By:
February 25, 2021

Last year, the entire country went through a reckoning over race. That was mostly triggered when George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis and by the subsequent nationwide protests over his death.

Following several other tragic events involving the police and Black people — specifically, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake — the reckoning became a dominant and long-overdue subject in this country. Eventually, that conversation worked its way into another area where diversity, equality and inclusion have been a problem: newsrooms.

Again, it took notable incidents at places such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Los Angeles Times to bring that topic to the surface — enough that news leaders were forced to address what they had neglected for far too long.

This confrontation also came to, arguably, the most notable news outlet in the country: The New York Times. While issues of race and inclusion at the Times, like most news organizations, go back much further than last summer, it reached a boiling point when the Times ran an op-ed by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton that called for the U.S. military to be used during the Black Lives Matters protests. Many Times staffers were deeply troubled by the Times’ decision to run Cotton’s piece and spoke out about it.

With all of this as the backdrop, the Times took action by launching an investigation to address its culture.

On Wednesday, after an eight-month investigation led by a respected group of Times leaders, the Times released what it called an “uncomfortable portrait” in a report to staff about workplace culture and diversity.

The report said, “After several months of interviews and analysis, we have arrived at a stark conclusion: The Times is a difficult environment for many of our colleagues, from a wide range of backgrounds.”

It added, “Our current culture and systems are not enabling our work force to thrive and do its best work. This is true across many types of difference: race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, socioeconomic background, ideological viewpoints and more. But it is particularly true for people of color, many of whom described unsettling and sometimes painful day-to-day workplace experiences.”

The investigation — led by Amber Guild, president of the company’s T Brand Studios, deputy managing editor Carolyn Ryan, and senior vice president Anand Venkatesan — found that Black and Latino staffers face “the largest and most pervasive challenges” and are underrepresented in leadership. As another example, it found that Asian American women on the staff feel “invisible and unseen.”

Guild, Ryan and Venkatesan wrote, “We cannot accept this. We must change our culture and systems. And we must be bolder in making The Times more diverse, equitable and inclusive. Doing so will improve the experience not just for our colleagues of color, but for everyone at The Times.”

According to its own report, the Times does appear to be making strides. Last year, 48% of new hires were people of color. Over the past six years, the number of people of color has gone from 27% of the Times staff to 34% and people of color in leadership positions has gone from 17% to 23%. The percentage of women has gone from 45% to 52%.

But much work remains, according to The Times. After identifying the issues and presenting the numbers, the three leaders then laid out a plan for “sweeping changes,” which includes:

  • Transform our culture to create an environment where we all can do our best work.
  • Elevate how we lead and manage people.
  • Strengthen systems and practices for developing people, and for supporting work to make The Times more diverse, equitable and inclusive.
  • Ensure our coverage benefits from the judgment of a more diverse and inclusive newsroom.

The report gives detailed explanations and recommendations for how to implement these changes.

The report concludes with: “We want to be clear about our commitment. Diversity is not in tension with our journalistic mission: Instead, it helps us find the truth and more fully understand the world. Diversity is also not in tension with our commitment to independence: We will continue to cover the world without fear or favor and portray the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. Making the Times experience better for colleagues of color will make The Times better for everyone. Our work has left us optimistic for the future. We are eager to get to it.”

In an interview with CNN’s Kerry Flynn, Ryan said, “Over the past several years, we have hired hundreds of journalists of color and brought people into the newsroom broadly from a range of backgrounds. But our culture hasn’t shifted and our culture hasn’t evolved to really make sure that we are creating the conditions where all of our employees can do their best work.”

My take: It took a long time to create these problems and it will take a long time to fix them. This report is a good start. Credit to the Times for being transparent, for addressing this matter, for putting smart people in charge of the investigation and for laying out a distinct and commendable plan that is out there for everyone — inside and outside the Times — to see and, more importantly, monitor as the Times moves forward.

It also would be good to see all news organizations do the kind of self-evaluation that the Times has done and work toward making sure their newsroom cultures are where they should be.

More on Tiger

As I wrote in Wednesday’s newsletter, most of the journalism regarding Tiger Woods’ car accident was responsible and accurate. But it wasn’t perfect and a CNN anchor had to apologize for saying he was “not entirely surprised” when he heard about the accident.

Here’s what CNN sports anchor/reporter Andy Scholes said when talking on air with CNN’s Brianna Keilar not long after Woods’ accident on Tuesday: “Stunned, I guess, but not entirely surprised by what we’re seeing here. Tiger, back in 2017, was found by police pulled over to the side of the road, asleep in his car. He had said he had taken a lot of painkillers at that time because we all know Tiger has undergone a lot of surgeries over the years and painkillers have become a part of his life.”

As I mentioned Wednesday, there’s nothing wrong with telling the story of Woods’ career and life, including his DUI incident in 2017. But it absolutely needs context and should be framed with the fact that authorities said there was no evidence that Woods was impaired. Scholes failed to add that context. Worse, Scholes’ comment of “not entirely surprised” implied Woods might have been impaired. He was, rightly, blasted on social media.

That led Scholes to reply to many of the critical individual tweets he received with some version of “Sorry didn’t mean for it to come out that way.”

On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said, “This was purely an accident” and said investigators won’t pursue charges against Woods.

For more coverage on Woods, check out:

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Carlson’s latest controversy

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

I try to avoid writing too much about the Fox News primetime lineup of Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. They like to rile up their diehard audiences while simultaneously trolling the left. Frankly, much of what they say seems more for shock and entertainment value than an attempt to make insightful and productive political commentary. So why amplify it? Why treat it as if it’s legitimate news just because it airs on a channel with “news” in its name?

After all, didn’t Fox News lawyers once argue that viewers should approach Carlson’s show with a fair amount of skepticism? My general thought is that if you don’t know what you’re getting into when you turn on Fox News’ primetime trio at this point then that’s pretty much on you.

But that’s not to say that what is said on those primetime shows is completely harmless. It’s not. Several million watch those programs and believe much of what they hear those hosts say.

I bring all this up today because of the latest controversy involving Carlson. Earlier this week, he went on a rant during his show about misinformation and the media and then said this:

“So it’s worth finding out where the public is getting all this false information — this ‘disinformation,’ as we’ll call it. So we checked. We spent all day trying to locate the famous QAnon, which in the end we learned is not even a website. If it’s out there, we could not find it.”

Clearly, that’s an outrageous statement, and purposefully so. Of course QAnon exists, and Carlson knows full well that it does. As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump explains in a really smart piece, Carlson was making a point that CNN and other media outlets do more damage than QAnon. To which Bump writes is “a far more toxic and ridiculous claim.”

Bump added, “Carlson was making a joke about how the ‘disinformation’ that the mainstream media laments doesn’t have a centralized source, while the media’s own disinformation does. But the root of the joke was deeply ironic, given that it sat squarely in a sweeping effort by Carlson to offer disinformation about one of his favorite targets of scorn: concern about systemic racism in the United States.”

Read Bump’s piece to see just how potentially dangerous Carlson’s actual point really is. And as far as that QAnon stuff? That’s actually dangerous, too, considering the likelihood that many of Carlson’s viewers took it literally.

Journalism awards

Journalism award season is underway. On Wednesday, winners of the George Polk Awards were announced by Long Island University. The awards honor journalists in 18 categories.

In a statement, LIU said that almost half the winners won for reporting on COVID-19. In addition, it said there were a record number of entries with 592 across print, online, TV and radio.

Among the highlights:

The Atlantic’s Ed Yong won for Science Reporting for his “clear and insightful analysis of factors behind the spread of COVID-19 and failed efforts to bring it under control.”

The New Yorker’s Luke Mogelson received the award for National Reporter for “three magazine articles putting his extensive experience as a foreign war correspondent to use with firsthand accounts of domestic upheaval that sometimes turned violent. He produced probing portraits of Black Lives Matter activists in Minneapolis, anti-lockdown militia members in Michigan and competing left and right militants on the streets of Portland.”

The staff of The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune won the Local Reporting award for its coverage of the death of George Floyd and its aftermath.

“Vice News Tonight” and correspondent Roberto Ferdman won for Television Reporting for coverage of the shooting death of Breonna Taylor during a “no-knock” police raid in Louisville.

Click here for the complete list of winners.

Sharpton interviews Harris

Vice President Kamala Harris. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

MSNBC’s Rev. Al Sharpton interviewed Vice President Kamala Harris, and the conversation will air Saturday at 5 p.m. Eastern on “PoliticsNation.” Portions of the interview were scheduled to air this morning on “Morning Joe.” Harris talks about the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as Harris’ priorities as the first woman and person of color to serve as vice president.

Harris told Sharpton, “We know Black people are disproportionately likely to contract the virus and die from it. We know when you look at who the frontline workers are, who have been most at risk, disproportionately we are talking about people of color. When you look at the fact that Black small businesses, as many as I’ve seen, 40% are going out of business or have gone out of business. It is disproportionately affecting us and if we want to get control of this virus that is harming us at a disproportionate rate, part of it is to get vaccinated when it is our turn.”

Speaking up

The Des Moines Register has an editorial today and across the entire USA Today network that supports Register reporter Andrea Sahouri, who was arrested while covering a protest in the days following George Floyd being killed by police. Sahouri is set to go to trial next month on charges of failure to disperse and interference with official acts.

In part, the editorial reads, “It’s frightening that so many arrests and detainments have happened in a country that considers

itself a beacon of press freedom. There’s disturbing evidence in some cases that police targeted those arrested because they were journalists. But let’s give officers the benefit of the doubt and chalk up many of the arrests to the ‘fog of war’ as officers made split-second decisions in chaotic situations that were dangerous for all involved.

“And indeed, once it was made clear that the person involved was a working journalist, in the vast majority of instances, the journalist was released without being charged or the charges were quickly dropped. But charges from 2020 arrests remain pending against 16 journalists around the country, including Sahouri, according to the tracker.”

It adds, “When reporters are arrested, assaulted or otherwise prevented from doing their jobs, it’s not an attack on just a single journalist or a media company. It’s an attack on everyone’s rights to be informed and to hold those in power accountable for their actions. Sarcone needs to do his job and dismiss these charges, which clearly violate free press rights.”

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

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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