Preaching the Gospel of Diversity, but Not Following It – The New York Times

Some good critical self-examination but need to check in 5 years to assess degree of change:

Many journalists hoped a new era was beginning two and a half years ago, when Baquet became the first African-American to oversee the newsroom. But whatever progress has been made is only beginning to show up on a scorecard. Overall, newsroom diversity is at 22 percent, up slightly but below newsrooms in most big metropolitan areas. And of those who head departments here, only three are people of color.

I asked Baquet what he believes minorities in the newsroom would say about his senior team’s dedication to diversity.

“I think they’d say we have a problem,” he said. “We’re not diverse enough. But I think they’d say I have a commitment to it and that it’s gotten better in the past year.” He added, “My effort to diversify has been intense and persistent.”

By that, Baquet particularly means the handful of prominent black journalists he’s helped attract or promote, stars like Nikole Hannah-Jones, Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham, all coveted by The Times’s competitors.

Their writing styles offer a refreshing break from The Times’s rather institutional voice, which — as one black editor put it to me — is older, white, male, Ivy League and authoritative. “That’s who The Times is at a dinner party,” she said.

Many of those I spoke with, including Latinos and Asians, said the arrival of a few stars can take the focus away from the real issue of bringing in and retaining diversity across the room. In other words, while big names are rightfully celebrated, they can give the appearance of more diversity than there really is.

What’s more, just because an African-American is at the helm, it doesn’t mean all is well in the newsroom he runs. “We can’t look to Dean as proof that everything is O.K., and we also can’t look solely to him for solutions,” said Nikita Stewart, a Metro staff reporter.

When you ask managers about the issue individually, everyone genuinely seems to care. Collectively, however, not much changes.

They begin by saying this is an industrywide problem, not just a New York Times problem. That is true, unquestionably. On the other hand, it’s also true that data from the American Society of News Editors shows that The Times is less diverse than large papers like The Washington Post (31 percent), The Los Angeles Times (34 percent) and The Miami Herald (41 percent). The Times is more diverse than The Boston Globe (17 percent) and The Philadelphia Inquirer (14 percent).

Given The Times’s ambitions across global cultures and languages, it would seem that instead of being a lagger, it would insist on being a leader — and make that an explicit goal. I see no sign that this is happening. Nor do I get the impression from many journalists of color I spoke with that they believe progress is on the horizon.

“There’s always a reason for such little diversity in newsrooms. Over the course of time, the reasons always change, but the underrepresentation never does,” said Hannah-Jones, who writes for the Times Magazine, one of the few notably diverse staffs in the building.

Ernesto Londoño, who sits on The Times’s editorial board — and on an Opinion staff lacking both gender and racial diversity — believes the problem lies in a failure of editors to step outside their white-knows-white circles. “It takes a concerted effort to break out of that habit and tap talent pools that are more diverse,” Londoño said.

Which means that unless the pattern breaks, the whiter the newsroom is, the whiter it will stay.

Mark Thompson, The Times chief executive officer, told a group of top leaders across the corporate and news sides last spring that managers could face dismissal if they failed to diversify their staffs. Baquet, who was at the meeting, didn’t sound that militant in our conversation, saying that his editors feel the most pressure through a stringent expectation to bring forth a diverse applicant pool for every job opening. No one has been punished, he says.

I can tell diversity isn’t a priority here by looking at what is. Think digital transition or global expansion or subscriber growth or visual innovation. Those are mandates that really power up the engines. Diversity is not at that level, at least yet.

This issue has challenged most every newsroom manager, myself included. The newsroom I came from, The Washington Post, is quite diverse, but its leadership is heavily white and male. At The Times, on the other hand, people of color seem shut out of all sorts of coveted jobs: the top digital strategists, the top managers, the precious ranks of cultural critics, the White House press corps, the opinion columnists, the national politics jobs — all are overwhelmingly white.

It is possible to change this. But The Times will need more humility, introspection and openness than has been its habit in the past.


About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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