We nitpick the public editor: How many people of different "races" and ethnicities should a newspaper employ?
We don't know the answer to that. Beyond that, as a general matter, we tend to be a bit chary concerning arguments from hypocrisy.
That said, public editor Liz Spayd came out swinging yesterday morning at the New York Times. As she started, she blasted the Times 1) for displaying too little diversity and 2) for exhibiting too much hypocrisy:
SPAYD (12/18/16): 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’s newly named White House team, all six are white, as is most everyone in the Washington bureau.Modest diversity, lots of hypocrisy? Plainly, that's what Spayd said.
Traveling to other departments, Metro has only three Latinos among its 42 reporters, in a city with the second largest Hispanic population in the country. Sports has one Asian man, two Hispanics and no African-Americans among its 21 reporters, yet blacks are plentiful among the teams they cover and the audience they serve. In the Styles section, every writer is white, while American culture is anything but.
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 mostly do administrative jobs and get paid the least.
The Times can be relentless in questioning the diversity at other institutions; it has written about the white ranks of the technology sector, public schools, police departments, Oscar nominees, law firms, legislatures, the major leagues and the Ivy League. Fixing its own problems comes less easily.
In these opening grafs, Spayd described the level of diversity in what she later describes as some of the paper's most prestigious postings. A bit later, she offered overall diversity numbers. When she did, we thought something basic was missing:
SPAYD: Overall, newsroom diversity [at the Times] 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.For what it's worth, Spayd never defined what counts as "newsroom diversity." Most people would likely be able to guess, but such a significant term ought to be defined.
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).
We were annoyed by a larger flaw at this point—by the failure to say what racial/ethnic diversity looks like nationwide.
How diverse must a newsroom be before it "looks like America?" According to the Census Bureau, the national numbers currently stand as shown below.
We mention this because no such data appear in Spayd's piece, and because erroneous data did appear in comments. For the record, it's easy to misunderstand Census data concerning race, since Hispanics also get classified as either black or white. These are the numbers which are relevant to Spayd's discussion:
U.S. population, 2015 estimate, Census BureauBased on those data, the "diversity" of the general population stands at something like 38 percent. According to Spayd, the Times newsroom checks in at 22 percent.
White: 61.6 percent
Hispanic: 17.6 percent
Black: 13.3 percent
Asian-American: 5.6 percent
American Indian/Native Alaskan: 1.2 percent
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 0.2 percent
Multiracial: 2.6 percent
Some other race: 0.2 percent
Should the Times be more diverse? We can't answer that. We were struck by Spayd's second claim—her claim that the Times tends to lecture everyone else, applying standards it doesn't follow itself.
We haven't studied this matter. But that certainly sounds like the New York Times to us!
According to Spayd, the Times is a significant shirker, and a serious hypocrite, on matters of race and ethnicity. For ourselves, we were struck by this fleeting reference to something like social class:
SPAYD: I asked [executive editor Dean] Baquet what he believes minorities in the newsroom would say about his senior team’s dedication to diversity.We're not sure what that statement about the Times' "rather institutional voice" actually means.
“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.
As for the Ivy League reference, Morris prepped at Girard, then graduated from Yale. Hannah-Jones and Wortham are graduates of Notre Dame and UVa, schools which aren't technically Ivy League but are generally viewed as less than plebeian, perhaps as a bit Ivy-like.
Spayd's column appears in the Sunday Review. Yesterday, on that section's front page, Professor Dyson was sounding off about race as opposed to class. As is this professor's wont, he was beating up on Bernie Sanders for some statements the professor didn't quite bother to explain, elucidate or explore.
In the wake of last month's election, arguments have billowed up about the Democratic Party's attention, or lack of attention, to issues of social class, especially concerning the white working class. We'll discuss Dyson's piece tomorrow; we thought it was typically bumptious, weak and unhelpful.
As a general matter, we think the liberal world is a bit weak at this time in the general area of class. On the bright side, our contempt for The Others makes us feel good. But it helped elect Donald J. Trump, and this makes us feel bad.
For herself, Spayd appended this italicized note to the end of her report:
SPAYD: Note: This column explores The Times’s diversity crisis, primarily through race. Future columns will address the struggles to fix this issue, news coverage, the widening gender gap, and the limited geographic, religious and ideological diversity. Stay tuned.We think that note was written in English. At one point, it seems to make a "category error." It never mentions any possible gain which might result from a newsroom which was more diverse from the standpoint of social class.
Aside from issues of race and ethnicity, is it possible that the Times might suffer from a bit of class myopia? We don't know the answer to that. Tomorrow, on to Professor Dyson!