Black leaders are expressing concern about how mass layoffs at CNN will impact media diversity.
Earlier this month, Turner Broadcasting System, a Time Warner subsidiary and CNN’s parent company, announced it was cutting its workforce by 10 percent or about 1,475 positions. The move was part of “Turner 2020,” a plan to overhaul the company’s business and redirect resources in light of falling ratings and changing consumer patterns.
So far, about 130 CNN staffers have taken buyouts, and 170 will be laid off, including one of the network’s highest-ranking African Americans, Darius Walker, vice president and Northeast bureau chief.
Walker is one of at least 12 African-American managers who have resigned, been laid off or terminated within the past year, according to the National Association of Black Journalists, and among many more Black staffers who have also left the cable news network.
The mass exodus does not bode well for diversity in the media, advocates say.
“CNN was the nation’s preeminent cable news channels and one of the first networks with a very healthy display of diverse faces on their staff,” said Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s senior vice president of advocacy and policy and director of its Washington bureau. “It is really sad to see CNN has lost so much diversity.”
Little of the coverage of CNN’s downsizing has focused on the threat to diversity, but rather on the how the restructuring would fuel profit, said Malkia Cyril, executive director, Center for Media Justice.
“So I can only discern that CNN is not interested in having a diverse staff or reflecting the voices of viewers of color and its primary interest in is paying its investors,” she said.
That view was only cemented, Cyril said, by CNN’s decision to withdraw as a sponsor of the National Association of Black Journalists’ 2015 conference less than two weeks after the association expressed concern about the “atmosphere” for African Americans at the network.
On Oct. 7, one day after Turner announced its downsizing at CNN, the NABJ issued a statement voicing its misgivings, citing the disappearance of CNN anchors Soledad O’Brien, TJ Holmes and Suzanne Malveaux from the airwaves, and the presence of only two Black executive producers in CNN’s newsrooms.
The state of affairs was a far cry from 2007, when CNN was recognized by NABJ for its efforts to increase diversity both before and behind the cameras. “Since that time, we have seen a number of African Americans leave CNN,” said NABJ President Bob Butler in a statement. “I know CNN is going through layoffs but the departure of so many African Americans is worrisome.”
The decimation of Black staff at CNN is part of a larger trend – including meager Black media ownership – that had led to “a whitening of cable news and news programming that does not speak to the needs and issues of communities of color,” Cyril said.
According to Shelton, diversity in media is “crucial” in fostering racial equality and understanding. “As we look at the stories that reflect our lives, we need to know that those who cover the stories are as diverse as the stories themselves,” he said.
Black lawmakers, who have fought to ensure more multicultural representations in the ownership and depictions in the media, also chimed in about the potentially devastating impact of CNN’s reorganization.
“In a nation growing increasingly more diverse, it is imperative that the organizations tasked with keeping us informed reflect the same diversity,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“Any staffing changes that disproportionately cut the number of African Americans at CNN – intentionally or otherwise – are an affront to the African American journalism community and to the African American community as a whole,” she continued in her statement. “It is my sincere hope that these reports are not true, and that Time Warner Inc. works to ensure that the diversity of its viewers across the country, and the world, is reflected and protected in all areas of its organization.”