News

Backtalk: Diller to the Rescue

2/13/2000 7:00 PM Eastern

I'm now psyched about the flurry of behind-the-scenesgoings on at the Walter Kaitz Foundation, which will soon be made public.

Among the good news is a $6 million infusion from USANetworks chieftain Barry Diller to recruit minorities from outside of the business tonew-media jobs both in cable and broadcast.

Recruiting minorities to cable -- the goal of the KaitzFoundation -- is a very worthy cause. But for whatever reasons, which are as unending aspeeling away an onion, the effort has largely been ineffective.

Kaitz is a cause that Multichannel News roots forwholeheartedly. But we, like many in cable, have been critical of the organization'sprogress. After all, Kaitz reaps a ton of money via its annual fund-raising black-tiedinner in New York, where tables go for $10,000 a pop.

Kaitz still finds itself constantly under siege as itssupporters demand to know where the money is going. It's a valid question. Where arethe minorities in cable? Well, they aren't there, as the NAACP study onminority-hiring practices in cable will soon reveal.

Let's be real here: Creating a diverse workplace isnot as simple as buying a table and hoping that a handful of individuals at the foundationcan make diversity in the workplace happen. The very companies that have called Kaitz totask are equally guilty.

But now, all of that is changing, and for the good. Andit's not just the $6 million check from Diller. On top of that, human-resourcesexecutives at cable companies are stepping in and helping Kaitz, along with more backingand involvement from NAMIC and the NCTA. They realize that the Kaitz program is flawed,and they are working together to make something happen on the diversity front.

By sheer fate, I found myself at a reception for thisyear's class of Kaitz fellows, which was being held at Bill Daniels' Cablelandin Denver. This year's crop of Kaitz fellows -- 28 in total -- was going throughorientation. Some cable executives were also on hand because they were mentoring theclass.

But something at that event struck me as being off kilter.First of all, cable-executive attendance was way down. More striking, however, was thecaliber of this year's Kaitz fellows.

As I met them and heard their stories, I was more thansurprised to hear that they were not recruited to cable by the foundation at all. Instead,I heard that their respective corporate HR departments had enlisted them to join theprogram and train them to advance in the workplace.

My initial reaction was shock. What happened to all of themoney raised at the dinner? After all, this year's class of fellows was alreadyemployed by companies that were already paying their salaries and that probably paid fortables the Kaitz dinner, as well.

As it turned out, the foundation had only recruited 11fellows from outside of the industry to cable.

Hence, a search is now under way for a new Kaitz president.During the course of the year, 10 of the recruited fellows had been lured to other jobsoutside of cable. The lone, original Kaitz fellow did land a job at The Weather Channel.

And that's a wake-up call, my friends. And Dillerheard it. In fact, you all need help on the hiring front, as dot-com companies are luringaway talent from cable, making diversity goals even harder to attain

Spencer Kaitz, who heads up the foundation that bears hisfather's name, says it far better than I can. "While that speaks volumes for theeconomy and the value of talented minorities within the marketplace, it doesn'tbenefit cable. We have to find a way to add more value to make cable more attractive forpotential employees, " he warns.

And Diller has done just that. He has defined the problem,and he is putting big bucks behind finding solutions.

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