- Today we learned that WGN-TV anchor Allison Payne will be leaving next month after 21 years at the station. Payne's impending departure has left some to ponder about whether Channel 9 will choose her replacement based more on diversity or qualifications. I think it's a sensitive issue for news managers to address but a necessary one.
As I've blogged before, WGN's high-rated morning news show is my favorite to watch. But I don't watch it to see how many black reporters are on. By the same token, I tend to notice when there aren't people in front of the camera that I can identify with. Race-related issues in corporate America can be compared to be the growing lump in the rug that everyone tries to walk around but will occasionally trip over. Of course, TV news directors and general managers know that they must have a news team which best represents their viewers. But in a city like Chicago, it is almost impossible to have reporters and anchors of every background. Some groups of folks might be left out--depending upon the station.
For those hoping for more hopeful news, some did come. It was announced today that former WFLD-TV (Channel 32) reporter Michelle Releford will be coming back to Chicago to report for WMAQ-TV (Channel 5). At just 33 years old, Releford joins Stefan Holt, Christian Farr, Lauren Jiggetts Donovan, and Alex Perez as among the young African-American talent at the station. (Holt, Jiggetts Donovan, and Perez are of mixed heritage, allowing them to identify with additional ethnic groups). But that's another aspect of diversity folks will forget about. We have a lot of older black anchors who are still around like Harry Porterfield and Dr. Bob Jordan--but what about the young people? Diversity extends beyond race and gender. A lot of times, you might need young folks to bridge the gap between old school and news school audiences.
WTTW-TV (Channel 11) had this dilemma when Christian Farr moved on to Channel 5 back in 2009. Of course, media columnist Robert Feder questioned the lack of diversity and made reference to how civil rights leaders like Rev. Jackson could get involved if the matter was not addressed. But they don't call themselves "Window To The World" for nothing. As a former Channel 11 intern, I know firsthand that the station doesn't see the world in just black and white. They believe in having something educational for almost everyone. As a result, they hired Ash-har Quraishi--whose name is sometimes pronounced "Usher" by Chicago Tonight host Phil Ponce-- as a way of going in a more "diverse" direction.
Overall, I feel that diversity should apply to everyone. You can't say ask for black reporters without realizing that you have talent in every ethnic or cultural group of people. As a news consumer, I want the best person for the job to get the job. I try to position myself as a journalist/blogger who happens to be black rather than the converse. In 2011, we can't afford to play racial politics anymore. I've had the opportunity to make friends of all races, so I definitely try not to be partial towards one group of people.
Instead of asking where are the black reporters, we need to look for more Asian, Hispanic, Indian and disabled reporters who can also add variety to our diverse tapestry of television news. You can't ask people to do something for you if you won't do it for them in return.