Commentary

In TV News Biz, Defining Diversity Presents A Challenge


No other columnist or commentator seemed to notice that diversity on television took a big step backward on New Year's Eve.

It happened on CNN during the news network's annual coverage of the celebration in Times Square.

This year, Kathy Griffin was out as Anderson Cooper's perennial co-host following the scandal she ignited last May after she posted a selfie on social media in which she seemed to be brandishing the severed head of President Trump and, by implication, advocating that he be killed.

Her replacement on New Year's Eve was Andy Cohen, a skilled and affable TV personality who also happens to be personal friends with Cooper.

However, as likable as Andy and Anderson can be, I was continually distracted by this one thought as I watched them: This scenario -- two gay men co-hosting a national TV show -- was not diverse. In fact, it seemed like the opposite of diverse.

A few days later, on January 2, came the news that Hoda Kotb had been selected by the powers-that-be at NBC News to replace Matt Lauer as Savannah Guthrie's co-anchor on “The Today Show.”

Yes, two women -- neither of whom are African-American or Asian. That doesn't seem very diverse, does it?

Readers are welcome to point out at this juncture that Hoda Kotb's parents are both Egyptians, although Hoda herself was born and raised here in America.

Does her ethnicity pass the diversity test? I do not know the answer to that, which is what makes this issue so vexing -- at least to me (if not many others). These two co-anchors are the same gender. That doesn't seem diverse.

What or who qualifies as “diverse” anyway? Is there really a good, rightful answer here? Somebody please help me on this.

Then came the news this week that John Dickerson, a very capable newsman and well-liked anchor of “Face the Nation” on CBS, would replace Charlie Rose as the third co-anchor on “CBS This Morning,” effective immediately. He started on Wednesday morning (January 10).

To me, this appeared to be a move in favor of diversity. Yes, he is a white man -- and therefore a member of a group nobody seems to like these days. But his two co-anchors are both women, Norah O'Donnell and Gayle King -- one of whom is African-American (King). That seems pretty diverse to me.

And yet, the move led to another conversation on social media about diversity. There, the consensus seemed to be that now CBS News must name someone other than a white man to take over Dickerson's anchor job on “Face the Nation.”

“John Dickerson's move to CBS This Morning creates an opportunity for the network to replace him with a female anchor. All of the current ‘Big Five’ Sunday shows are led by white men,” tweeted one observer for whom the complexions and gender of TV anchorpeople are all-important.

So how shall we define diversity today? Is it basically an absence of white men, such as the makeup of the anchor team on “Today”? Is it pairs of gay men (both of whom happened to be white in the New Year's Eve example given above)?

Is it a situation in which the preponderance of one type of person -- i.e., the five white men who anchor the five Sunday public affairs shows -- should motivate at least one of the five shows to hire some other kind of person when the opportunity arises to name a new anchor?

In answer to those questions, I would say that diversity on TV today is a complicated subject. All of the above examples are part of what makes the concept of “diversity” so difficult to define.

For example, there are those who would say that a national network morning show with two female co-anchors and no men is diverse. The same might be said about a Times Square New Year's Eve show anchored by two gay men.

According to this line of thinking, diversity is defined by the assigning of high-profile positions to people who represent groups who in the long tail of history did not get the kinds of top jobs that traditionally went to white men (straight ones, presumably).

As one who always tries to look on the bright side of life, I will say this: One thing that is far more diverse today than it used to be is the supply of top talent in the TV news business representing all genders and ethnicities.

If TV's major news organizations are eager to practice diversity in hiring, then they have plenty of great talent, from all backgrounds, to choose from.

2 comments about "In TV News Biz, Defining Diversity Presents A Challenge".
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  1. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, January 12, 2018 at 4:18 p.m.

    After 14 years owning and running sweepstakestoday.com, I made it a rule on the website  to band politics, hate speech and racist ideas. Sounds simply but the average individual thinks that their First Admendment rights superceeds the rights of the other members and website.  Our website is about fun, excitement and family not anything else. It doesn't matter what color your are, your religion, nationality, age or phyical handicaps. It is about dreams that they can share with others.  We want respect and love for everyone on ST.

    What's interesting it's the members on our website who don't want everything could be considered controverial subjects. These common sense rules are not respected or honored by TV and most of the internet. Sure there are news channels that should have offer politics and hard hitting news. But should there also be news channels that don't? Meaning why not have a competiting channel that has no politics for example?

    The point is, there is a giant untouched market in TV shows that that people want that is not political and everyone doesn't care who you are other than they want everyone to have fun and a smile on their face.


  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 13, 2018 at midnight

    Sometimes it's two gay men, sometimes women, sometimes white men, Diversity is throwing it all up and whatever comes down, so to speak. Diversity is no all white men all the time. It will take a bit for it to all to be diverse naturally, but you have to start somewhere. Diversity will never get to upper management if there is not enough in middle management

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