Diversity in the Newsroom

The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, is very concerned that “journalists of color” make up only 24 percent of the Post’s reporters and editors. That might seem like a lot to some observers, but Alexander notes that minorities are 43 percent of the people in the Washington area, and it’s essential that the newsroom staff mirror the community the paper is serving.

Well, maybe. As a longtime Post reader, I don’t really know which of the editors and reporters are nonwhite, and I don’t really care. I would hope that the Post would hire the best reporters and editors, in order to put out the best possible paper – with the best possible reporting, writing, copyediting, proofreading, and analysis.

But if reflecting the community is essential, why are race and gender the only categories to be considered? Alexander doesn’t mention sexual orientation. Does the Post have gay (and lesbian and bisexual and transgender and questioning…) journalists in the correct proportions?

And how about ideological diversity? In the 2008 exit polls, 23 percent of voters described themselves as white, Protestant, born-again or evangelical Christians. A survey of American religion said that 34 percent of Americans describe themselves as evangelical or born-again. How many editors and reporters at the Post would describe themselves that way? I’ll bet that born-again Christians are the most underrepresented group in elite newsrooms. But they weren’t mentioned in Alexander’s column. A CBS/New York Times poll in December found that 18 percent of respondents described themselves as supporters of the Tea Party movement. How many Post journalists are? The Post has recently assigned reporter Amy Gardner to “train her sights on the emerging Tea Party movement and developments inside the Republican Party.” Is she a Tea Party Republican? If not, isn’t that sort of like hiring a white person to “train her sights on African-American politics and developments in the black community”? Cato’s studies on the libertarian vote classify about 15 percent of Americans as libertarian. How many Post journalists would be categorized as libertarian?

Slate, the online magazine owned by the Washington Post Co., which shares some content with the Post, reported in 2008 that 55 of its 57 staff and contributors would be voting for Barack Obama, with 1 for John McCain and one for Libertarian Bob Barr. I’m not going to look up the details, but I’m pretty sure that’s unrepresentative of the country as a whole and even of the Washington area.

If newspapers are going to move beyond strict merit hiring to hire reporters and editors who “reflect the community,” then they shouldn’t stop at race and gender. Let’s see some ideological diversity in elite newsrooms.