Diversifying the Media Landscape

After studying economics and American studies at Tufts University, Queenette Karikari realized she wanted to be in the broadcast and entertainment industry, but she didn’t know the first thing about making it in media. Karikari also knew that as a minority, she would face an uphill battle entering an industry where minorities have traditionally been underrepresented.

Karikari was accepted into the Ailes Apprentice Program (AAP), a one-year apprenticeship run through Fox News and Fox Business. The program aims to give minorities the opportunity to work one-on-one with mentors like Brian Jones, senior vice president of Fox Business.

Karikari and Jones spoke with Diversity Executive about the benefits of the program and the difficulties facing minorities in the media industry today. The following are edited excerpts from the interview.

What are the goals of the apprenticeship?
Karikari: The goals of the apprenticeship for the company are to further diversify our workforce and to open the door to young people of color who may not have immediate ties to the broadcast industry. It is to mentor them and help them plant their feet in the broadcast industry.

Roger Ailes has told the story countless times of seeing really bright and talented people of color interning in the summer only to see them disappear into thin air once the internship ended. He wanted to make sure that there would be future generations of stellar journalists/anchors/employees of color at Fox News and Fox Business.

Jones: The goal of the AAP is to match qualified minority interns with established and experienced mentors so that the candidates have a fellow stakeholder in their success. The difference in this program [compared] to the many others that exist is the results. The graduates leave with a full-time job and a network of people helping them to succeed.

Does the news media have a diversity problem? What kinds of solutions should media outlets pursue?
Karikari: It is no secret that the programming landscape remains somewhat uneven for viewers of color. People of color are underrepresented in broadcast, but the Ailes Apprentice Program is proof that there are media moguls and executives out there who are not only paying attention, but who are firmly committed to taking on this problem head on.

I think that there are three areas that media outlets should focus on in order to address this issue: further diversify on-air talent, pay attention to the acute situations that communities of color face and delve into the issues for their viewers of diverse backgrounds so those viewers can make the news story their own. Media executives should also consider extensive social media integration to attract more viewers of color.

Jones: The news media has an access problem and an information problem. Too many qualified aspiring journalists and broadcast production candidates have little to no information on the types and duties of available jobs and how to qualify for them. Undergraduate schools are doing a poor job of connecting students to career paths. Media outlets should emulate what programs like the Ailes Apprentice Program has been able to accomplish over the years.

What kinds of diversity and inclusion did you see at Fox News during the apprenticeship?
Karikari: As an apprentice, you attend meetings and seminars on a weekly basis with the Ailes Apprentice Program patrons. The patrons are from all different parts of the media, politics and business worlds and are most importantly of very diverse backgrounds. Because these seminars are held in such intimate settings, you really get to pick the brains of the patrons and build connections. They share with us not only their visions but the struggles, and sometimes the setbacks, they experienced to achieve their dreams.

To have been able to see someone who looks just like me, whether the person was of color, a woman or both, talk about how he or she achieved what seemed to be impossible is truly inspirational. These seminars can most definitely be replicated at other media outlets. It is a matter of fortifying your commitment to the enrichment/advancement of your workforce.

Jones: The human resources and recruitment department at Fox News does an admirable job in addressing diversity. They reach out and have programs in place at several historical black colleges and Hispanic organizations. They attend [National Association of Black Journalists] and other similar conferences and conventions, and they have expanded the AAP to high schools. There is a high level of support for diversity at Fox News, from the most senior levels of management to the entry-level staff in the newsroom. Similar programs should be replicated because they focus on results and support, not feel-good press and activities.

What is your biggest takeaway after participating in the program?
Karikari: My biggest takeaway after participating in the program is the importance of mentorship. I am well aware that success is largely an individual effort, but having a mentor is invaluable in building a career. I received personal advice from some really accomplished people such as [former New York City] Mayor David Dinkins; Joseph Uva, the former chief executive of Univision; and, of course, Roger Ailes. What more could a young journalist ask for?

Jones: There are untold numbers of qualified people who would benefit from a program such as this. There is such a hunger for access and for opportunity; they just don’t know who to contact and how to get their foot in the door.

Jeffrey Cattel is an editorial intern for Diversity Executive. He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.