CBS, your 2020 election team is disgraceful

Illustration by Summer Mcclure.

Brianna Scott, Opinions Editor

This week marks the second year of the Donald Trump administration since his 2017 inauguration. 2020 is rapidly approaching, which means it’ll be time for the presidential elections once again.

CBS recently showcased its 2020 election team in a tweet, but it’s severely lacking in one way: there are no black journalists.

While there are people of color on the 12-member team, it is not representative of the nation’s demographics — black people make up nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population.

When associate producer Ben Mitchell tweeted out a picture of the election team, it was met with swift criticism online.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted, “This WH admin has made having a functional understanding of race in America one of the most important core competencies for a political journalist to have, yet @CBSNews hasn’t assigned a *single* black journalist to cover the 2020 election. Unacceptable in 2019. Try again.”

The primary problem with the CBS election team lacking black journalists is the fact that black people are continuously unrepresented and their power is undervalued. Race plays a critical role in elections. This was exemplified in the recent 2016 presidential election and the previous 2008 presidential election.

In a 2017 report, Pew Research Center found that the black voter turnout dropped in the 2016 presidential election for the first time in 20 years, declining nearly seven percent between the 2012 and 2016 elections.

When we have conversations about diversity, people tend to tune out because diversity is seen as a “trend” or used as a bargaining chip.

There needs to be a diverse group of journalists covering the elections to foster discussions that may not happen with a homogenous looking election team.

It is fundamental to have an election team that look like the constituents who are voting. Bias or oversights could arise in the reporting conducted by an election team that does not reflect the general U.S. population.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., is working with the Congressional Black Caucus to hold CBS accountable to its commitment to diversity.

Waters met with CBS executives, and in an article posted on Essence, Waters gave a statement following the meeting.

”CBS admitted that the initial 2020 campaign team did not reflect the diversity that the company had committed to,” Waters said in the statement. “… and revealed that in the coming months they will unveil a more diverse and inclusive slate of African-American journalists and journalists from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.”

Companies claim to have a commitment to diversity until it’s time to fill roles.

Why is the inclusion of black and other minority journalists an afterthought?

In an article published by The New York Times, it was revealed that only two of the more than 20 reporters who covered the 2016 presidential campaign for the Times were black — the rest of the reporters were white.

Some may say the reason no black journalists were included is that they might not be qualified. It’s a valid concern, but the overtones of racism are strong. For any job, having the right skill set and qualifications is necessary, but it’s unbecoming of people to assume there aren’t any black journalists who are qualified to cover a presidential election. Qualified black journalists exist, but more often than not, news companies aren’t hiring them or aren’t investing time in them.

In an analysis published by Columbia Journalism Review, a 2013 study by the University of Georgia reported black students who graduated with a degree in print or broadcast journalism were 17 percent less likely to find a full-time job than non-minorities.

A 2017 study done by The American Society of News Editors showed that people of color accounted for almost 17 percent of employees in newsrooms, and women made up almost 40 percent of newsroom employees. A 2016 ASNE study reported that Hispanic, black and Asian women made up less than five percent of U.S. newsrooms.

Newsrooms remain predominantly white — just turn on your TV and see who is anchoring the evening news.

It’s discouraging to see how difficult it is for black journalists to not only get hired but for their value to be undermined. As a journalism major, I already see the lack of diversity in the field of mass communications. At VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture, less than 15 percent of the professors are black.

People shouldn’t be hired because they will fill some diversity quota a company needs to meet. “Freedom’s Journal” was the first black-owned newspaper in America. Owners John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish stated in the first issue, “Too long have others spoken for us, too long has the public been deceived by misrepresentations.” In 2019, this message still rings true. Representation is critical in media and black journalists must be given equal opportunity to report on issues that significantly impact the black community.

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