The mainstream media, with the exception of MSNBC, maintains an abysmal record when it comes to diversity, while conservative media don’t even pretend to care. The American Prospect‘s Gabriel Arana took a look at diversity among liberal publications like The Nation, Slate, and Mother Jones, and came away with a raft of excuses from their editors, all of which are pure horseshit. Arana’s own over-complicated analysis eventually gets around to some productive points, but what’s truly revealing are the excuses he elicits from the editors of liberal outlets:
1. They don’t know how white they are.
“When VIDA publishes those numbers, it rattles around your head. It’s a form of shaming I think is actually fairly effective.” Additionally, “Having analytics and goals and knowing that it’ll just be embarrassing if you don’t do better next year is a pretty strong guarantee that things will be better.” – Editor Franklin Foer, The New Republic
The largest staff that Arana reported on was Slate’s, at 75, with five minorities on staff. If you need a report from an advocacy group to tell you that your staff is 94% white, then you also need a seeing-eye dog.
2. It’s a white world, after all.
“[They] are drawing from the milky-white pool of ‘existing talent.'” – Arana on Vox and FiveThirtyEight
I realize Arana put “existing talent” in scare-quotes, but this is an unwitting summation of the entire problem: of course, minority talent “exists,” it’s just invisible to these people.
3. They’re just not that good.
“[We] choose staff for what they can bring to the magazine, first and foremost.” – anonymous editor
This is the kind of horseshit you usually hear from mainstream protectors of the white male status quo, the notion that diversity and merit are somehow incompatible, and maybe it’s even a little bit racist not to snub minorities if they’re not up to snuff. The problem is that they’re mixing up the diversity equation; they’re not failing because their hiring isn’t diverse, their hiring isn’t diverse because they are failing to properly consider merit. If you can’t find a good black, female, gay writer, that’s not because black, gay, or female writers are fucking up, it’s because you are.
4. The economy — because women and minorities command such huge salaries
“Up until 2008, newsrooms—especially large ones—were really really conscious about diversity. The recession made newsrooms very miserly thinking about issues like that. The thinking was, ‘We are in survival mode, we are about saving our jobs. This is not an issue we care about.'” – Editor David Plotz, Slate
5. Damn unions!
“The staff here is unionized, which means there is little job turnover. We only get to make a hire every four or five years.” Executive Editor Richard Kim, The Nation
Arana notes, “Among the progressive publications I examined, The Nation scored the lowest, with slightly over 4 percent of its staff hailing from racial and ethnic minority groups.”
6. The higher they get, the whiter they are.
“We practice fairly specialized form of journalism and the pool of people who do it isn’t terribly large to begin with, and then you look at the group of people who are practicing at a higher level and it’s just not a diverse pool.” – Foer
7. They won’t work for free.
“Most of our staff comes through our intern program. Do we get as many applicants of color as we’d like? Probably not, but we do get them and we have hired them.” – Editor Ellen Rosenbush, Harper’s
There might actually be something to this. Arana points out that women and minorities are less likely to have the financial means to toil away for free, but also, they may be less likely to be willing to work for free. It takes a certain kind of privilege to view working for free as a privilege.
Special bonus excuse: White is as white does.
“The original writing and editing batch at Slate came from elite college folks of the old [former TNR Editor] Michael Kinsley New Republic tradition, folks who work there came out of that and tended to be white and Jewish and Northeastern. That perpetuates itself—it’s hard to look for and find people who are not like you.” – Plotz
On the one hand, Arana and company deserve some credit for even bothering to care, but on the other hand, my own experience tells me that if they really cared all that much, this would not be a problem. The numbers Arana comes up with are fairly shocking, even for organizations that care nothing about diversity. With no effort at all, they ought to be able to find more diverse talent than they have.
I care a great deal about diversity, which is one of the reasons I chose to come to The Daily Banter. We have a very, very small staff, but when I was mulling the move, one-third of the site’s masthead was black and/or female, and I figured at least one of the four white males had to be gay. I still haven’t asked; maybe it’s me. I don’t imagine that this is a function of some concerted effort, but simply the natural result of what Ben Cohen values in a writer, and what I value.
The media people whose writing I enjoy are a diverse group, with disproportionately few white males, and of the dozen or so writers whom I’ve pushed for jobs over the years, none of them are. Some of that is probably a function of my own point of view, and the value I place on those that are different from mine. If you’re telling me what I already think, then it had better be really funny, or really well-written. Most of it, I believe, simply has to do with the talent and wit of the individual writers. Exactly none of it, however, is due to some special effort on my part to seek out writers who are women or minorities. Hell, the first time I ever read The Reid Report, I thought it was written by a white dude.
If your website or magazine grossly underrepresents women and minorities, it’s because you either don’t care enough, or you suck at judging talent. If any of those editors need some help in that department, they can drop me an email. I’ve got plenty of suggestions.