Younger Newsroom Employees Highly Educated, Becoming More Diverse

Nov 16, 2018

A few weeks ago, WNIJ got a request from a student group at Northern Illinois University asking for a tour of the radio station. The handful of students were with the NIU chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, or NABJ. The group offers professional development and networking opportunities for students interested in broadcasting. As they were touring the studios, they agreed to let the microphones be turned on them.

Dejaniria Ferguson is a journalism major from Chicago.

"I picked my major in high school my senior year," she explained. "I wanted to be different, honestly. I was used to people saying they wanted to be a doctor or a nurse or a lawyer and I never heard journalism or a news reporter or anchor."

Nyla Brown says she was glad to find there was a career that matched her personality.

"I pretty much chose journalism because -- since I was little -- my family and friends always told me I talk a lot," Brown joked. "I decided to take it and run with it and make it my own."

Jocelyn Rodriguez is a communications major from Naperville. She says her interest is about making sure those who make up the career also reflect society.

"We have people of color in every different field," Rodriquez said. "Not only that, but to lead the next generation into journalism and to make sure that it's growing for our community."

Khobi Price is president of the NIU Chapter of NABJ.

"Not only do we have stories to tell, but we can help bring more perspective to an objective field," he said.

Price says he wants to be part of what he considers one of the "most important entities" in society.

"Journalists provide the truth," Price said. "They check people. They are the fourth estate. You have the government and you have businesses, but you need people who are checking them to make sure they aren't doing anything wrong and if they are doing something wrong, then it needs to be called out, and if they are doing something right it needs to be reported that they are doing something right."

Nyla Brown acknowledges it can be a dangerous job, and one that may not be high-paying.

"There are so many people getting famous just because of YouTube," she said. "If they can present just everyday lives, we can present something more meaningful to a bigger crowd."

NABJ student member Dionna Daniel says reporting is a way to shed light on what's happening every day.

"If you don't know what's going on in the world, then everyone is just blind and it is chaotic, so [it's] getting the truth out about things," Daniel said. "You don't want to be kept in the dark."

These students are part of a growing number of young people entering the field. Elizabeth Grieco is a senior writer and editor with the Pew Research Center. Her findings published this month analyze newsroom diversity based on the Census Bureau's American Community Survey Data. The dataset is designed to provide social, demographic, and economic characteristics of the U.S. population, including small sub-populations like newsroom employees.

"In this study, the data shows that newsroom employees are more likely to be white and male than U.S. workers overall," Grieco said. "And this is true at all age groups. However, there are some signs that things might be changing. Younger newsroom employees show greater racial, ethnic, and gender diversity than their older colleagues."

She says one of the reasons she wanted to do the report was to be able to include age data.

"The other data sources on media sectors unfortunately don't have age data, but the Census Bureau data does," Grieco said. "And you can see that if you look at the differences of the very young and the very old. You can see that the younger age groups tend to be more racially and ethnically diverse than the older age groups."

Using the same data source, Grieco also analyzed newsroom employees by education.

"One of the things that's interesting about newsroom employees is that they are a very, very educated population," Grieco noted. 

79 percent of newsroom employees have at least a college degree or higher, compared to just 36 percent of all of the workers in the United States.

"What we found is that if you look at different levels of education, if you look at income overall, it looks as if newsroom employees actually make more money than all other employees," Grieco said. "But if you just focus on everyone in the United States that has a bachelor's degree or higher education, newsroom employees actually make less than other workers in the United States with bachelor's degree or higher education."

She says using the Census data is a new approach. So far, she says, she's pleased with the outcome because it has tracked well with other data sources.