 2002) “A Book Unfit for ‘The New York Times’, Village Voice.

Powell. Tracie (April 2012) “How Pulitzer-winning writer moved Trayvon Martin story from margins to mainstream.” Poynter.

AAJA Voices. (July, 2017) Missed deadline: The delayed promise of newsroom diversity. AAJA.