Whiteness at College Papers

I like Megan McCardle‘s caveat to my TAPPED post on the problematic, almost 100 percent whiteness of most college newspaper staffs. Jumping off from Justin Elliott‘s CampusProgress.org article about how some papers are combatting the trend, I suggested progressive donors do more to fund programs that alleviate the cost barriers (unpaid internships, low-paid entry level jobs, free labor at campus publications) to public interest journalism. Megan points out that minority students at elite universities are likely to be solidly middle-class, but that they come from backgrounds with less wealth:

But I do think that money probably plays a role: not income, but wealth. Minorities–and I think what everyone’s really interested in is black and Latino reporters, even though Asians are just as woefully underrepresented in newsrooms–are much less wealthy than white Americans.

An upper middle class white kid who decides to become a journalist is consigning themselves to a lower standard of living than the one they grew up with; at one time I considered writing a book on downward mobility. But it’s not the same decision that a kid whose parents are a janitor and a waitress makes. Even if their parents don’t give them money, the upper-middle class kid know that if some financial disaster appears, their parents can step into alleviate it. Help with things like housing downpayments in expensive urban areas will be forthcoming. Eventually, a small inheritence will provide capital for needed projects. Meanwhile, an enhanced lifestyle is generally available through parental meals, vacation homes, theater tickets, and so forth.

A kid whose parents have no assets, on the other hand, is taking an enormous risk–or at least feels as if they are. And when they accept a low salary, they’re really accepting a low salary, with all that it entails in terms of risk and lifestyle.

All true. I took over a one-third cut in pay to leave Campus Progress and come to my full-time writing gig at The American Prospect. So far I’ve been able to make ends meet because of my luck in living in an incredibly cheap group house and my most-of-the-time aversion to alcohol. But should I have to move, should my landlord decide to raise the rent, should I run into any kind of trouble — I would have to rely on my parents to bail me out at my current salary. The reason I can take on this risk is because my parents have extra resources and believe in my ambitions. It’s a privilege that makes my magazine journalism career possible.

3 thoughts on “Whiteness at College Papers

  1. Other Ezra

    It’s interesting that the evolution of the reporter from the (legendary) scrappy working-class newsman to the Ivy League refinement we see dominant today has not tracked with a corresponding increase in pay. So it’s up to the leisure class.

    Reply
  2. Klein's tiny left nut

    Dana,

    I just don’t believe that quality journalism and an aversion to alcohol can go together. (And no throwing Hitchens back in my face.)

    Reply

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