There’s a high personal price paid by some journalists of color working at mainstream news organizations, particularly television, where more than just your reporting skills are being judged. African American anchors and reporters must find a balance between being too Black and to a lesser degree, not Black enough.
For certain, these are not post-racial times in America’s television newsrooms. In “Acting White: Rethinking Race in Post-Racial America,” Devon W. Carbado and Mitu Gulati write about a phenomenon called “Working Identity,” with African-American news professionals working hard to negotiate race, gender, and sexuality and using dress, image, speech pattern, hair style, etc. to achieve “palatable Blackness.”
The numbers aren’t boding well for African Americans in television news. As far back as 1978, in response to the Kerner Report’s discovery that African Americans didn’t trust the news because they saw so few people like them, the American Society of News Editors committed to increasing the diversity of news rooms. Their goal was to reach parity – to close the gap between the ethnic makeup of journalist and the ethnic makeup of their populating audience areas – by 2000. By 1998, they realized they weren’t going to make it, so they changed the goal of reaching parity to 2025.
In the Kansas City market, thanks to a number of long-term successes, backed up by a group of other journalism professionals who circulate in and up (or just out) of the market, African Americans are regulars on our newscast. But overall, the market is well below parity. Even if you go from the core cities (KCK and KCMO) where minorities make up just under 50% of the population, to the greater 15 county metropolitan area, where minorities still make up 25% of the population, then one in four members of local newsrooms should be non-white.
Take those numbers to the Wichita Metropolitan area, where the minority population is 18%, about one in five members of the media should be a person of color. With just one weekend anchor a person of color, Wichita has a long way to go.
While the numbers just aren’t there, a great deal of respect is due the three veteran stalwarts — Al Wallace, sports anchor at WDAF, Bryan Busby, meteorologist at KMBC and Cynthia Newsome, a news anchor at KSHB. Together, they represent 87 years of service to the Kansas City market. In a tumultuous industry with high turnover rates, a great deal of respect goes to them for just surviving. But more than just surviving, they’re a reflection of professionalism, and very importantly show people that Black men and women can carry themselves in a wonderful, graceful way and be authoritative, credible and knowledgeable.
Read on to learn more about these standouts, how they’ve survived, what it’s like to do their job, and more about what makes them tick.