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July 26, 2021, 4:33 p.m.

Small steps, but: Most big American newspaper newsrooms are now led by someone other than a white man

Among the 20 biggest dailies, nearly two-thirds of their newsrooms are run by a woman or a person of color (or both). But newsrooms still have a long way to go to be reflective of the communities they serve.

Last week, two dailies near and dear to my heart hired new top editors to lead their newsrooms.1 The Dallas Morning News announced that Katrice Hardy of The Indianapolis Star would be its next executive editor. And three hours down I-45, the Houston Chronicle named Maria Reeve executive editor, moving her one spot up the masthead from her current role as managing editor.

Hardy and Reeve are both excellent journalists with experience leading newsrooms and overseeing important and complex stories. They are also both Black women, which while hardly the most interesting thing about them, is worth noting — given both the events of the past year and the long, long, long history of American newspapers being led overwhelmingly by white men. (Reeve is the first journalist of color to lead the Chronicle; Hardy will be the first woman and first African American in Dallas’ top job.)

Newsrooms have been talking about diversity for decades — but most of that talk hasn’t translated to action. American newsrooms are still much whiter than the communities they cover and substantially more male, especially in leadership positions. (As of 2018, surveyed American newsrooms were roughly 61% male and 84% white.) But it seemed to me that more and more important newspapers had been walking at least some of the talk and hiring someone who isn’t a white man for their top jobs. (Full disclosure: White man here!)

To check that hunch, I used data from the Alliance of Audited Media to pull together a list of the 20 largest American newspapers by daily circulation2 and then gathered the names of their top editors3.

Once I’d assembled them all, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how much less white and male the leaders of American newsrooms have become in a relatively short amount of time. Of the 20 largest newspapers, only 7 are led by a white man. Twelve are led by a woman, a person of color, or both. (One top job, at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser4, is vacant.)

USA Today Nicole Carroll
The Wall Street Journal Matt Murray
Los Angeles Times Kevin Merida
New York Post Keith Poole
The New York Times Dean Baquet
The Boston Globe Brian McGrory
Chicago Tribune Colin McMahon
(Minneapolis) Star Tribune Rene Sanchez
The Seattle Times Michele Matassa Flores
The Philadelphia Inquirer Gabriel Escobar
Newsday Deborah Henley
San Francisco Chronicle Emilio Garcia-Ruiz5
The Washington Post Sally Buzbee
The Tampa Bay Times Mark Katches
The Denver Post Lee Ann Colacioppo
Houston Chronicle Maria Reeve
The Dallas Morning News Katrice Hardy
Honolulu Star-Advertiser vacant
The (Newark) Star-Ledger Kevin Whitmer
New York Daily News Robert York

By holding 7 of the 19 top jobs, white men make up 36.8% of these newsroom leaders. On its own, from a diversity standpoint, that’s…not terrible, actually! As of 2019, 62.9% of American adults were non-Hispanic whites, with white man making up a bit less than half of that share. So while 36% is an over-representation, it’s a relatively small over-representation — especially compared to not that long ago, when these jobs might have been 80-90% white men.

Back in 2014, when our friends at Nieman Reports examined the data, they found that women were the top editor of only 3 of the 25 largest U.S. newspapers. Now, women lead 7 of the top 19 — not yet parity, of course, but a significant improvement in a seven-year span.

Also in 2014, an ASNE survey of American newspapers found only 15 percent had even a single person of color in any of their top three editorial positions. Not just the top job, mind you, the top three jobs — and 85% of papers filled all three with white journalists.

The list of Black journalists who’ve run mainstream daily newspapers is a proud one (with names like Bob Maynard, Al Fitzpatrick, Bill Hillard, and Greg Moore), but it is also a short one. Now they lead four of the largest newsrooms in the country, as do three Hispanic editors.

And the most recent trend lines looks good for diversity, too.

Of these 19 jobs, 7 have changed hands in the past 12 months — Dallas, Houston, D.C., L.A., the New York Post, Philly, and San Francisco. The people who previously held those seven jobs: 6 white men, 1 white woman. The people in those jobs now: 2 Black women, 2 Hispanic men, 1 Black man, 1 white woman, 1 white man.

Or to put it another way: About a year ago, the editors of the 20 largest American newspapers by circulation looked like this:

13 white men
5 white women
1 Hispanic man
1 Black man

Today, they look like this:

7 white men
5 white women
3 Hispanic men
2 Black men
2 Black women
1 vacant

Now, I want to be clear: The relative diversity of those holding these top jobs doesn’t mean the work of making daily journalism more representative of the public it serves is done. (Or half done, or a quarter done, or even 10% done.) There are still lots of areas where newspaper newsrooms look a lot more like, er, me than America at large.

  • It’s one thing to hire a woman or person of color for the top job; it’s another to diversify the rest of the editorial ranks. Having looked at a lot of newspaper staff listings recently, I can tell you the next tier of editors down — assistant managing editors, deputy metro editors, features editors, sports editors, and so on — is substantially more white and male than these numbers might suggest. A top editor is the face of a newsroom, but most of the editorial decision-making is necessarily done by people with less esteemed titles.
  • These are the largest newspapers in the country; smaller papers are further behind. Research has long shown that lower-circulation newspapers are less likely to hire minority journalists, whether as an entry-level reporter or editor-in-chief. (As of 2016, a typical newspaper with a circulation over 500,000 employed roughly 3× as many minority journalists as one with a circulation of 25,000 or lower.)
  • Related: Because they’re in America’s largest cities, the population these newspapers serve is more diverse and less white than the country as a whole. Matching national racial demographics isn’t as impressive if your city is 80% non-white. “Reflective of the United States” doesn’t mean “reflective of your community.”

Not to mention that newsrooms’ habits, workflows, and stances have been engrained over decades; the default voice of most American newspapers has been white and male for as long as they’ve existed. It will take much more than a leadership change to truly allow a news product to reflect the interests, perspectives, desires, faults, and voices of its community. There is so much work to do!

But that shouldn’t make us ignore what is a real and honest accomplishment. When I entered the newspaper business 25 years ago — in a newsroom where every, if memory serves, every single editor outside the sports desk was white — I would have never thought I’d see the day when barely a third of America’s largest newspaper newsrooms were run by white men. That’s worth a tiny pause and a “Huh, okay!” of acknowledgement before going back to the hard work of diversifying journalism.

  1. I was a reporter at The Dallas Morning News for eight years, and growing up in south Louisiana, I’d read the Sunday Houston papers the local grocery store had for sale — though to be honest, I always rooted for The Houston Post against the larger Chronicle. ↩︎
  2. Caveats: The AAM does not measure all newspapers’ circulation, though it does measure the biggest. It also lets newspapers count their online subscribers in strange ways and sometimes mash them up with print subs in stranger ways. Basically, this isn’t an iron-clad list, but it’s the best we have. ↩︎
  3. More caveats: Newsroom titles can be opaque; sometimes the top news title goes to someone who is more of a figurehead (or owner) than to someone who makes editorial decisions day to day. In these cases, I believe I’ve gotten the person in ultimate charge of the newsroom; corrections welcome. ↩︎
  4. Longtime editor Frank Bridgewater retired a year ago amid massive cutbacks at the Star-Advertiser; the job hasn’t been filled. With that slot vacant, the top two editors appear to be deputy editor Ed Lynch, who is white, and managing editor/news Marsha McFadden, who is Black. ↩︎
  5. Garcia-Ruiz is the child of immigrants from Spain. ↩︎
POSTED     July 26, 2021, 4:33 p.m.
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