The Times-Tribune

Diversity double-speak

- BY LIZ SPAYD LIZ SPAYD is the public editor of The New York Times.

Only two of the 20-plus reporters who covered the presidenti­al campaign for The New York Times were black. None were Latino or Asian. That’s less diversity than you’ll find in Donald Trump’s Cabinet thus far. Of The Times’ newly named White House team, all six are white, as is most everyone in the Washington bureau.

Metro has only three Latinos among its 42 reporters. Sports has one Asian man, a Hispanic woman and no African-Americans among its 21 reporters. In Styles, every writer is white.

The executive editor, Dean Baquet, is African-American. The other editors on his masthead are white. The staff with the most diversity? The news assistants, who get paid the least. The Times can be relentless in questionin­g diversity at other institutio­ns. Fixing its own problems comes less easily.

The newsroom’s blinding whiteness hit me when I walked in the door six months ago. It’s hardly a new problem here, but itpersists even as the country grows more diverse and The Times grows more global. The head of that global expansion, Lydia Polgreen, was one of The Times’ highest-ranking African-American editors until she left last week to lead The Huffington Post. Her departure was a blow to minority journalist­s here. In the past three months, I have interviewe­d people across the newsroom about race. It left me believing there is frustratio­n bordering on anger that would be reckless not to address.

Many journalist­s hoped a new era was beginning 2½ years ago, when Baquet became the first African-American to oversee the newsroom. But diversity is at 22 percent, below newsrooms in most big metro areas. And of those who head department­s, three are people of color.

I asked Baquet what he believes minorities in the newsroom would say about his team’s 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. My effort to diversify has been intense and persistent.”

Baquet particular­ly means the handful of prominent black journalist­s he’s helped attract, stars like Nikole Hannah-Jones, Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham.

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

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

They begin by saying this is an industrywi­de problem. That is true. 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’ ambitions across global cultures and languages, it would seem that instead of being a lagger, it would insist on being a leader. I see no sign that this is happening.

“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.

Ernesto Londono, who sits on The Times’ editorial board — and on an Opinion staff lacking 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,” Londono said.

Mark Thompson, The Times chief executive officer, told a group of top leaders last spring that managers could face dismissal if they failed to diversify their staffs. Baquet didn’t sound that militant, 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. 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, people of color seem shut out of coveted jobs: the top digital strategist­s, managers, the precious ranks of cultural critics, the White House press corps, the opinion columnists, national politics jobs.

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

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