Wendy’s Gaffe Reminds Us of the Importance of Diversity in Media
Let's Look At the Producers
When Roland Martin went on a rant on NewsOne Now, his TV One news program, he looked into the camera to tell Wendy Williams to “shut the hell up,” in reference to comments she made on her television talk show about Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and the NAACP. Social media was also trending with criticisms about Williams and her comments. I’ve yet to see anyone mention that Williams may not have written those words she spoke. It is one incident of many which should make media executives think about diversifying their personnel.
Anyone who knows anything about television production knows that Williams’ show will likely have writers, producers, and a senior producer. Often, a script will have to go through revisions and approvals before it reaches the talent. Sometimes, the talent may not even see the final script until right before the taping so that they can review it before they have to read it off of a teleprompter.
Williams comments tells me even more about her staff. Martin blasted Williams for being ignorant of the rich, diverse history of the NAACP and of the opportunities that HBCUs provide to students from all backgrounds. The truth is whether her staff wrote the comments or whether Williams spoke from her own perspective without having much information about the topic matter, the incident created an opportunity to learn things about Black culture which many did not know.
Statistics on Minorities and Women in Media Need Improvement
I get that her name is on the show and the buck stops with Williams. At the same time, this is a wake-up call to something that is rarely discussed. Diversity in media is a must for positions behind the scenes, including producers, writers, technicians, and top-tier management. People often hire based on who they know. Media is no different. If most of the people referred for media jobs are within the same racial group, qualified minorities will have little chance to positively influence media projects with input from their diverse experiences.
In 2014, all minority groups accounted for 22.4 percent of television journalists, 13.34 percent of journalists at daily newspapers, and 13 percent of radio journalists. These numbers are troubling, considering minorities are about 40 percent of the U.S. population. Walk into most newsrooms, film sets, entertainment venues, or corporate creative services departments and you’ll likely see a strong white presence with one minority, few minorities or no minorities. For an industry that informs, educates and influences a diverse public audience, this is troublesome.
In Christy La Pierre’s Stanford paper, Mass Media in the White Man’s World, La Pierre notes racial inequality is prevalent in media. “The black and Hispanic images mass produced by them [white owners and producers], however, have been filtered through the racial misconceptions and fantasies of the dominant white culture, which has tended to deny the existence of a rich and resilient black and Hispanic culture of equal worth.”
Questionable Hiring Practices Decrease Diversity in Hiring
When a well-known cable network contracted my media placement company to perform a search for the producer of a highly-rated sports program years ago, the recruiter requested some minority candidates to consider for the producer position. Our database was about half white males and half minorities and women. The recruiter turned down several candidates. Finally, we found a candidate who was exactly what they had described and who was highly accomplished. A few days after submitting the resume, the recruiter called to congratulate me on finding exactly what they were seeking. I was excited, but what he said next deflated my enthusiasm. The problem is we need a male producer, he said. “If you find a male producer who is just as experienced as this female candidate, we’ll hire him,” he continued. I felt badly for the female candidate who had produced all types of television programming. She had years of experience and an almost unbelievable resume. I couldn’t tell her the real reason the cable network didn’t hire her was that she was a woman.
Let’s be clear. I am not advocating racial or gender preference in hiring. I am advocating that qualified candidates who happen to be of diverse backgrounds be given the same opportunities at employment in media as their white male counterparts.
According to the Women’s Media Center (WMC), sports journalism is 90 percent male and 90 percent white. “The list of indicators of troubling gender and race-influenced gender divides goes on, despite the presence of a comparatively few women, including mavens of the media and media-related technology fields, on assorted lists of powerful people and on Fortune 500 boards of directors,” noted the WMC report, The Status of Women in the U. S. Media 2014.
Megyn Kelly showed us the importance that women have in media when she questioned then-presidential candidate (now-the Republican presumptive nominee) Donald Trump in one of the Republican debates about his history of negative comments about women. Feeling attacked, Trump went on the offensive and attacked Kelly back. A firestorm of bad blood ensued. They made up. Their next encounter was a softer, gentler interview on the Fox News channel.
Diversity Creates Teachable Moments
It was a puff piece, likely engineered by the Trump team, but accepted by Kelly’s bosses for the sake of ratings. It didn’t matter. She had already confronted Trump and her questions ignited a conversation. Again, let’s remember Megyn Kelly like Wendy Williams has a production team which produces her television shows. She takes direction from top-tier management. Management is always concerned with profits. Despite Kelly’s backpedaling on the serious Trump questions, the candidate appears to publicly be more respectful to women. (I mean, aside from the fact that he said Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s mind was “gone” and he continues to call Elizabeth Warren “goofy”.) I think we have to thank Kelly for this, in part. Despite Trumps’ push back, he likely took time to reflect on Kelly’s questions.
Williams and Kelly are dynamic. Wiliams handled the fallout from her comments by turning the incident into a teachable moment. She invited Martin to the show to explain why the NAACP and HBCUs are important. Whether or not you agree or disagree with Kelly and her interactions with Trump, her show, "The Kelly File," provides a forum for discussing important issues. Recently, Kelly and D.L. Hughley had a heated discussion on Kelly’s show about race relations and the Michael Brown shooting. Hughley was given a platform to speak his mind. I often disagree with Fox News commentators, but I watch because they offer an alternate perspective and they are willing to have their views and opinions challenged.
Women and minorities in media have come a long way. But, there is still more ground to cover. The common thread which binds us is the American belief in equality. I hope media companies begin to hire staff members who are more reflective of the country that we love. A diverse staff creates more opportunities for open discussions and teachable moments.
Aminah Paden is the owner of Video Temps Online, a mobile phone application for media professionals to hire and get hired which is available in the Google Play store. She has a Master of Science degree in Journalism from Northwestern University and more than 24 years of media and management experience.