In June, MSNBC announced that the Burmese American journalist Alex Wagner would host a new prime-time news show, Alex Wagner Tonight, at 9 p.m., replacing Rachel Maddow, beginning August 16. Maddow signed a deal with NBCUniversal in April announcing she was cutting back her show to one day a week, Mondays at 9 p.m.
According to Yahoo News, Alex Wagner is only the third Asian-American journalist to host a prime-time show. In the late 90s to early 2000s, Joie Chen co-anchored the show The World Today, and Connie Chung, hosted “The Connie Chung Tonight” in 2002 and 2003 on CNN.
Wagner stated on her Twitter account that she is very thrilled and honored to be going back home to MSNBC. From 2011 to 2015, Wagner hosted “Now with Alex Wagner” on MSNBC before moving on to CBS News.
Wagner’s success in hosting a news show is the exception to the rule in the news industry. According to a report released by the Asian-American Journalists Association (AAJA), the top 20 news markets have failed to represent the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community or feature AAPI reporters, anchors and meteorologists.
The project staff of the 40-year-old AAJA organization surveyed 94 local, English-language commercial television stations in the top 20 designated market areas (DMAs). Using resources such as station websites, AAJA membership and public pages to find on-air staff who either looked AAPI or self-identified as AAPI. Project staff found 201 AAPI on-air staff people in the top 20 markets.
JuJu Chang, an anchor with ABC News in New York, told Voices of America (VOA) that the industry has gone a long way to have diversity in front of the camera but that work still needs to be done behind the scenes.
AAJA’s report comes on the heels of the news industry trying to cover the increased racism and violence against Asian Americans since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Asian-American journalists are coming under increased scrutiny questioning their ability to cover issues in AAPI communities, and newsrooms are realizing they lacked the resources to cover AAPI communities when two shooting incidents occurred last year.
Several AAPI journalists took to social media to voice their concerns about situations they have been facing in their newsrooms. On Twitter, Jason Omori, a Bleacher Report social content intern noted opportunities reinforcing representation for people of color is important. He posted, “This opportunity reinforces the importance of representation for all communities of color especially in a field where AAPI are often underrepresented. The Asian-American Journalists Association aims to amplify those voices.”
AAPI’s report is a broadcast snapshot analyzing the number of Asian Americans working as reporters, anchors, meteorologists and hosts in local television newsrooms. The report found that local television stations in the top 20 designated market areas (DMAs) do a poor job of proportionally representing the AAPI population. Nearly half of the APPI population live in the top 20 markets and lack Asian-American representation in the newsroom and on the air.
The AAPI broadcast snapshot found that:
• A quarter of the stations (22 out of 94) had no AAPI’s on-air
• More than 70 percent of the stations did not have a proportion of on-air staff comparable with the AAPI population in their designated market area (DMA).
• Only 4 out of 20 of the DMAs had on-air staff comparable with their local AAPI population: Phoenix, Denver, Miami and Cleveland.
• Philadelphia, Detroit and Orlando were the markets with the least proportionate AAPI representation on air.
AAJA’s President, Michelle Ye Hee Lee, challenged the AAPI population to speak up and encourage newsrooms to reflect the diversity of the communities they reside in and cover. As she ends her four-year term as president of AAJA, Lee told AAJA members, “We can’t accept nips and tucks anymore. We need transformation. In order to make lasting change, we need to be louder. We cannot let the industry and its top leaders coast. We must not settle for anything other than full inclusion of AAPIs – inclusion with dignity.”
The AAJA’s broadcast snapshot pushes newsrooms to be more inclusive in their talent search r their newsrooms whether on-air, behind the scenes or on all-digital platforms.
Waliya Lari, director of programs and partnerships at AAJA, said many in the newsroom are not held accountable for pursuing diversity in the workplace.
She said the research is the right thing to do to put a spotlight on the problem backed up with data.
“Research like this calls out the problem and puts the spotlight on a glaring issue (to) really address it and taking it one step further and quantify the data,” Lari said.
AAJA believes representation is crucial for accurate and nuanced coverage for communities of color and especially for AAPI population. For decades, AAJA members – especially those in broadcast – have been told that they were “too close” to stories affecting the AAPI community because of their identity.
During March 2021 Atlanta shootings, in which 8 people, including 6 Asian women were killed at massage parlors or spas, AAJA members reported being asked, “Are you sure your bias won’t show if you cover the Atlanta shootings?” or told, “You might be too emotionally invested to cover this story.”
AAPI journalists say they are oftentimes uniquely positioned to cover AAPI communities and stories because of their expertise, cultural understanding and language proficiency and unfettered access to sources. On the other hand, when AAJA members are the only or one of the very few AAPIs in the newsroom, they say they are expected to carry the burden of speaking for or representing on behalf of all AAPI communities. AAJA believes that newsroom leaders must acknowledge this conflicting duality and empower and support their AAPI reporters.
Michelle Ye Hee Lee in her comments to the AAJA convention challenged the 2,000 members to be innovative, be creative but also don’t be silent, to help raise the standards of how the AAPI community is treated in newsrooms and news coverage.
“Be loud…We must not settle for anything other than full inclusion of AAPIs — inclusion, with dignity. And we must push for progress in our industry along with our Black, brown, indigenous, LGBTQ+ colleagues because we are not in it alone,” Lee said at the AAJA convention, which was also tweeted on Twitter.