Last summer when news anchor Joy-Ann Reid was removed from the lineup at MSNBC and the Rev. Al Sharpton’s “Politics Nation” was removed from the station’s daily prime time perch at 6pm to one time a week at 8am on Sunday morning, they were like the canaries in the mineshaft, early warning signs that Black commentators and hosts were becoming ever more scarce on television and in the media in general.
We are now aware of the recent exit of Deon Levingston as New York Market Manager and General Manager from Emmis Communications that airs WBLS.FM, HOT 97, and WLIB.AM. We have further indications of the growing problem now facing African Americans in the media, whether in front of the cameras, behind the microphones, or managing media decisions from boardrooms. And if the reports that we are receiving are true, as we expect they are, more key employees at Emmis Communications will not have their contracts renewed and key programs sorely needed to inform and educate communities of color and many other interested listeners will be reduced or eliminated.
In a recent interview, an Emmis Communications spokesperson told TNJ Senior Editor Sergie Willoughby, “Emmis took a number of personnel and non-personnel actions to reduce expenses in its radio, publishing and corporate divisions. These reductions, which include reductions in force (primarily in Emmis’ radio division) and pay cuts by all senior executives, will help ensure our overall expense structure reflects current operating conditions and provides the flexibility to continue to invest in high-growth opportunities like NextRadio.”
The rumor mill is also abuzz with strong rumors that nationally renowned Tom Joyner may shortly be ending his tenure with Radio One. According to some reports, Joyner whose daily morning show attracts millions of listeners will end its syndication coinciding with President Obama’s last year in office.
All of this comes in the wake of the wholesale dismissal of African American newsroom managers at CNN in 2014, a development that significantly alarmed the National Association of Black Journalists. In 2015, for the first time in a while, CNN was not a sponsor at the organization’s annual convention in Minneapolis, but it was good to see there was a session there dealing with the lack of diversity in radio and TV, a lack of diversity that is also matched by the ever-growing decline in the presence of Black reporters in mainstream print media.
The number of Black journalists now working in U.S. daily newspapers has dropped by over 40 percent since 1997, according to the latest data from the American Society of News Editors. “That represents a loss of almost 1,200 journalists—from 2,946 in 1997 to 1,754 in 2013,” the report adds. At this rate of reduction the sparseness of Black reporters at dailies could be halved again.
Reports such as these, and the growing absence of these well-known and well respected names is sending many shock waves through the nation, and here in New York, plans are underway and in motion to address and confront the issue. Following a recent meeting at the headquarters of National Action Network between Rev. Sharpton and Lloyd Williams, President of The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, they decided something must be done about the situation. With that in mind they are calling for a meeting to address the increasingly troubling disappearance of Black talk shows, personalities and reporters in the media. Rev. Sharpton and Mr. Williams stated that, “Deon Levingston no longer at Emmis is something we must take seriously because of its overall national ramifications. If we are concerned about the future of Black media here and across the nation, we must speak up now before the situation continues to worsen.”
Towards this end, a meeting to address the subject is set for Friday, January 15th, to be co-chaired by Rev. Sharpton and Mr. Williams. They will be joined by a select group of key interested parties from the fields of business, the clergy, civil rights, education, unions, media, etc.
The Network Journal will keep you posted on the developments.
(*With additional reporting by Sergie Willoughby.)