The New York Times doggedly covers governments and corporations all the time that have questionable practices in the hot-button sociological term of the 21st century: diversity.
Now, the Times can cover itself because it, too, has a major image problem in this highly scrutinized and sensitive area. The Times can continue to point, with great justification, about its tremendous journalistic prowess, both in its broadsheet newspaper and online.
But that is not the point today or tomorrow. The Times is being accused of showing little regard for diversity with the ouster earlier this week of Executive Editor Jill Abramson, wh had held the job for three years. She was replaced by her managing editor, Dean Baquet, an African-American Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who had edited the Los Angeles Times. Clearly Baquet reached the top on merit and not any sort of whiff of affirmative action programs.
The Times has come to be regarded as a company ruled by the whims of New York Times Co. head Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who is also the publisher of the flagship newspaper.
Sulzberger has been called mercurial for a reason. In the case of Abramson, there appeared to be no overt reason for her departure. There was no evidence of mismanagement or scandal or disastrous editorial judgment. In fact, some observers have presented data since the ouster to conclude that Abramson’s tenure had a positive effect on the Times’ journalism and a healthy influence on its finances.
But the problem was that she apparently didn’t see eye to eye with Sulzberger, over issues ranging from her compensation to many others. Some people inevitably accuse Abramson of being churlish or demanding or bossy or occasionally aloof or hard to communicate with.
You know what? That laundry list pretty much echoes just about every boss I’ve ever had in journalism. A newspaper newsroom is not a place for the weak or the easily offended or the apologetic. It is a pure Darwinian life, all the way. To survive it is an accomplishment. To reach the top of the food chain, like Abramson and Baquet, counts as a remarkable accomplishment.
Diversity, meanwhile, continue to be the elephant in the room in all matters of management. The Times squeezed every bit of public-relations glory when the world hailed the paper for appointing Abramson as its its first female executive editor in 2011 (unlucky Baquet isn’t getting the same kind of tribute now because so many people are upset about Abramson’s ouster).
The best newspapers cover their communities around the world with staffers who look a lot like their constituents, in terms of age, skin color, ethnicities and gender orientation. The New York Times is often hailed as the best of the best of them all.
But now it has fumbled the ball on diversity and it has a lot of explaining to do to a waiting world.