News industry leaders are forever proclaiming that diversity is an organizational priority. Such pronouncements usually come paired with apologies for having failed on this front in the past, along with vague plans to do better.
New York Times Chief Executive Mark Thompson defied this tradition yesterday in a presentation before a gathering of managers on the business and news sides of the newspaper. He identified three areas toward which diversity efforts must be channeled: recruitment, hiring and promotion. Supervisors who fail to meet upper management’s requirements in recruiting and hiring minority candidates or who fail to seek out minority candidates for promotions face some stern consequences: They’ll be either encouraged to leave or be fired.
That account comes from three sources familiar with the presentation. Eileen Murphy, a company spokeswoman, tells the Erik Wemple Blog via email: “While Mark did say that if an individual couldn’t agree with our mission, The Times might not be the right place for them, there was no directive quite as specific as your email suggests.” More from Murphy: “Our mission around diversity was discussed … and there was a full dialogue around hiring, promotion, retention and career development as well as other programs to support diversity and inclusion.”
An attendee notes: “[Thompson] started out by saying that the person would probably come to his own conclusion that this was not the right place for him or her and leave the paper. But if not, they would be told to leave.”
Now for the requisite caveats about jurisdictional lines. As chief executive, Thompson doesn’t boss around the newsroom, despite concerns early in his tenure about possible incursions. Newsroom managers report upward to Dean Baquet and Arthur Sulzberger Jr. In his own presentation, Baquet made clear that it was his policy, too, to hold managers accountable on this front.
Baquet, who is now completing his second year on the job, is the first African American executive editor of the New York Times. Among the central planks of his editorship is a improvement on the diversity front — a topic that he has addressed with considerable frequency, setting the tone for the organization. Just last week, Baquet criticized a Styles section story about Gay Talese with these words, in part: “Too often, we are clumsy in handling issues of race and gender and this story was another unfortunate example. We have made strides in our coverage and culture, but the best solution is to continue building a more diverse, inclusive newsroom.”
The American Society of News Editors tabulates newspaper’s minority newsroom representation, and the New York Times clocked in at 19 percent in the 2015 survey. Minority representation in the daily newspaper workforce is just shy of 13 percent. For the sake of comparison, The Washington Post has 31 percent; the Boston Globe 20 percent; the Star Tribune Media Co. 15 percent; the Philadelphia Inquirer 13 percent; the Miami Herald 42 percent; and the Idaho Statesman 0.0 percent, as this blog has noted before.
More to come on this topic.