Please Note: This blogger will be on the road, cross country (!), for the next few days, so if the Motel 5+1 in TexArkana don’t got wireless, you aint gonna hear the news from me. 🙂 I’ll be back on by Saturday April 7, 2007.
‘Member on Sunday, when I had commented on the two NYT front pages in a row with young white women? Well I wasn’t the only one who was bothered/bothered to notice. What follows below is an excerpt of todays question and answer column with NY area Metro Editor Joe Sexton. An African-American person named Chris Mergerson refers to the front page articles on “perfect, affluent, Caucasian girls,” and asks Sexton whether or not he thinks the Times does a good job integrating a diverse perspective into its content. Sexton’s response focuses on staff diversity and skirts the meat of the questions by making some obvious PC/brownie point statements. But read on, and tell me what you make of it.
Published: April 2, 2007
Talk to the Newsroom:Metropolitan Editor Joe Sexton
A Diverse Perspective?
Q. To me, one dominant perspective is disproportionately represented in New York Times coverage. For example, reference the Sunday Times article on perfect, affluent Causasian girls who go to an elite school (“For Girls, It’s Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too,” April 1, 2007). As a black reader who is not affluent, this sort of article makes it difficult for me to relate to The Times — especially when there are more important and compelling things happening in your city, in the nation and in the world.
Other newspapers, such as The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, more effectively integrate diverse perspectives into their coverage. It’s not about how news is reported, but rather, how news is chosen to be reported. I think the fault lies with editors, since editors decide what will appear in the newspaper, and editors’ decisions are, of course, influenced by their own perspectives. Perhaps The Times lacks diversity of perspective in its own pool of editors and assistant editors.
What’s your perspective on this, as an editor? Do you believe The Times does a good job of integrating diverse perspectives into its coverage? If so, please give some examples. If not, how can The Times improve?
— Chris Mergerson, Los Angeles
A. Dear Chris: Thanks for the heartfelt question. I have to say it saddens me that you have a hard time relating to the paper, and what it provides readers of the city, country and world. I think the paper pretty regularly gives its readers — readers of all races and income brackets — a lot of useful and wide-ranging information to consider and rely on, to talk about, argue over, apply in their classrooms or board rooms or bedrooms.
Of course, the top people at the paper have long believed that it is healthy and essential to have a diverse staff of reporters and editors. The paper’s record on this has probably been mixed over the years. I don’t think, though, that the belief has ever wavered.
And so I think the virtues of having a diverse staff are manifest in what we publish every day — in all of what we publish every day. By that I mean I don’t think the virtues of having a diverse staff follow some obvious formula — that, for instance, a talented African-American reporter can necessarily report somehow more reliably than any other talented reporter on a specific issue of importance to African-Americans, or that an Asian-American editor can necessarily identify a great story of specific relevance to Asian-Americans that another editor could not. Sometimes, of course, that is the case. Sometimes not. Indeed, it seems a reasonable argument that one of the reasons for seeking a diverse staff is that having people of, say, one background might actually improve the paper’s coverage of topics that typically are considered important to people of different backgrounds.
Does that make sense? I hope so. And I trust I have not misunderstood your concern or your question. If your question about perspectives has to do with whether we make a concerted enough effort to survey a wider array of opinions, insights, etc., that’s a slightly different matter. And I am sure there is room for improvement on our end.
Anyway, for me, stated most fundamentally, I think that a paper produced by a diverse staff — the fruit of mixed experiences, shared conversations, varied expertise, vigorous debate — is a superior specimen to one produced by a staff that is less diverse. In ways both obvious and more subtle. Here’s hoping you stay with us.