Programming note: Watch “Race in America: A Candid Conversation” on Friday, July 31st at the NBC Sports Bay Area after “Giants Postgame Live.”
Sekou Smith was just a puppy reporter when he realized racist differences in journalism.
That was in the early 1990s on SEC Media Day. On one of his first missions, he was amazed at what he saw.
“There were 600 media members and four black faces,” Smith, now a Senior Writer at NBA.com, said in the latest episode of “Race in America: A Candid Conversation.” “Representation for college students in the ’90s was a shock to me as a journalist for how few color faces there were.”
Smith’s experience more than 20 years ago still resonates under the current climate, and a 2018 Pew Research Study found that 77 percent of American newsrooms are white. In recent months, the outbreak of the assassination of George Floyd – a black man killed by white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin – has forced journalism units to evaluate its diversity issues. Smith, now among the leading voices in sports journalism, says the industry-wide bill is long.
“I think it requires some industry-wide understanding of how toxic a situation you can have when you do not have that representation,” he said. “We’ve seen cases of not having different people at the table.”
Smith’s words have merit. The deviation has come under fire after Floyd’s killing. Journalistic giants such as the Washington Post, Bleacher Report and the Los Angeles Times have been criticized for their diversity. Smith attributes corporate insurgency to the broad social movements over the past five years.
“We’ve seen cases of not having a diverse group of people at the table,” Smith said. The “My Too” movement has also highlighted it. How important it is to have women at the table. How important it is to have different perspectives.
“I think it’s something that has been one of the greatest resources in this country.”
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In the NBA, people of color are a benefit to their publications, according to former Golden State Warriors guard Sleepy Floyd.
Floyd, also a panelist in this week’s episode of “Race in America,” said seeing someone in color that covers sports gives players “comfort” in the locker room.
“If you see a guy going through whatever they’s going through in court or out of court, how does a media member show him? Are you going to throw them completely under the bus, try to get to the bottom of what’s really going on?” In Floyd. “Are you going to blow up the story to get more listeners, or are you actually going to tell the truth or do you have any sympathy for what a 21-year-old player is going through?”
“How do you portray him … how do you write those stories about the player’s life and his livelihood? It is very important to see, because there is a convenience to see someone with color in the media. We feel better that our stories are told correctly and with compassion. “
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For color journalists, Smith said such reporters must line up in locker rooms on the beats they cover.
“We have a very fine line as journalists. Every feeling that we show favoritism based on the color of some skin puts us all in a compromising position. It’s something you have to navigate … we are ultimately in the relationship business, and we have to cultivate “dealing with the front office is a completely different perception of what we deal with in the locker room, and it’s something that’s always behind us as reporters – that there is another world from the locker room to the boardroom.”
“Still,” Smith added. “A lot of work to be done.”