An assessment of NPR diversity

Edward Schumacher-Matos’ contract with NPR is up in about a month and since the NPR ombudsman authored a takedown of his employer’s coverage of the removal of Native American children from their families in South Dakota, he has written very few analyses of NPR since.

Today he authored an assessment of NPR’s decision to cancel Tell Me More, a program hosted by an African American with a target audience of African Americans.

“I find it shocking that such an important platform for talking about race, ethnicity, and gender issues, is being yanked off the air. NPR needs more programs like it, not fewer,” Andrea Zoss of Rochester, MN., wrote to Schumacher-Matos, one many complaints that moved him to assess NPR’s commitment.

He notes that the program had a small audience and said it wasn’t particularly valuable because so many local NPR affiliates had their own talk shows and didn’t need another national broadcast.

Schumacher-Matos was more concerned with whether the show’s cancellation reflected a lack of interest in covering issues of race and gender, and, moreover, whether the racial/ethnic makeup of the NPR staff reflected a real commitment to diverse programming.

African Americans make up 10 percent of the NPR newsroom staff, even though they make up only 5 percent of the college-graduate pool, he writes. There are no Native Americans on staff. Asian Americans are over-represented, compared to the college graduate pool, he says.

He concludes that the average applicant for a job is going to be a white woman from a solidly middle class family, because they’re the ones most likely to work for comparatively low pay in the news business.

His column, coincidentally, comes a day after the New York Times profiled Jarl Mohn, the new CEO of NPR who starts his job tomorrow.

He was chosen, in part, because of the strong record of diversity at Southern California Public Radio, where he was the board chair.

Mr. Mohn, an investor and longtime cable and digital media executive, said he was not part of the decision to cancel “Tell Me More,” but added that it “was probably right,” assuming it was business-driven. “Diversity has to make sense in the business context,” he said.

Improved diversity, though, will contribute to NPR’s success, he said, pointing to the experience with KPCC’s morning program “Take Two” as a blueprint for NPR. “If we see diversity and a diverse organization as our green vegetable that we have to eat, that’s not success,” he said.