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Magazine Publishing: The Country Club of the Media Industry?



By Linda Zebian
07/02/2007

If you do a Google search on "diversity in publishing" or "diversity in media," the search results don't have anything to do with ethnicity, race and gender. Diversity in publishing in the usual context insinuates product diversity, things like print, newsletters, Web and events. When it comes to diversity in American media, the subject appears to be impervious, people sometimes talk about it, but too often, sustained action from a large portion of the business doesn't occur. Especially when it comes to magazine publishing.

Recently Folio: received a letter from a reader regarding a May feature on the annual Jesse H. Neal Awards for b-to-b media. The reader, former publisher turned professor of media studies Michael Weiskopf, commented on the lack of diversity among people featured in the spread, writing: "With few exceptions the demographic composition of management in the magazine world continues to resemble that of a restricted country club. From the photographs one could just as easily conclude it was the Jesse Helms Awards" [click here for the entire letter].

American Business Media CEO Gordon Hughes says there really is no excuse for the lack of diversity in publishing. "When I started this job 10 years ago I was dismayed by the lack of ethnicity in b-to-b publishing," he says. "Eleven years later I see very little difference. I'm satisfied with the movement of women. We have many female members on our board, but I'm not content with the movement of blacks, Hispanics or Asians in this community."

While the U.K. has a number of established organizations, including a Diversity in Publishing Network and The Media Diversity Institute;promoting diversity in media, the U.S. lacks any type of similar organization.

The most up-to-date research on the subject is from a 2003 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission study titled "Diversity in the Media," which showed that nearly five years ago, minority groups in total (including Blacks, Hispanics, Asian Americans and Native Americans) accounted for less than 21 percent combined of total employed persons in the publishing industry.

Of that figure, less than 12 percent of all officials and managers were minorities, while 14 percent had a role that qualifies as "professional." The majority of minority group members employed at publishing companies were in the "laborers" category, which accounted for 40 percent of total employees in the category.

"My graduate students all come from very different ethnic backgrounds," says Weiskopf. "But why doesn't that translate into the industry? Why is it so embarrassingly obvious that there is a lack of diversity at the level of senior management?"

Why We Can't Progress
In 2004, the Magazine Publishers of America launched a new diversity strategy, focused on workplace culture, workforce, community and revenue. Since its inception, the MPA has created a number of student-focused programs that promote diversity in media and journalism. "In reviewing past diversity initiatives, it has been stagnant and it has been this cyclical conversation," says Shaunice Hawkins, vice president of diversity & multicultural initiatives for MPA. "It's a conversation and hasn't progressed beyond conversation."

Historically, the industry has had three major roadblocks: Power, privilege and preference, says Hawkins. Those in power have held those leadership positions for long periods of time, and they continue to hire others who are members of their social circles. "Traditionally, it's been a class issue," says Hawkins. "If you weren't of that class, you couldn't enter into magazines. It was only for the rich kids."

The process continues to evolve slowly as the MPA encounters difficulties with researching diversity in the industry. "Historically, we do not keep that data," says Hawkins. "Our industry is a combination of private and public entities so a lot of that information is not readily available. That's one of my biggest challenges. We don't have jurisdiction over our members to say, 'Give us your numbers or else.'"

ABM also has a number of programs in place to promote diversity in the industry, but Hughes says the only way to really fix the problem is to offer managers monetary incentives via bonus programs to hire and promote minorities. "You have to change the culture and the way you do that is you change the compensation system," he says. "You have to motivate people or otherwise it, sadly, will not be at the forefront of what they have to do."

Indeed, while paying executives extra cash to hire minorities might be effective in the short term, in principal it doesn't necessarily address or solve the root of the problem.

By Linda Zebian
07/02/2007







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