APSE Agrees With Study’s Results, But Are They Willing To Make Changes?

By Gregory Moore
Updated: June 23, 2006

SAN ANTONIO – A very interesting study from Dr. Richard Lapchick’s office came across my e-mail system on Thursday and it was one that I was anxiously anticipating.

If many of you do not know about Dr. Lapchick and his studies on diversity in sports, these reports are probably the most preeminent reports in the journalism world and they have been conducted during the various sports seasons and special events.

In this column, many readers will remember the NCAA graduation studies that have always been highlighted and if memory serves me correctly, I have also included a few from the professional ranks as well. But this particular study is of significant importance because it deals with the Associated Press Sports Editors and their contention of being held accountable for their hiring practices.

It is this study that will only confirm why there is an existence for specialty websites like this one and why many feel that the APSE and its news brethren, the APNE, may be blowing more smoke than actually producing results.

Entitled “The 2006 Racial and Gender Report Card of the Associated Press Sports Editors”, this report shows a trend that many members of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and the National Association of Black Journalists have known for years; that media coverage of women and minorities is a major disparity when it comes to those who report on those subjects.

Dr. Lapchick notes that “The media has been excellent at reporting the diversity records for professional and college sport. Yet the media had never turned the mirror on itself. When it did so through this study, APSE newspapers saw how little progress they had made regarding representation of women and people of color in decisions on what is covered, who covers it and who offers opinions on it.”

“We have assigned grades to all categories in pro and college sport. While we will not assign official grades in this initial report compiling baseline data, if we did the print media would have worse grades for both race and gender than the sports themselves. That being said, I have to credit APSE for having the courage to initiate the study so there will be real transparency.”

As stated above, this is no big surprise to those of us in the media who are either women or minorities. A very good example of the disparity and how things are handled in the newsroom can be looked right at the Ozzie Guillen/Jay Mariotti story.

On this site, I wrote an editorial saying that Guillen needs to be suspended and fined but with much more severity than what was handed down by Major League Baseball. Oftentimes it is sites like this or specialized programming that affords a platform for where minorities and women can reach out and cover a story with an angle that is fresh and exciting to hear or read.

The APSE wholly endorsed the report and it is ironic that one of the senior members of this group agrees that diversity is sorely needed. Here is just a sampling of what Dr. Lapchick’s study reveals: As of June 16th 2006: -White men and women comprised 88 percent of the total staffs of all APSE member newspapers; African-Americans held 6.2 percent, Latinos 3.6 percent, Asians 1.3 percent, and “other” people of color less than 1 percent.

-Women made up 12.6 percent of total staffs of APSE member newspapers.

- 94.7 percent of APSE sports editors were white while 90.0 percent were white males; African-Americans held only 1.6 percent; Latinos 2.8 percent and “others” less than 1 percent. There were no Asian sports editors.

- Whites held 86.9 percent of the assistant sports editor posts in the survey while people of color made up 13.1 percent. African-Americans were 5.3 percent, Latinos 5.5 percent, Asians 1.6 percent, and other people of color 0.8 percent.

- There were more Latino editors and assistant editors than there were African-Americans in these critical categories. Neither was well represented compared to whites.

- However, there were far more African-American columnists (7.7 percent) and reporters (7.5 percent) than Latinos, (1 and 3.2 percent, respectively) Asians (0.7 and 1.6 percent, respectively) and other people of color (0.7 and less than 1 percent, respectively) combined.

- America’s sports columnists were 89.9 percent white.

- Women made up less than 7 percent of columnists at APSE member newspaper sports staff.

- Women and people of color combined to make up only 16.4 percent of columnists of the surveyed APSE member newspapers.

- There were far more reporters within the APSE newspapers than any other category with a total of 2,128. Of these, 87.5 percent were white.

- Of all copy editors/designers, 89.7 percent were white.

“I think no one in the organization is surprised that the results are so dismal,” John Cherwa, an editor of the Orlando Sentinel said in response of the stud. “Our sampling is very large and the results by both circulation class and geographical region are so similar that we have a high level of confidence that this is an accurate picture of where our business is.”

In reading this study, none of these findings really shock me. In the thirteen plus years of covering sports, I have noticed that very few women and minorities cover sports in the print industry.

Sure over time there has been a small influx from such papers like the Los Angeles Times (J.A. Andage), the Washington Post (Michael Wilbon), and the New York Times (William C. Rhoden), but when you look at those who are in the daily grind of coverage, the world is very much more Caucasian than women and/or minorities in a position to dictate coverage.

THE PROBLEM IS TWO FOLD At it’s Las Vegas convention, members of the APSE pledged to make a better showing in their next report card. While it would be easy to say that that is a commendable endeavor, the reality of the situation is that in newsrooms across this country, there are editors who either refuse to hire women and/or minorities in such a position like a writer, columnist or copy editor or there is a lack of interest by these groups because there is a general lack of interest in print journalism to begin with.

I have heard many times over the last few years by employees of the daily newspaper here that certain editors in the sports department do not want “diversity” in certain writer’s groups because that editor has a preference.

One writer in the sports department was so disgruntled that he had even contemplated leaving the company. I have also heard about copy editors being dismissed for no apparent reason as well. One former copy editor, who is African American, was let go because a columnist did not want wording changed and had complained to upper management.

And there have been other times over the years while attending several conventions for various groups where those stories have been told over and over again. Replace one city’s paper with another city, change people’s names around, and you still get the same story line.

As good of a suggestion and willingness to implement such changes needed that the APSE may want to do, the simple fact remains that in many newsrooms, you will get some who do not feel the need to have a diverse voice in sports and thus may not necessarily make the change suggested.

Sports today requires voices from a vast segment of the population and the APSE has noted that fact in this report. Yet what the report does not address is the lack of interest that is so prevalent; especially when it comes to African Americans wanting to become journalists.

If I had to guess how many African American beat writers and columnists were covering the major sports leagues, I would have to say that this particular segment of sports journalism would have to be around 150 members strong.

I’m not including anyone who may be a radio personality doing sports or anyone who is a writer or blogger on a website. I’m also not including anyone who is affiliated with any minority publications either. If that number seems like a disparity, think of what the guestimation for women covering sports would be.

It may be a little higher because there are women who cover women sports but that number can’t be too far off base either.

FIXING THE PROBLEM REQUIRES A COMMITMENT By now the leadership of the NAHJ and NABJ organizations have had gotten a copy of this report and undoubtedly the respective leaders of these groups have let their members know about it as well. In order to solve this disparity problem, the members of the APSE must be willing to sit and listen to members of NAHJ, NABJ and other media interest groups.

The APSE must be willing to come up with some concrete programs that help these media groups get out and bring in some new members who are willing to learn to write in this specialized field. The editors must be willing to cultivate the talent that they may already have and be willing to bring about a rotation in the sports department that spurs growth and not stagnation.

Dr. Lapchick emphasized in his report that, “It is important to have voices from different backgrounds in the media. When 94.7 percent of the sports editors, 86.7 percent of the assistant sports editors, 89.9 percent of our columnists, 87.4 percent of our reporters and 89.7 percent of our copy editors/designers are white, and those same positions are 95, 87, 93, 90 and 87 percent male, we clearly do not have a group that reflects America’s workforce.

And in the world of sports, they are covering a disproportionate number of athletes in basketball, football and baseball who are African-American or Latino. On the high school and college levels, more than 40 percent of the student-athletes are girls and women.”

“Having that additional perspective might lead writers to ask questions or look at angles that might shed light on the particular situation of an African-American, Latino or female coach or athlete,” Lapchick continued to say.

“The chance to make the stories more interesting and, in some cases, more accurate, should be apparent. In addition to the writing of the stories, the assigning of the stories by a sports editor might take a different angle in coverage if there was a team more representative of our athletes and coaches making those decisions.”

Dr. Lapchick’s statements are very much true and it is why there are avenues like the Black Athlete Sports Network website, minority sports papers like 411 Sports News and magazines like Black Sports the Magazine are out there.

While the APSE can be commended for wanting to make changes in how it handles this issue, there are those out there that have known about this problem for years, have tried to express to many members of that organization the issues that are noted in this report before it came to this point and many who believe that they will have to take a “wait and see” attitude on implementation.

Change is never easy in this world and in the realm of journalism, changes like what are being talked about in this report are very unnerving and delicate for some to handle.

But at least the problem has finally come out of the closet and the APSE was willing to have the study done for their own edification. Now it’s going to be interesting to see what they will do with this information and how they will implement those changes at their members’ places of employment.

APSE Diversity Study