Combating "Diversity Fatigue"
Wednesday, December 1, 2004
Renewed Effort Pledged at Washington Post
Presented by staffers with a sharply worded indictment of what was termed the Washington Post's lack of progress on newsroom diversity, Post news managers today pledged a renewed effort that will focus on career development, recruitment and revamped staff evaluations.
"Our hope is that within four years, we will have a newsroom that truly reflects our community, that there will be journalists of color at every level of the newspaper," Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. said, "from local bureau reporters to White House correspondents to AMEs," or assistant managing editors.
Downie's comments came at a meeting of about 40 Post journalists following up on concerns expressed at a Nov. 18 staff meeting after Eugene Robinson, the assistant managing editor for the Style section, who is African American, was passed over for the managing editor's job in favor of Phil Bennett, the assistant managing editor for foreign news, who is white.
At the time, Downie said he would be willing to meet again on the diversity concerns.
A meeting of staff members -- only a third of them black and with a heavy complement of white women -- convened by national reporter Darryl Fears, who is black, and business reporter Keith Alexander, who is president of the Washington Association of Black Journalists, led to a seven-page memo dated Monday. Distributed today, it outlined "eight areas of importance": Newsroom culture, hiring, retention, training/development, wages, evaluations, assignments and career mobility.
The concerns are similar to those in newsrooms across the country. At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, African American staffers at Newsday are to meet with new editor John Mancini. Today at the Post, Milton Coleman, deputy managing editor, drew on his experience as chair of the Diversity Committee of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
"We fight against 'diversity fatigue'," he said at the Post meeting. What ASNE has found, he said, is that the remedy is "to focus at the very top" -- to make sure that the diversity goal is articulated and enforced from the top down.
California's San Jose Mercury News was cited by some as a potential model. There, Post staff writer Maureen Fan said at the 90-minute meeting, editor David Yarnold's mantra was "diversity and technology." She said that "your job was on the line" if staffers did not buy into those priorities, which were articulated frequently.
Still, many of the comments were specific to the Post. "The newspaper is falling well short of reflecting the communities where it is delivered, and it seems to us that it is no coincidence that this is happening at a time when The Washington Post is struggling mightily to retain black, Latino and Asian staffers," the committee members said in their letter to management. "We find it alarming that for every three minority journalists hired, two leave the newspaper. But managers at the newspaper have not reacted to this troubling exodus, even to try to determine why it is happening."
The managers -- Downie, Bennett and Coleman -- replied with a written list of 10 points, most of them agreeing with the concerns expressed and offering possible solutions.
Chief among them was better use of evaluations, including having reporters assess editors, instituting self-evaluations and including a look at how much editors "promote diversity of coverage and diversity on their staffs." Downie said his other chief concerns were recruitment and career development, and he said he wanted to create a "diversity leadership committee" of assistant managing editors, their deputies and section heads who would deal with content and diversity concerns, provide a regular avenue of exchange of information and make clear that diversity is a part of what the paper does.
The role of assignment editors was mentioned repeatedly. "The most disheartening thing in the newsroom is a culture of 'no' and not 'what if'," one of the committee members said. The speaker later said the statement went beyond assignment editors, adding, "We are traditional in ways that limit thinkers who come from different backgrounds. The end result is producing a paper that can often feel homogenous and institutitional."
Downie agreed that editors need to be more receptive to suggestions from reporters. He also denied that the paper tried to promote a "sink or swim" culture. He did acknowledge that one of the problems was that "people are too reluctant to speak frankly with each other."
There was also general agreement on the connection between diversity on the staff, diversity of content and reaching diverse readers.
In the latest census of newspapers by the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Post reported 22.6 percent of its newsroom professionals were black, Latino, Asian American and Native American. But those numbers have slipped, the executive editor acknowledged.
Downie also advocated casting a wider net for potential Post journalists, agreeing with the committee that such publications as the Village Voice and Vibe magazine should be among those mined for talent.
And he said "the Post should hire a full-time writing coach and institute other training programs for those who want to grow as reporters and writers. This should not be seen as remedial training but rather something that motivated reporters will take advantage of to move up to the next level." He agreed that a dearth of copy editors of color was a problem, and said this would be a responsibility of a new assistant managing editor for the copy desks. And on wages, he said, "the goal is to eliminate the disparity based on race or sex."
The committee noted that the Post had discussed these issues before, naming in particular a November 1993 report from a group headed by Michael Getler, now the paper's ombudsman. "The recommendations of the Getler report have gone unfilled for so long," it said.
Still, Downie said he did not mind revisiting the subject. "We're a living organism," he said. "We can never stand still. I'm not concerned that we're here together. I'm concerned about some of the issues raised."
"This does feel like another watershed moment in the history of the paper," Marcia Davis, an editor in the Style section, told those assembled.
The group agreed to reconvene in three to six months to measure the paper's progress.
Leroy Aarons Services Scheduled for Saturday
A memorial service for Leroy Aarons, the Maynard Institute co-founder and founding president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4, in the main sanctuary of the Center for Spiritual Living, 2075 Occidental Road, Santa Rosa, Calif. Telephone: (707) 546-4543.
A page of tributes to Aarons, who died Sunday at age 70, is elsewhere on the Maynard site.
- Mark Fitzgerald, Editor & Publisher: Roy Aarons: An Appreciation
- Obituary by Kevin Fagan, San Francisco Chronicle
- Obituary by Joe Holley, Washington Post
- Obituary by Douglas Martin, New York Times
- Obituary by Kitty McCarthy, Oakland Tribune
- Obituary by Tom Musbach, PlanetOut Network
- Statement of National Association of Hispanic Journalists
- Statement of National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association
The City University of New York, whose students are 50 to 60 percent black, Latino and Asian, has chosen as its founding journalism dean Stephen B. Shepard, the editor-in-chief of BusinessWeek magazine, a publication not especially known for its diversity.
The university plans to open a school of journalism in fall 2005 offering a one-year master's degree program.
Shepard has worked at the magazine for 32 years and became editor-in-chief in 1984, according to the Associated Press.
Business Week has about three African American writers and editors --James Ellis, chief of correspondents; Roger Crockett, deputy bureau manager in Chicago; and correspondent Cliff Edwards in San Mateo, Calif.
It also has an Asian American presence, but spokeswoman Kimberley Quinn said the company does not release information about the racial composition of the staff. She did say the publication's editorial staff consists of 102 editorial employees at its New York headquarters, 38 correspondents in 10 domestic news bureaus, and 16 international correspondents in 10 bureaus.
Ellis, a former co-chair of the Business Writers Task Force of the National Association of Black Journalists, told Journal-isms that the low numbers of African Americans at Business Week is true of business writing in general.
"There are probably fewer black business writers today than 10 years ago," said Ellis, who said he had been a business writer for more than 30 years.
Other parts of newspapers have a higher profile, he said, and young reporters believe they can get ahead faster by covering politics. There are very few Hispanics in the field, he added.
Moreover, Ellis continued, many believe that the preparation required to write about business "is more than they can get into."
It's a problem that has been studied by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, Ellis said.
"Federal officials are investigating allegations that a former Newsday subcontractor was persuaded to kick back more than $1 million over a 10-year period to a high-ranking Newsday executive in order to keep millions of dollars of business his firm did with the newspaper, according to several sources familiar with a federal investigation of circulation problems at Newsday," Robert E. Kessler and Mark Harrington reported in the newspaper Tuesday.
"The probe centers on allegations by James Cisek, a Center Moriches businessman, that he had to pay former Newsday senior vice president Louis Sito the money to keep contracts with the paper and its subsidiaries, the sources said. The contracts, which brought Cisek's companies tens of millions in annual revenue, were to provide temporary help, payroll services, subscription sales and home delivery."
"A major demographic survey of columnists is in the works, and the results may released as early as next summer," Dave Astor reports in Editor & Publisher.
"Questions are currently being solicited for the survey, which is a joint project of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists (NSNC) and University of San Francisco.
"NSNC President Suzette Standring said the survey will cover topics such as how many columnists are female or male, minority or white, liberal or conservative, do general-interest or niche features, are newspaper staffers or freelancers, and are syndicated or self-syndicated. Columnists will also be asked if they have blogs, if they have their own Web sites, how much they're edited, what they're paid, and more."
"One of the University's most honored professors, who created a legacy through his involvement in the civil rights movement and his tenure at UNC, announced his retirement Monday," Rachel Brock writes in the Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina.
"Chuck Stone, Walter Spearman professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, will complete his final semester this spring."
"I have been very gratified," Stone said in the story. "What defines you is what your colleagues, friends and family think of you."
"Stone's laundry list of credentials includes serving as the first president of the National Association of Black Journalists and receiving two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize," the story continued.
"He also has worked as a White House correspondent, editor in chief of the Chicago Daily Defender, senior editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and a commentator on the Today Show."
For some African American columnists, it has been fashionable to knock Black History Month each February, saying that black history should not be limited to one month out of the year.
In Maryland, it looks like someone heard them.
"Starting next fall, elementary and middle schools across the state will integrate the African-American experience into history, art, music, literature, geography and economics -- in short, nearly everything they do," Sara Neufeld writes in the Baltimore Sun.
Flo Falatko, a fourth-grade teacher in Towson, Md., "said she was eager to participate in the pilot program because teaching African-American heritage shouldn't be limited to Black History Month in February.
"'I'm a strong believer that all history should be taught together,' she said.
"The new curriculum stems from a partnership between the state education department and the new Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture. Educators believe the partnership is the first of its kind in the nation," wrote Neufeld.
Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.
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