[em]Times[/em] Diversity Report: “A Newspaper at Risk”

After a 10-month study, the New York Times Diversity Council issued its confidential internal report yesterday. The 39-page document, made available to staffers, describes The Times as “a newspaper at risk” on diversity matters and says the paper is “losing ground in comparison to business that are among the leaders in diversity.”

The council, a 23-member group including newsroom and business employees, was founded in 2004, in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal. The “Jayson Blair debacle continues to haunt the Times and continues to affect diversity efforts, according to dozens of interviews with employees,” its report declares.

The report says that no evidence connects Blair’s transgressions to the diversity efforts then in place at The Times, but that the perception of such a link still lingers: “[in] the minds of many, however, Mr. Blair remains an example of newspaper diversity run amok.”

“Many in the newsroom said they believed the Blair case had a lasting, deleterious effect on the way minority reporters and editors were viewed, both inside and outside the newsroom,” the report says.

The council was chaired by picture editor Jose Lopez and vice president for real-estate development Hussain Ali-Khan. Managing editor Jill Abramson was its advisor.

According to the report, the Times newsroom is currently 82.5 percent white, slightly less than the industry average of 86.5 percent. Only 14 percent of newsroom managers are minorities, the council found, and there are currently no minorities on the newspaper masthead and only one nonwhite on the company’s executive committee.

“[W]omen and minorities remain underrepresented at the Times and minorities are seriously underrepresented in its managerial ranks,” the report says.

In 2003 and 2004, three senior managers who were nonwhite left The Times, including managing editor Gerald Boyd, who resigned after the Blair debacle. “This was a major blow to the diversity of the senior management ranks,” the report says, “but more disturbing, it exposed the newspaper’s lack of depth in diversity among managers.”

The council defined diversity in terms of employees’ race, gender and sexual orientation. Religious and political differences were not accounted for.

The report also raises the question of news judgment, challenging the decision to have run the August 9, 2005 obituary of Ebony magazine magnate John Johnson inside the paper: “Some African-Americans believed Mr. Johnson’s obituary deserved front-page placement and saw the fact that it wasn’t played there as a case of white editors failing to recognize his cultural significance.”

The report issues eight recommendations meant to increase diversity. Senior management, it says, “starting with the publisher, chief executive officer and executive editor, must do more to lead by example.” The council does not advocate a quota system, but recommends that all hires be vetted by the recruiting committee with an eye to diversity concerns. Other proposals include creating the position of senior vice president for diversity, increasing bonuses tied to diversity improvement, and developing a mentoring and career-development program.

The council also suggests that the council itself be retained, to advise the diversity VP and publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.

In response to the report, the masthead put out its own 15-page message yesterday. The brass noted the dearth of newsroom diversity, but countered that 30 percent of Times newsroom hires in 2005–26 of 85–were minorities.

In an additional written statement, issued through a spokesperson, Sulzberger said: “I am very proud of the work done by the Diversity Council. Our business environment requires that we continue to push ourselves to become more diverse because our audiences are changing. We must change along with them and systematically hire and promote from a wider segment of the population.”

–Gabriel Sherman