Few journalists of color among Pulitzer winners, report finds
Farah Stockman, “the daughter of a black woman raised in Jim Crow Mississippi and a white man from rural Pennsylvania,” brought “diligent, rigorous reporting skills and penetrating gaze” to a series of Boston Globe columns about the legacy of busing in Boston.
Stephen Henderson, a Detroit Free Press columnist, knew “what it’s like to live in its neighborhoods now, with unacceptable levels of crime and bus service and emergency response and blight.”
Ruben Vives, who was born in Guatemala and came to the U.S. at age 5 as an undocumented immigrant, exposed corruption in a small California city. Sonia Nazario carried her own experiences as a Latina to the story of a young boy crossing the border.
Four journalists of color. Four Pulitzer Prize winners.
Still only a fraction of all Pulitzer winners.
In the last 100 years, the number of black and Latino journalists who have won or been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize has been low, and some media professionals say it can be traced to the lack of diversity that many newsrooms continue to face.
A report published in the Columbia Journalism Review said 84 percent of winners have been white, with only 30 African-American winners. The black winners have mostly been in the commentary category.
CJR researchers found slow progress in the number of diverse winners, and a nomination process that has largely excluded minority groups. Only 16 percent of prize winners have been women, the report added.
The number of Latino winners is unclear because the Pulitzer Prize Board does not record race or ethnicity of every winner.
“If we could not independently determine otherwise, any winners before 1960 were assumed to be white,” CJR editors said.
Mekahlo Medina, president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, thinks the selection process for Pulitzer Prize-winners puts nominating powers in the hands of managers with minimal diversity awareness.
He said a lack of diversity in management directly contributes to the lack of diverse prize winners.
“The biggest issue is that Pulitzer nominations are usually sent out by managers, not journalists,” Medina said. “It’s all too often an editor’s call.”
More than 90 percent of television general managers are white, according to numbers from the Radio and Television Digital News Association. Only 9 percent of managers identify as minorities, the report added.
Newspaper statistics are similar, with about 10 percent of minorities in management positions, according to the American Society of News Editors.
“There is just a lack of people of color in management positions,” Medina said. “It’s something our organizations have been looking at for quite some time.”
Ruben Vives, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and native of Guatemala, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 for an investigative series that helped uncover financial corruption in Bell, California.
Vives and reporter Jeff Gottlieb discovered city officials were raking in high public salaries while working in one of California’s poorest cities.
Vives said he doesn’t understand why media outlets still hire few minorities in management positions, adding that diversity can help an outlet gain better access to the communities they cover.
“I have something valuable. I can speak Spanish, write Spanish and understand people who come from Central America,” he said. “Newsrooms should be a melting pot, and they really aren’t.”
Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor at the Detroit Free Press, won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2014. He was nominated by his publisher, Paul Anger.
In a nomination letter, Anger praised Henderson for editorials that confronted “the pernicious accusation that African American leadership caused Detroit’s downfall.” He said Henderson’s experiences growing up in Detroit and understanding the neighborhoods prepared him to write stronger and more meaningful opinion pieces.
Medina, who works as a technology and social media reporter for the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles, said the lack of diversity affects who wins awards because management may place particular interest in stories they relate to.
“The management in mid-level and high-level positions need to reflect the communities they cover,” he said. “If you look at management, it’s been the same for a long time. We haven’t seen any real changes.”
But managers who employ diverse voices sometimes give them autonomy to cover stories impacting their respective communities said Keith Alexander, crime and courts reporter for The Washington Post. Alexander was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team that was recognized this year for its study on fatal police shootings in the U.S.
“It felt very special to be a part of that special club — the Pulitzer club,” Alexander said.
Among minority employment in daily newspapers, numbers have remained stagnant since 2002, hovering between 12 and 13 percent of minorities in the workforce, according to the American Society of News Editors.
“NABJ wants to see newsrooms improve their staffing diversity, particularly in the management ranks where staffing decisions are made,” said NABJ President Sarah Glover. “This is where equal opportunity at its core is primarily needed — for black journalists to have an equal shot to contribute and report on key coverage and newsroom projects.”
Medina said organizations for journalists of color have worked to lobby for the inclusion and employment of diverse voices, but said he doesn’t see real progression. He thinks employment of minorities in leadership would impact diversity in Pulitzer Prize-winners.
“We’ve sent out letters, we’ve created leadership councils and training, we’ve introduced qualified members to news organizations – yet it hasn’t changed,” he said. “We think it’s up to the news organizations to take charge now.”