Like many other college juniors, I’m busy applying for internships. More than ever, internships are essential for landing a good job after graduating from college, especially in a competitive field such as journalism. But, I’ve already found out that I’m not eligible to apply for several internships. It’s not due to my grades, work experience or writing. I can’t apply due to something that I have no control over – the color of my skin.
I’m referring to minority internships, which several newspapers offer in an attempt to create more diversity in newsrooms. The internships are usually available to students who are African American, Asian, Hispanic or Native American. Minority internships sometimes include all women. Caucasian men need not apply.
Certainly, having a diverse newspaper staff is important. People from different backgrounds bring new experiences, ideas and perspectives of the world. Ideally, newsrooms would reflect the communities that they cover. But while minorities make up 31.7 percent of the U.S. population, the number of minority journalists in 2004 was 13.42 percent last year according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE).
In sports, the numbers are even more lopsided in favor of white men. I can count the number of minority and women journalists I’ve seen in press boxes at sporting events over the last five years on one hand and still have fingers to spare. Don Hudson tracks black sports editors at daily newspapers for the National Association of Black Journalists. In an article published in March by Editor & Publisher, he could only identify five black sports editors at America’s 1,456 daily newspapers.
The numbers don’t lie – there are many more white journalists compared to minority journalists. And with that, the staff at most papers doesn’t resemble the makeup of the community its covering. With that said, it makes sense for newspapers to make an effort to hire more minorities. If the decision comes down to two reporters who are equally qualified for a position, and one is white and the other is a minority, I can live with the newspaper using race as a deciding factor in its determination to increase the diversity of its staff. But this is only acceptable after carefully examining the qualifications of all candidates who apply for the position.
The problem with minority internships is that white students aren’t eligible to even be candidates for the internship. They’re being rejected based on only one factor – the color of their skin. That’s discrimination. One of the newspapers I had planned on applying to only accepts minority interns for its paid summer internship program. If you’re white, you will not be considered, regardless of your journalism experience and work.
I am not inferring that the people who earn minority internships are unqualified for the positions. Nor am I saying that minority journalists aren’t as good as white journalists. There are good and bad journalists of all races and genders. My point is that nobody should be denied an employment opportunity exclusively based on race or gender, and minority internships overlook white students because of their race.
Of course, I’m not naive enough not to realize that minorities are also rejected from career opportunities for the same reason. According to ASNE, minorities only account for 10.8 percent of supervisors in newsrooms. Many people in high-ranking positions get their jobs through the “good old boys’ network,” which discriminates against minorities and women by never giving them a legitimate opportunity for jobs. This is just as wrong as denying someone an opportunity to a job because they’re white. But two wrongs don’t make a right.
This all boils down to affirmative action, which was first used in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson. It required that federal contractors treat applicants and employees “without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” Yet here were are 40 years later, and some newspapers are treating applicants solely in regards to their race.
I don’t have the answer on how to diversify newspaper staffs in a fair manner. If few minorities apply for a position, and the most qualified candidates happen to be white, should a minority be hired solely in the name of diversification? Should newspapers set quotas, such as 25 percent of new hires must be minorities regardless of all other factors? That doesn’t seem like a rational or fair decision to me. The bottom line is that qualifications need to be considered, and minority internships don’t do that.