The White House Correspondents Association led a panel in the School of Media and Public Affairs’ Jack Morton Auditorium April 28 about diversity in the White House Press Corps. This year marks the centennial of the White House Correspondents Association and the 70th anniversary of the induction of the first White House black correspondent into the Association.
Moderator April Ryan, White House reporter and director of American Urban Radio introduced the diverse group of panelists and listed each of their accomplishments, while adding that these individuals represent a small percentage of the White House Press Corps.
The panelists included Jim Avila, senior national correspondent and ABC News and White House correspondent, Ed Chen, former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, David Nakamura, White House reporter of the Washington Post, Kevin Merida, managing editor of the Washington Post, Sonya Ross, Race and Ethnicity Editor for the Associated Press, Ken Strickland, the Washington bureau chief and Kristen Welker from NBC News.
The panelists elaborated on the changes within the White House briefing room over the past 70 years. According to the panel, there is a clear hierarchy based on who sits where and the milestone when a minority reporter is assigned a seat in the first row. Chen said that the viewer at home doesn’t get the full picture of the relationships and personal dynamics between the journalists and press secretaries.
“I feel the weight of responsibility sitting in the front row. The group needs to be represented,” Welker said.
According to Welker, 12% of newsrooms in the nation have colored reporters. Of the 53 White House reporters, only seven are minorities.
In order to increase diversity, Strickland suggested that schools should get students more interested in politics. Strickland remembers being incredibly bored by his history teachers and got into political reporting almost by accident. Local political beat reporting is also disappearing, he said, leading to less exposure and experience with that style of reporting.
“When you know something isn’t being covered, go cover it. You have to go get the news people are leaving laying on the ground to be gotten,” Ross said.
Ross also supports the idea that teachers and professors need to get people more interested in politics.
“People want to jump over and cover Obama but can’t tell me what the three branches of government are,” Ross said.