Diversity in Local TV On-Air Talent: Does Station Ownership Play a Role?
Popular opinion in some academic circles has been that “big ownership” is bad for diversity. But does ownership structure or type really play a role in the diversity levels of on-air talent in local markets?
University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Telecommunication Associate Professor Amy Jo Coffey, who researches media ownership and diversity, decided to test whether ownership factors played a role in the diversity levels at local television newsrooms across the United States. Following up on a previous study she conducted which found that, in general, diversity levels of on-air talent (i.e. reporters, anchors) were proportionally correlated with the ethnic diversity levels of the local community, she set out to learn how, if at all, ownership type was related to these diversity levels.
In this exploratory study, the author looked at two ownership types: owned-and-operated stations (O&O) and shared services agreement (SSA) stations. An O&O station is owned by one of the main broadcast networks, such as ABC, CBS, NBC or FOX. A shared services agreement is a business arrangement in which two stations share resources but remain under separate management, typically entered into for financial efficiencies.
Finally, network affiliation was added to the mix to compare ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX station on-air journalists, to see if that made a difference in terms of local on-air diversity levels.
The study found that ownership type had no negative impact on on-air journalist diversity levels. There was no significant difference in diversity levels between stations that were SSA-attached and those that were not. O&O status also had no negative impact; in fact, some markets had a slightly higher proportion of diverse on-air journalists and a lower proportion of Caucasians than the station’s home community. Finally, no network affiliate did a significantly better job than any other in employing diverse on-air talent.
Because the current study was exploratory in nature, Coffey notes that further testing is needed, but that the study’s results are encouraging in that local on-air ethnic representation does not seem to be adversely affected by ownership type. She notes that diversity must be comprehensively examined in terms of source, content, and perspective. Future studies could also survey newsroom managers to gauge the driving forces behind their hiring practices.
The study was originally published in the International Journal on Media Management.