Media companies face questions about race, diversity and inclusion

Your Wednesday Poynter Report

June 24, 2020
Category: Newsletters

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The death of George Floyd and the protests around the country have shined a light on police brutality and the treatment of Black people by police. But the protests are about much, much more than that. They’re about the discrimination that people of color continue to face every day and have faced for centuries — in all areas of life.

That includes the media.

In the past several weeks, we’ve seen major changes at The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Bon Appétit, Refinery29 and others after questions arose about race, diversity and inclusion. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has received criticism (deservedly so) for how it has treated Black journalists. The Washington Post recently announced it would add as many as 18 positions intended to improve its company and coverage when it comes to race.

And now two more media companies are facing questions: the Los Angeles Times and The Ringer. Here’s the latest from the Times and The Ringer …

Black at the L.A. Times

Black journalists who used to or currently work at the Los Angeles Times posted their experiences on Twitter on Tuesday under the hashtag #BlackatLAT. Many tweeted about the pain and racism they felt while working at the Times.

Gerrick D. Kennedy, who covered music and pop culture from 2009 to 2019, wrote, “There is a culture at the L.A. Times that needs to be dismantled. It’s a culture that continues to contribute to the treatment of Black and brown reporters in that newsroom, but if we are being wholly transparent Black men and women have it the worst at the L.A. Times.”

Kennedy went on to write about a “brick wall” that keeps Black journalists from being promoted and how the paper is a “dead-end road.”

Makeda Easter, an arts and culture journalist at the Times, tweeted, “My experience with the @latimes diversity program was — to put it lightly — awful. I know others have experienced the same.”

Reporter Angel Jennings, who works in the metro section, tweeted, “It’s shameful that I’m the only Black reporter in the largest section of the @latimes. We demand change now.”

National correspondent Kurtis Lee tweeted, “It’s ridiculous that only 26 of 500 @latimes journalists are Black. Black Lives Matter. Black Careers Matter. Hire us. Promote us. Respect us.”

Those are just a few of the tweets.

The L.A. Times Guild’s Black Caucus wrote a letter to Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong and copied newsroom leaders Norman Pearlstine, Kimi Yoshino and Scott Kraft.

“The nation’s reckoning over race has put a much-needed spotlight on inequities at The Times,” the letter says. “We are in a crisis and it is not new. Those of us who have been here since the tumult of 1992 say history is repeating itself. We don’t have enough Black journalists — or, more broadly, journalists of color — to cover our overwhelmingly diverse city, state and nation with appropriate insight and sensitivity.”

The letter goes on to ask that the Times, which has 26 Black journalists, hire at least 18 Black journalists over the next three years to reach 44 — which would reflect the percentage of Black people who live in Los Angeles County. The letter also asks for an apology, a pipeline so Black journalists can have career advancement, a correction of pay disparities and several other requests.

The letter was not only signed by the 16 members of the Black Caucus of the L.A. Times Guild, but by more than 200 members of the L.A. Times Guild.

Executive editor Norman Pearlstine recently told NPR’s David Folkenflik, “I would say in the case of Black journalists, that we do not have enough journalists in positions where they are able to help us tell stories that really need to be told. I’ve asked myself in hindsight what got us to where we are now.”

Looking for diversity at The Ringer

Bill Simmons (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Bill Simmons’ The Ringer website and podcast network is under scrutiny for a lack of diversity, and Simmons told The New York Times’ Noam Scheiber that the site “fell short” when it comes to this issue.

Scrutiny of The Ringer grew more intense after a recent episode of “The Bill Simmons Podcast”  in which Simmons and The Ringer’s Ryen Russillo discussed the protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. During the podcast — which both Simmons and Russillo later apologized for because of its tone-deafness — Russillo complimented Simmons for hiring a diverse staff.

There was an immediate backlash from those who criticized The Ringer for its lack of diversity. The Ringer Union pointed out the site had no Black editors or staffers covering in the NBA or the NFL and that 86% of speakers on the network’s podcasts last year were White.

But there was more than just hiring issues. In his piece for the Times, Scheiber wrote, “Four former black employees, three of whom spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of antagonizing Mr. Simmons, said they often felt uncomfortable at The Ringer. A few of them said that they were sometimes heaped with racist abuse on social media and in online comments when they covered topics that might not have fit the expectations of the typical Ringer reader, including a post on Beyoncé. Top editors did little to defend them on social media when they were under attack, they said.”

I’m a huge fan of Simmons for his immense talent as a writer and, more recently, a podcaster. He’s smart, entertaining and engaging. I also admire his rise from a little-known blogger to a powerful media owner. Simmons, who has defended his hiring practices, appears to now recognize there is a problem. However, the Times article shows Simmons still has work to do with his site and podcast network in order to make it more inclusive.

Simmons recently sold The Ringer to Spotify for nearly $200 million dollars, but he still runs the website and the podcasting network.

Heads rolling?

Despite public proclamations from White House staff that last Saturday’s President Donald Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was not a disappointment, there are plenty of reports that Trump was not pleased that the crowd was far smaller than expected. Fox Business’ Lou Dobbs even wondered aloud on TV if heads were going to roll.

Well, maybe so. Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman reported Tuesday that Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale might be on his way out. Parscale was the one most hyping how big the event was going to be and the most vocal voice — at least on Twitter — in defending Saturday’s rally while explaining the low turnout. An unnamed source told Sherman, “He knows he can’t survive.”

CNN’s Jim Acosta reported that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were upset with Parscale for over-hyping the rally. However, Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller told Sherman that Parscale’s job, for now, is safe. “Brad is the campaign manager,” Miller said, “and he’s the one in charge.”

Bolton vs. Pompeo

“CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell interviews former National Security Adviser John Bolton. (Courtesy: CBS News)

As I’ve been writing in recent days, former National Security Adviser John Bolton is showing up pretty much anywhere there’s a camera to promote his new book, “The Room Where It Happened,” which is highly critical of Trump. One of his stops on Tuesday was with Fox News’ Bret Baier, who asked Bolton who has a better foreign policy approach — Trump or Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden?

Bolton said, “The difference between Biden and Trump is that Biden has a view, and Trump has no view. On any given day, any decision is possible. And I find that frightening. I find the response to the coronavirus demonstrates exactly the kind of fear that I have. The response was herky-jerky, incoherent, sporadic, not as effective as it could have been. That’s what’s wrong with Donald Trump decision-making. And to see it in this kind of crisis only gives a preview of what could happen in an even more severe crisis.”

Baier also asked Bolton what he thought of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling Bolton a traitor and comparing him to Edward Snowden. Bolton said, “That’s complete nonsense, but on the other hand, the president was quoted months ago as calling me a traitor. So, the fact that Mike Pompeo does is par for his course.”

During an interview with “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell, Bolton said of Pompeo, “Mike and I obviously have a substantial disagreement here because I think his department was the ace of aces in the government for leaking things. He has made a decision, which is certainly his to make, to tie his political future to Donald Trump. I think that’s what he continues to do. I feel sorry for him for doing that. But obviously, I’m not gonna change his mind.”

An Undefeated special

ESPN will air a special tonight featuring ESPN anchors, analysts and contributors, as well as high-profile athletes and authors to explore Black athletes’ experiences with injustice. The special — “The Undefeated Presents Time for Change: We Won’t Be Defeated” — will air at 8 p.m. Eastern with an encore presentation at 11 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.

The show will feature “SportsCenter” anchors Elle Duncan, Michael Eaves and Jay Harris, as well as reporter and studio host Maria Taylor. Some of the guests will include NHL player Evander Kane, former Major League Baseball star Torii Hunter and author Ibram X. Kendi. The show also will feature essays from ESPN and The Undefeated journalists.

Media tidbits

  • Publishers Daily’s Sara Guaglione reports that The New York Times has told staffers they won’t have to return to the office until January 2021 at the earliest. The Times told staff that a small number of employees might be asked to work from the office “if they do critical work that substantially benefits from being done in the office.” But, the Times added, it will respect the wishes of those who do not want to work from the office.
  • The White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which had already been pushed back from April to August, has now been canceled because of the coronavirus. However, the White House Correspondents’ Association said it is working on a virtual event so it can recognize award-winning journalism and scholarship winners.
  • Viewership for Sunday night’s ESPYs — ESPN’s made-for-TV awards show — was not good. This year’s event was held virtually as opposed to a big extravaganza. According to Sports Media Watch, the show averaged 482,000 viewers on ESPN and ESPN2, making it the smallest audience ever for the event that goes back to 1995. The previous low was 1.98 million in 2011. Sports Media Watch reported that last year’s ESPYs, which aired on ABC, drew 3.87 million.
  • So, was President Trump really kidding when he said we need to slow down testing for the coronavirus? Many who work for him said it was a joke. Then Trump said Tuesday, “I don’t kid.” So, surely White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany cleared it all up, right? Uh, well … The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple tries to figure that all out with this piece.

Hot type

Usually, in this section — Hot Type — I list three or four items worth seeing or reading. Today, however, I will give you this two-part project because I really encourage you to take the time to read it. Tamir Rice was 12 years and playing in the park with a toy gun when he was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer in 2014. Tamir would have turned 18 this week. Read this powerful project by the USA Today Network in partnership with the Media School at Indiana University, “These Black Teens Are Turning 18 in Tamir Rice’s America,” which also includes an interview with Rice’s mother.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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