Media Veterans Say Now is the Time for a Dramatic Boost in Minority Participation

By Reginald Stuart

WASHINGTON, DC — News media coverage of the deadly COVID-19 virus thrust fresh attention on the media’s dramatic decline in news reporters and programs to adequately focus on the impact the virus is having on diverse segments of Nashville and communities of all sizes across the state and nation in need of extra help — the elderly, poor and people of color.

The news media has slackened its Civil Right era push to integrate its ranks and expand its coverage, the public has learned since the start of this century, as the Internet and social media have sidetracked reading, print news publications and locally owned media. Public health issues have received less coverage and improper police conduct has increasingly gone underreported and unchecked. 

The paid media industry, meanwhile, has during the same time increasingly narrowed its customer focus, eliminating Black-owned and targeted media outlets –from The Afro-American chain of newspapers to Ebony and Jet magazines to local weeklies and local radio stations–from advertising budgets, shrinking their print presence and broadcast powers to mostly all music formats without local dee jays and local programming and newscasts.

In the middle of the health care race to mitigate the deadly COVID-19  virus pandemic and widespread social appeals for local, state and federal laws curbing police misconduct, two Nashville women rooted in the city’s once distinguished news media have emerged to help reboot minority inclusion in all aspects of the media, the current shortcomings of the media energizing their call.

“The media could have done a better job,” said Cassandra Easley, a newspaper and broadcast media sales veteran who

Cassandra Easley

recently launched CVONN Media. Black people now need to “get into ‘new’ media, Easley said urging Black interest in digital media like podcasts. 

“There will always be traditional media and they could reinvent themselves making and promoting yourself,” said Easley, who started in the news industry age 13 as a copygirl at The Nashville Tennessean where her late father Billy Easley was a professional photographer and photo lab film and print processor. 

Billy Easley may have been wedded to newsrooms for years, it seems. ‘Sunny’ loved sales, drifting from outstanding copy clerk to ambitious ad salesperson in the newspaper’s ad sales office. When she finished McGavock High School in 1977, Easley attended Western Kentucky University and Lipscomb University before shifting to a broadcast sales career full time. For more than 30 years she worked in a variety of senior ad sales positions for a string of media companies, from WQQK to WSMV-TV, Ion Media and more. 

Today, Easley says, CVONN Media is set to fill the ever-widening informational gaps in media training, sales ideas and publishing. A devoted Associated Press writing style advocate, Easley recalls the AP Book like a Bible in church, adding it obviously has not been used enough lately.

While Easley is prepping for her next Nashville contemporary history book on Nashville, homegirl Michelle Duke, a 1990 graduate of Father Ryan High Schools who earned her journalism degree in 1994 at Middle Tennessee State

Michelle Duke

University, took on new responsibilities early this month as Chief Diversity Officer at the Washington-based National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). The broadcaster’s association is the nation’s major radio and television legislative and regulatory trade group.

Duke, a native of Nashville, launched her career at the former Nashville Banner where she was a high school intern in the newspaper’s youth program. After working for the Banner for two years when it closed, she went to Washington to continue her work in journalism for the Newspaper Association of America. She did a series of successful assignments there catching the attention of the NAB which hired her in 2005.

She rose through several responsibilities at the NAB foundation including director of diversity, vice president then president. The idea of making her chief of diversity for the NAB, had been in discussion among association leaders for several months. The need to move on the idea is attributed to the confluence of events in the news mandating some symbolic response from the industry.

“The timing is just right,” Duke said of her promotion. “Not only is America ready for some change, the industry is ready to turn its attention to the changes needed,” said Duke, whose years of experience she brings to the table will help her navigate the challenges at hand. She knows the industry insiders and knows the industry based on her past experience. “I’m a product of diversity,” she said.

“Society is dictating the case,” said Duke. “That means not only to attracting the talent. It means keeping people so they will feel welcomed, treated equally for challenges and opportunities,” said Duke. “Whatever the driver, there will be some changes.” the confluence of events of the recent months suggests “people are waking up and open to change,” Duke said.  People in leadership roles need too “take advantage” of the opportunity to act, she said.

“That diversity itself makes it even more important for traditional companies to be open to new ideas,” she said. “If anything, it should broaden your reach. 

Easley nor Duke have ever met one another. They had their first telephone conversation this month, just hours after Duke’s promotion was announced. In their individual conversations about the challenge facing their industry, one could tell they knew the responsibility to lead had been thrust in their hands and they sounded ready for the tasks.