MCCULLERS COLUMN: The more voices, the better

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It’s become increasingly easy to malign ESPN over the past few years.

The once-almighty sports media giant is one of many networks to see its ratings steadily decline as an increasing percentage of cable subscribers, especially young ones, opt to cut the cord. Changes in leadership and job cuts across ESPN’s many platforms are but a couple of byproducts of the waves that have swept through the cable news industry in recent years.

But for its failings, of which there are plenty, ESPN is doing one thing better than almost everyone else in sports media today.

A recently released report from Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports lauded the network for its commitment to diversity in its newsroom and other areas of the company and deemed it “one of the great legacies of (former ESPN president) John Skipper.”

“ESPN has been a leader in the hiring of women and people of color in key positions,” it reads. “If we take away the ESPN hires as editors, assistant sports editors and columnists, the percentages of women and people of color in those positions would plummet precipitously.”

And that would be a problem, seeing as those percentages are embarrassingly low to begin with.

A lack of diversity in the newsroom is a problem that has long plagued not only sports media, but journalism generally.

Members of racial minorities on staff at Associated Press Sports Editors member organizations (most of which are newspapers) have increased slightly since the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports’ last report in 2014, but they still make up only 20 percent of total sports staffs at APSE outlets. That number is, sadly, better than the 16.6 percent of newsroom positions overall that are filled by minorities, according to a 2017 Newsroom Employment Diversity Survey done by The American Society of News Editors.

Gender statistics are much more harrowing.

Women hold just 17.9 percent of positions on APSE sports staffs despite making up more than half of the population.

Dismaying statistics now in hand, the mystery is what, if any, changes news organizations will institute going forward to attempt to close racial and gender gaps.

The APSE has no power to enforce rules on the hiring practices of its member organizations, and it’s highly questionable how effective such rules would be. The onus, instead, is fully on individual organizations to make minority hiring a priority whenever possible.

What is not up for debate, however, is that coverage provided by news organizations suffers when diversity is lacking among those entrusted to tell the stories news consumers care about.

Improvements in

diversity in sports journalism particularly would “bring better understanding of angles to cover, athletes to follow, and the meaning of words we often use in sports that may be hurtful to some people or groups,” according to the report’s conclusion.

In short: the more voices, the better.

Evan McCullers is a sports reporter and columnist for the Daily Inter Lake. He can be contacted by phone at (406) 758-4463. or by email at emccullers@dailyinterlake.com.

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