When Mark Whitaker was selected earlier this week to head NBC News’s Washington Bureau, a position that formerly belonged to Tim Russert, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press who died of a heart attack last June, the move was the latest in great achievements for the journalist. Whitaker (listed in the August 2000 issue of BE as one of 30 movers, shakers and decision makers poised to dominate in decades to come) worked his way up the ranks at Newsweek magazine from an intern in 1977 to the company’s first Black editor-in-chief in 1998.
“I’m honored to succeed Tim,” says Whitaker. “It is an extremely exciting time in our nation’s history to be in Washington. I think we have the strongest portfolio of news programs and outlets in America.”
In addition to overseeing some 100 employees at NBC News, Whitaker will work with correspondents and producers on editorial content, story ideas, beats and pitches for MSNBC on everything including election political coverage.
Whitaker, left his position as head of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, and started with NBC in May 2007. The broadcast learning curve has not presented much of a problem for him. “It was a big change for me to leave the Washington Post Co. and go into television, but Journalism is journalism,” Whitaker assesses. “The big difference is the speed at which we do things in broadcast.” Unlike Russert, he will not be the moderator of Meet the Press. He hopes to one day have an on air presence, but will initially appear as an analyst covering a variety of Washington issues.
“He is imminently qualified to take on this assignment,” says Barbara Ciara, president of the National Association of Black Journalists. “I can’t think of anyone who is a better fit in that particular management position.”
“Mark brings a certain sensitivity to that position where he will include diversity in his agenda as it relates to coverage out of that bureau,” says Ciara. “For Black [viewers], I think you are going to see a more level playing field in terms of assignments and coverage coming out of that office. For Black journalists who aspire to achieve a high level at network television it is a good sign, but clearly we need to multiply our numbers in order for it to have a greater impact on the journalism community for African Americans
According to data published this July by NABJ, at the general manager level, the highest-ranking position at a television news station, only three of the 57 general managers – 5.2% — were non-white. “The way the industry looks now [a Black bureau chief] is long overdue,” says Ciara.
Whitaker’s commitment to increasing minority representations in newsrooms is clear. He is currently a member of the NBC news diversity council. “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about getting more points of view and people of different backgrounds on our broadcasts. I think we’ve made real progress in the last year,” says Whitaker. “We will