The Ties That Bind: Sterling, Newsroom Beats, and the NAACP

A decline in minority affairs reporting allowed the relationship between Donald Sterling and the L.A. chapter of the NAACP to fly under the radar

By Barry Cooper, Guest Blogger

Back in the day, when newspapers had full staffs of local editors and reporters, there was this beat called the “minority affairs beat.” Okay, maybe the title sucked, but it was the minority affairs reporter’s job to know what was going on in minority communities.

The minority affairs reporter would know everybody at the local chapter of the National Urban League, the NAACP, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and so forth. In those days, the L.A. Chapter of the NAACP would not have gotten away with this nonsense of “selling” awards to Donald Sterling.

An enterprising reporter looking to get a story on the front page of The Los Angeles Times would have sniffed out the payola, given Sterling’s racist reputation, and pitched the story to his city editor. The Times would have outed the L.A. NAACP long before now — and maybe Sterling would have been kicked out of the NBA years ago.

Leon Jenkins and Donald Sterling

Leon Jenkins resigned after it became public that his NAACP chapter honored disgraced NBA owner Donald Sterling.

The problem is there aren’t many minority affairs reporters left, and there is not much local watchdog journalism, at least not in black communities.

A lot of gains were made in the 1970’s and 1980’s as newspapers made genuine commitments to diversify their newsrooms. However, many of those hires have been laid off or forced out as papers have cut back because of the economy and the current focus on digital.

To be sure, journalists of all colors have lost jobs, and my heart goes out to everyone who has been affected. However, the deep cuts into the ranks of African-American journalists is especially painful because we were just starting to make some gains.

With almost no mainstream media watching, it was easy for the NAACP to crawl into bed with Donald Sterling at the same time he was making life a living hell for people of color through alleged housing discrimination.

But here is the really sad thing:

There is a good chance that as the NAACP was selling out to Sterling, some 80-year-old black grandmother from Compton was taking $15 from her Social Security check and sending a money order to the L.A. Chapter of the NAACP.

To help with the fight against discrimination, of course.

Barry Cooper

Barry Cooper is a pioneering digital entrepreneur who lives in Orlando, Fla. He founded Black Voices, which was later sold and is now Huffington Post Black Voices.