For students of color, early academic achievement is crucial. Faced with the obstacle course of studying in a country like the United States, any achievement in those early years is a unique and unforgettable incentive.
One of the most frequent goals is to become editor-in-chief of their university’s student newspaper.
According to research by the Asian American Journalists Association’s Voices program, of the 73 editors-in-chief of college newsrooms awarded in the spring 2021 semester, less than 6% were Black, and approximately 10% were Latino, a significantly lower proportion than the college population.
The research team identified 75 newsrooms awarded for their work in 2020 by two organizations: the Associated Collegiate Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. They chose news organizations that won or were finalists for the ACP’s Newspaper Pacemaker award or SPJ’s regional Best All-Around Student Newspaper award.
During the spring of 2021, those newsrooms were led by 81 editors-in-chief, some of whom shared leadership roles as co-editors. Of the 73 responding editors from 66 newspapers, the research team found that Black and Latino students were about half as likely to become editors-in-chief relative to their share of those universities’ overall racial and ethnic composition.
Less than 6% of the editors-in-chief were Black, even though Black students represent nearly 10% of the total population at the relevant universities. And 11% of the editors-in-chief were Latino, even though Latino students represent nearly 22% of that total population.
However, the picture is not all dark.
The research also found that last year, the Daily Northwestern, one of the nation’s most prestigious student newspapers, was led by its first female editor-in-chief of color, Marissa Martinez, who undertook ambitious efforts to diversify its news sources and cover issues critical to underrepresented communities.
In becoming the first Black woman to be named editor-in-chief of the Daily Northwestern in its 140-year history, Marissa Martinez was the third consecutive editor-in-chief of color in recent years. It showed the potential of what can happen when people of color take on major roles more routinely.
“That’s pretty unprecedented,” said Martinez, who graduated this spring and is now a fellow at Politico. This sea change in leadership allowed for a reappraisal of what good reporting looked like in the newsroom, she said.
“Once there was a shift in leadership, it was more about the narratives we are putting out,” Martinez said. “How are we making sure marginalized communities on campus and underrepresented communities on this campus and in the city are getting heard?”
With information published in the Nieman Lab at the Nieman Foundation at Harvard.