‘Journalists Of Color’ Discriminates, Employment Law Says; Changes Made To BuzzFeed Fellowship Program

A media fellowship targeted at minorities. It is not something one would typically think of as discriminatory, but that is exactly what employment laws say the “Journalists of Color” program at BuzzFeed would do.

According to a report in The Weekly Standard, BuzzFeed‘s year-long reporting “Journalists of Color” fellowship discriminates against certain minority groups, which caused editor Ben Smith to change the name of the program to the “BuzzFeed News/Columbia Journalism School Investigative Reporting Fellowship for Journalists of Color And Other Diverse Backgrounds,” as he explained to the magazine in an email.

“We had actually gotten confused on employment law — pure fellowships can be targeted this way; but this role includes benefits and a desk and is, legally speaking, a job not a fellowship.”

Even though there was confusion on the legalities of the originally proposed “Journalists of Color” fellowship that discriminated, at least according to anti-discrimination laws currently on the books, the job posting on BuzzFeed‘s own website seems to make no mention of the previous iteration of the program.

“In recent years, diversity in the newsroom has regressed. According to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the percentage of minorities in the newsroom fell from 13.7 percent in 2006 to 12.4 percent in 2013. Investigative reporting slots are traditionally considered plum jobs, and our observation is that investigative journalism is even more monochromatic than the rest of the newsroom.

“The BuzzFeed News/Columbia Journalism School Investigative Reporting Fellowship aims to give mid-career journalists of color and other diverse backgrounds the opportunity to tackle big, investigative stories and to improve their skills by auditing courses at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.”

In the email to The Weekly Standard, Ben Smith said of the “Journalists of Color” discrimination issue that it was “idiotic.”

“I’d add that we think this is an idiotic interpretation of state employment discrimination law, but that we will absolutely comply with it, and welcome applications from all. We also believe that the original purpose of the fellowship, which is to develop a rich pipeline of investigative reporters of color — something our industry has badly failed to do — is an important and worthy goal…. When we realized this fell under state employment law, of course we complied with it.”

Racial minorities are not the only groups to face discrimination in the media world, of course, as evidenced by a report showing the media industry being a traditionally male-dominated world.

If you are a professional minority journalist interested in the BuzzFeed “Journalists of Color” fellowship, it pays $85,000. Not bad money in the media world.

[Image via Flickr Creative Commons]