Tectonic changes are happening in the television news business, changes that are going to forever alter the scope of the news we consume – and in a good way.
On Dec. 7 MSNBC named veteran journalist Rashida Jones president of the cable news network.
She is the first Black woman to hold such a position.
Jones is only the latest in a series of shifts at MSNBC that aggressively seek to address issues of inclusion at the network.
Joy Reid, a Black journalist, took over the 7 p.m. weekday time slot left when Chris Matthews departed, with “The ReidOut.”
Reid’s former weekend slots are being filled by two other very experienced Black journalists: On Dec. 12, Tiffany Cross began hosting “The Cross Connection” on Saturday mornings, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Jonathan Capehart started “The Sunday Show” a day later. Capehart is openly gay.
Alicia Menendez, a Latina, now hosts “American Voices,” 6-8 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
All are stellar journalists, deserving of their new positions.
And these changes are statistically appropriate: People of Hispanic or Latinx heritage comprise 18.5% of the US population; Blacks make up 13.4%; Native Americans and Alaskan Natives together are 1.3%; LGBT people make up 4.5% of the population.
In Colorado, we are 67.6% non-Hispanic white; 21.8% Hispanic (the fastest growing group in our state); 4.6% Black; 3.5% Asian alone; 1.6% Native American; and smaller percentages of other races/ethnicities and combinations thereof.
Of course we don’t believe TV news jobs should be filled according to statistics.
But the identities of those who report, produce and present television news impact which stories get told and how, and the identities of those who run the major news networks affect the larger agendas and hiring practices.
The faces we see on television should reflect who Americans are.
It’s true that some local TV news markets have done a better job of advancing on-air diversity. It’s also true that on magazine shows like “The View,” Blacks and other minorities have been somewhat better represented in recent years. And while the phenomenon known as Oprah Winfrey has opened doors for many, she is undeniably one of a kind.
For too long TV news powerbrokers have been predominantly white; people who represent minorities have been allowed to play mostly secondary roles and have had to pay much higher “dues” to gain top jobs, with some exceptions.
The time has come for the Rashida Joneses of the news business to be in charge.
There is more good news on inclusivity, in the TV advertising realm.
This holiday season, as perhaps never before, commercials we are seeing on major networks and cable channels feature more people of color, more biracial couples (17% of all American newlyweds are marrying people of other races or ethnicities) and more LGBT individuals and couples.
Just as little girls – especially little girls of color – who see Kamala Harris as vice president will believe that they, too, have the potential and possibility to achieve great things, so will those children who learn of and see people of varied identities on TV develop hope for their own futures.
Of course we’d be fooling ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that many of these changes are being made because they make sense financially and the marketing world seems to have finally woken up to that fact in a big way. Capturing minority viewers sells products. We all buy laundry detergent.
Still, progress is progress.
Going forward, may we celebrate the amazing diversity of our town, our state and our nation. May we one day fail to see – on TV or in daily life – our differences, and instead see our commonalities. And may all children know themselves – to borrow the title of Marlo Thomas’s 1972 children’s book – free to be … you and me.