What’s the News? White Editors Make the Call : Newspapers: Even the most conscientious are often captives of their own experiences and perceptions.


Thomas Greer was fed up.

Here he was--managing editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, a proud and successful black man--and yet every time his newspaper’s photographers came back to the office with photographs of fans at a Browns’ football game, the photos showed only white people.

Cleveland was more than 40% black, and Greer “didn’t see how five or six photographers could shoot a crowd of 80,000 people and come back with only white faces.”

So he finally told his sports editor, “The next time that happens, someone’s going to get fired.”


Greer, now the editor of the Plain Dealer, chuckles at the response to his threat.

“It was amazing,” he says. “That was four years ago, and I can’t recall the last time I saw a crowd shot without black people in it.”

Greer’s experience illustrates what minority journalists around the country said repeatedly in the course of more than 175 interviews for this story: No matter how enlightened and well-meaning white editors may be, the press will not change its fundamental approach to covering minorities and routinely include them in the mainstream of the daily news flow until there are many minority editors participating significantly in the decision-making process.

“I used to think that 11 o’clock on Sunday (morning) was the most segregated hour in America because that’s when we all dressed up and went to our own churches,” says Ben Johnson, a black assistant managing editor at the St. Petersburg Times. “But I’ve changed my mind. . . . The most segregated hour comes at about 4 p.m (every day), when in most newsrooms around the country . . . (editors) sit down and decide . . . what is news.

“Most of the people who are making those determinations for all of this incredibly pluralistic country are white and middle class and male.”

Johnson is right.

Only 4.6% of all newsroom supervisors are minorities, according to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and even those 4.6% include many who have little real impact on the ultimate decision-making process at most newspapers. Only 1% to 2% (at most) of the nation’s executive editors, editors-in-chief and managing editors are minorities.

Minorities are under-represented at the top levels of virtually all businesses and institutions in this country. But critics say that newspapers--many of which have long editorialized against and written exposes on discriminatory practices in government and private industry--should be setting a standard, not lagging behind.


Scarce in Newsrooms

Newspapers have often been critical of major league baseball for having so few minorities as front-office executives, for example, but minorities fill 15% of those positions in baseball--more than three times the percentage of minorities who are supervisors in newspaper newsrooms.

“The media is one of the last bastions . . . of apartheid,” says Les Payne, a black, who is assistant managing editor of Newsday.

While minorities make up almost 25% of the nation’s population, they account for only 7.86% of all newsroom professionals; 54% of the nation’s daily newspapers do not have a single minority on the professional newsroom staff.


In 1968, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (popularly known as the Kerner Commission) said newspapers had been “shockingly backward in seeking out, training and promoting” blacks. The same could have been said for Latinos, Asian-Americans and American Indians, and improvement has been only modest since then on all fronts.

Yes, there are now job fairs for minority recruitment, along with minority training programs sponsored by the industry or affiliated with various universities, and there are minority journalism associations representing each of the major ethnic groups, working diligently to enlighten whites, inspire their members and instruct the next generation.

But “it’s almost criminal how little is happening in the industry,” says Michael Fancher, the white executive editor of the Seattle Times. “For all the talk that we’re doing as an industry, we’re not doing enough to back it up.”

Leaders of the black, Latino and American Indian journalists associations met recently with Gerald Garcia, chairman of the minorities task force of the American Newspaper Publishers Assn., to discuss their dissatisfaction over the lack of progress on hiring and promotion in the industry.


Although blacks generally fare significantly better than other minorities both in getting newspaper jobs and in being promoted, they remain severely under-represented in the nation’s newsrooms--4.1% compared with 11.7% in the general population.

Latinos fill 2.1% of the newsroom professional jobs, Asian-Americans 1.3% and American Indians less than 0.3%, all even less representative of their shares of the total population than blacks.

With the percentage of minorities in the general population increasing at a faster rate than that of minorities in the newsroom, the industry has actually lost ground in the American Society of Newspaper Editors campaign to have minorities in the newsroom accurately reflect the nation’s diverse population by the year 2000.

The percentage of minorities in the nation’s newsrooms has doubled in the last 12 years, and 19% of all new hires in 1989 were minorities. So were 31% of all interns. But the number of reporters--and especially editors--remains small, the pace has slowed and in today’s economy, with many newspapers reducing or freezing new hires because of diminished advertising revenue, minority journalists say prospects for significant progress are not good.


Indeed, whatever improvement has come has come only because of “pressure that is exerted on the media from the inside,” Payne says. “I have seen no deviation from that. I have not seen enlightenment on the part of white editors . . . except that enlightenment that comes by virtue of . . . pressure.”

Why has the newspaper business moved so slowly and grudgingly, especially in the promotion of minorities to positions of responsibility?

Minority journalists say that it’s because the vast majority of the people doing the hiring and promoting are whites, and--like anyone else--they are generally more comfortable with people who are like them, who share their interests and background.

“When you need someone you know you have to trust . . . are you going to pick someone who had the same kind of childhood that you had, does the same kind of things that you do, laughs at the same kinds of jokes, maybe that you like to go have a beer with, someone you can identify with--or are you going to pick this dark person . . . whose style is different?” asks Dan Holly, a reporter at the Miami Herald and president of the South Florida Assn. of Black Journalists.


It may seem racism in reverse to suggest that only minority editors and reporters can ensure fair and complete coverage of minorities, and indeed, minorities praise many whites for their efforts in minority coverage. But news is what editors who assign stories and put them in the paper decide is news, and even the most conscientious editors (and reporters) are largely captives of their own experiences, interests and perceptions. In our still largely segregated society, most whites--and especially most whites old enough to be high-ranking editors--don’t have the daily experience and exposure that would enable them to automatically incorporate a minority sensibility in their own decision-making.

This means, among other things, that certain stories and issues aren’t covered (or are undercovered), certain stereotypes are perpetuated, certain errors are made, certain perceptions are missed (or misunderstood).

When Camilo Jose Cela of Spain won the Nobel Prize for literature last year, “That should have been (on) Page 1 in the Miami Herald,” says Janet Chusmir, a white, who is executive editor of the Herald. “But . . . the particular night that the news meeting went on, we just didn’t have someone in there to say, ‘Hey, you may not have heard of him, but the story is very important to a great many in our circulation area.’ ”

In contrast, a Los Angeles Times story in April was cited by many black journalists as a good example of how the presence of a minority can produce not only a good and unusual newspaper story but make a significant contribution to countering erroneous societal stereotypes.


Blacks are widely perceived as being the major drug-users in our society, but Ron Harris, a black reporter at The Times, wrote in a Page 1 story that 80% of all drug-users are white--and that the opposite perception exists largely because law enforcement efforts have “disproportionately concentrated on black communities.”

Of course, a white reporter could have written that story too. But a black was more likely to--just as a black or Latino or Asian-American editor would generally be more likely to recognize or assign or have useful observations on a story that involved (or should involve) their ethnic groups.

It’s not racism that dictates coverage so much as it is the dominance of “a lot of middle-class white men, people who all think alike, who . . . bring a very narrow perspective, just as if there were all . . . middle-aged black men, you would have a real narrow perspective,” says Andrea Ford, a black reporter at the Los Angeles Times.

Many white editors and other media executives concede this point--and they worry about its long-term economic implications in our increasingly multicultural society.


Jack Fuller, the white editor of the Chicago Tribune, says market studies show that his paper has its greatest circulation penetration in areas populated by “people who have interests just like us . . . in what they like to read and watch and do.

“If we did as well with people even just a little different than us, our penetration problems would be over.”

Minority Management

But because a newspaper is “significantly defined by what the top editors say it should be and by the tapestry of interests of its people,” Fuller says, “until you make that tapestry a broad one and an inclusive one, you’re not likely to have the richness of diversity in the newspaper.”


Al Neuharth agrees.

“It’s a helluva lot easier to consciously cover the news with all races and segments of society in mind if . . . you’ve got some black faces and some female faces and Hispanic or Asian faces sitting around the (editors’ conference) table,” says the white former chairman of the Gannett Co., founder of USA Today and now chairman of the board of trustees of the Gannett Foundation.

Management at some newspapers, trying to blunt criticism of their failure to promote minorities, give them titles but limit their actual authority, says Peter Scott, a black editor and writer at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution. Not Gannett.

Prodded by Neuharth’s aggressive insistence on diversifying the newsroom and the executive suite, the 82 Gannett daily newspapers now have seven minorities as publishers, seven as editors or managing editors and more than 100 others as department managers--real jobs with real responsibility.


At USA Today--Neuharth’s brainchild--17.6% of top management in the newsroom is minority, and 19.6% of the total professional staff is minority, both figures substantially higher than the industry average. That may help explain why USA Today is widely perceived as doing a better job than any other paper in the country of presenting the ethnic diversity of the United States in its news pages every day.

Although some present and former Gannett staffers say that the company has slipped in its commitment to minorities since Neuharth retired, company executives vigorously deny it, and statistics suggest that it’s not so.

“In employment and promotion . . . Gannett is way ahead of the rest of us,” says Frank McCulloch, the white managing editor of the San Francisco Examiner.

How did that happen?


Executives at Gannett remember Neuharth’s slogans--"Our leadership must reflect our readership” and “It’s not only the right thing, it’s the smart thing"--but there were two other, more important weapons--mandates and money.

Neuharth tied executive compensation and incentive bonuses to meeting specific minority hiring and promotion objectives. The message was simple: If you don’t hire and promote enough minorities, you won’t make as much money.

It was a powerfully effective argument.

Other companies, in and out of the newspaper business--including the Los Angeles Times--have used this management-by-objective (MBO) technique, but few have done so as aggressively as Gannett.


Neuharth was not alone in his push for diversity at Gannett, but he was the boss, and as he says, minority employment practices don’t improve measurably “unless the boss says, ‘By God, I’m the boss and this is the way we’re going to do it.’ ”

Jerry Sass, a white, the senior vice president of the Gannett Foundation, says Neuharth “didn’t leave any room for excuses or alternate plans.”

When his executives said, “We’ve tried . . . and we never were able to find qualified candidates,” Neuharth would reply, “You will now.”

“I can recall sitting in Al’s office when he . . . (was) addressing one of the older managers who had no people of color in his department and Al simply told him that it would happen . . . that the next several people hired would be people of color. . . .


“The department was, in a matter of a few weeks, well on its way to being integrated.”

Many media executives share Neuharth’s commitment to diversity in the newsroom at all levels. But as with management by objective, few have pursued that goal as forcefully.

“Progress is made by strong people who insist on it,” says David Lawrence, the publisher of the Miami Herald. “Our business is led by people who mean well and want to do right, but it happened at Gannett because Neuharth insisted, not because of collegiality.”

Lawrence should know. He, too, has aggressively insisted on journalistic diversity, as publisher of the Herald and, before that, as publisher of the Detroit Free Press.


Minority reporters and editors at the Free Press and Herald speak enthusiastically of Lawrence’s commitment, and it’s easy to see why.

Enforcing Policy

Almost 20% of the Herald’s newsroom professionals--and 11% of the newsroom supervisors--are minorities, almost three times more than the industry average in both cases. In Detroit, the figures are even better--minorities make up 20.3% of the newsroom professionals and 17.3% of the supervisors.

More important, both papers have minorities in high-level positions. Joe Oglesby, a black, is the assistant managing editor for local news at the Herald; Bob McGruder, a black, is managing editor for news at the Free Press. The national/foreign editor, deputy editorial page editor and a deputy city editor who’s being groomed as the next city editor at the Free Press are also black.


As with Neuharth at Gannett, Lawrence--also white--didn’t achieve this progress alone. Progress at the Herald began before he came last year, and progress at the Free Press has continued since he left.

Moreover, no publisher--or top editor--can effect a major policy change if the mid-level editors, the line editors, are obstructionists. But the boss can set the tone; that’s what Lawrence, Neuharth and a very few others do.

Many talented but frustrated blacks left the Herald before Lawrence came, and many others fear that on a newspaper run by whites, serving a predominantly Cuban community, their opportunities for advancement are severely limited. Some angry Latinos felt that they haven’t been given fair consideration for promotions either. Lawrence has tried to address the concerns of both groups.

“I’m very encouraged by him,” says Liz Balmaseda, who was promoted this year to a writing job on Tropic, the Herald’s Sunday magazine.


It’s no coincidence that both the Herald and the Free Press are Knight-Ridder papers. Like Gannett, Knight-Ridder is a leader in the drive for diversity in the newsroom. Indeed, all Knight-Ridder papers must file five-year “pluralism” plans; at one Knight-Ridder paper, for example--the Philadelphia Inquirer--that plan requires, among other things, that 50% of all people hired in the next five years be minorities and that minorities (now 12.7% of the professional newsroom staff) be at least 18% by 1995.

Three of Knight-Ridder’s 27 papers have minority publishers and five have minority editors-in-chief or managing editors. Four of the company’s 24 corporate officers are also minorities.

Need for Training

Corporate executives at Knight-Ridder have been strongly committed to minority hiring, training and promotion for some time.


Most newspapers have traditionally done very little, if any career counseling or training. They hire people, then let them fend for themselves. That can make charting a path of advancement difficult for anyone, but especially for those minorities to whom a white-dominated newsroom may be a foreign and sometimes hostile environment.

But Knight-Ridder has historically done the best job of career training in general, says David Laventhol, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Now, in addition to instituting ethnic-sensitivity training for employees and courses in managing a diverse work force for executives, they’ve adapted and expanded their various career seminars, workshops and programs to enhance minority training.

Traditionally, many newspaper reporters progress from college to a small newspaper to a medium-sized newspaper to a large newspaper. But because newspapers for so long neither actively recruited minorities nor provided role models for them, there were few minorities in the pipeline when newspaper executives finally awakened to the need for diversity in their newsrooms.

Even now, the editors and publishers of many small newspapers say that they can’t attract minorities because minorities don’t want to live in small towns with few other minorities. Newsroom staffs at newspapers with less than 50,000 circulation are less than 5% minority. But Loren Ghiglione, the white president and editor of the Southbridge, Mass., News, has long been a leader in the fight for newsroom diversity, and his town has a population of only 12,633--18 of whom are minority.


Ghiglione’s newsroom staff of 10 has included as many as four minorities (and as few as one) because he’s made a major effort to overcome what he concedes is a major handicap.

Some critics say such determined efforts smack of quotas, and they warn that newspapers which hire minorities “just to have numbers” may hire some who will be unhappy or unsuccessful. Other editors worry about what Shelby Coffey, editor of the Los Angeles Times, calls “a conflict in visions” in trying to increase minority representation.

“One vision aims for a color-blind society,” Coffey says. “Another vision says you have to pay closer attention to ethnic backgrounds in hiring or white-dominated institutions may get even whiter.”

Newspapers, Coffey says, must work with both visions.


Toward that end, some newspapers have initiated a number of special programs to prime the pipeline in its earlies stages by offering minority scholarships, fellowships, workshops and internships for college students; some even recruit at the high school level.

Some newspapers have initiated a number of special programs to prime the pipeline in its earliest stages by offering minority scholarships, fellowships, workshops and internships for college students; some even recruit at the high school level.

The Detroit Free Press invites newspaper staffs from the city’s high schools to put their school papers together at the Free Press, under the guidance of a Free Press staffer. Some high school students are offered part-time internships in an effort to interest them in working for the Free Press after college.

“Our first attempts at bringing blacks into the staff was to steal them from other papers . . . and pay them more money,” says Neal Shine, who succeeded Lawrence as publisher of the Free Press. “But on a staff the size of ours, you’re not going to get a measureable percentage (of minorities) . . . unless you get some . . . folks that you’ve mentored . . and tracked and developed.”


But there’s still a lot of “stealing"--in some cases, bidding wars--especially among the major papers.

“There’s a feeding frenzy kind of going on for great minority journalists,” says Alan Acosta, a hiring editor at the Los Angeles Times.

The frenzy actually starts at the college level.

William Drummond, a professor in the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, says that his best minority graduates now get so many good job offers that he had to have a meeting with white students last year to address their concerns about being passed over.


One reason the top minority graduates are rushed so feverishly is that there are so few of them. Entry-level salaries in journalism are generally very low compared to other professions equally eager to attract talented minorities; the best and the brightest graduates increasingly choose law or business rather than journalism.

That means minorities already in the field can command an even higher premium.

Danger of a Rapid Rise

Some minority journalists are being paid cash bonuses to switch jobs--not bonuses in the Daryl Strawberry class but a few thousand dollars here and there. Others are able to parlay job offers into raises and promotions at their own papers.


Ricardo Pimentel, government affairs editor at the Sacramento Bee, got a raise and a promotion, for example, after he told his bosses about a job offer from the Seattle Times.

Minority journalists say that they aren’t doing anything different than whites have always done, and they’re right. Some whites also receive signing bonuses. But some minorities who capitalize on the current climate and move “too quickly” to big papers may not acquire the skills that they would develop under less pressure during an apprenticeship at a smaller paper, a few editors say.

“I sometimes find myself telling young, black job applicants . . . who maybe have only a year or two of experience that . . . it might be difficult for them to come into this paper and start functioning immediately at the same level as people whom we normally hire,” says Ernest Holsendolph, a black, the former city editor of the Atlanta Constitution, who will begin writing a business column for the paper next month.

Minorities who move “too quickly” or who receive signing bonuses or promotions prompted by job offers are but a tiny drop in the journalistic bucket, though, when compared with those who don’t get hired or promoted at all.


One paper that has hired and promoted many minorities, especially blacks, in recent years is the Washington Post.

The Post, in a city that is almost 70% black, has a black as the assistant managing editor in charge of local news; 11 other editors are also black, as are four columnists (including one in sports). Until a recent realignment, the Post also had four black foreign correspondents.

The Post thus stands as a rare exception to the charge by many minority journalists that whites keep all the “fun or prestigious . . . or glamorous” jobs for themselves, in the words of Joel Dreyfuss, a black, who is an associate editor of Fortune and a former reporter at the Post.

Nationwide, there are still relatively few minority sportswriters and even fewer minority arts critics, despite the strong presence of blacks in particular in both fields. Nor are there many minority foreign correspondents.


The New York Times also has given a few “glamour” assignments to minorities--among them, four foreign correspondents’ posts and seven sportswriting jobs. The New York Times also has three section editors who are minorities.

Unlike every other editor approached for this story, however, Max Frankel, executive editor of the New York Times, declined to provide specific numbers or percentages for minority representation on his staff. He gave approximate percentages only, arguing that what he called “the numbers game” is “potentially poisonous . . . destructive of our business” and saying that he refused to “abet that process.”

Until relatively recently, the New York Times was widely regarded as “not a hospitable place for minorities . . . not a good place to flourish,” Frankel concedes. He says that reputation is not justified and when he took over in late 1986, he tried to repair it. Among other things, he instituted a policy of hiring one minority for every white hired; the policy made some inroads but fell short of its strict one-for-one objective, in part because several blacks, mindful of the Times’ previous record, rejected its offers.

Frankel says he is pleased with his paper’s progress but he realizes, “We have a long way to go.”


Several talented blacks left the Times before Frankel took charge and, despite his efforts, the exodus hasn’t ended. Three months ago, Don Wycliff, an editorial writer, left to go to the Chicago Tribune. In making his decision, he said, “One thing jumped out at me: Since I entered the newspaper business in Chicago back in the early ‘70s, the Tribune has had three black staff members who have won Pulitzer Prizes. . . . But there’s never been a black Pulitzer Prize winner at the New York Times,” even though the Times has won far more Pulitzers than any other paper.

Wycliff said he left the Times with good feelings for the paper and with a sense that Frankel was indeed making the paper more welcoming to blacks. But he thought the Pulitzer-Prize comparison “said something about the amount of freedom a black person with talent would be allowed to exercise and enjoy” at the Tribune.

Wycliff concedes that the Times, as an institution, has not generally provided great individual freedom to its staff members, regardless of race, but--as with most situations--the problem is compounded for minorities. Even so, blacks at the Times--as at most other newspapers--have generally fared better than other minorities.

When a fire killed 87 people, most of them Honduran and Dominican immigrants, at the Happy Land social club in the Bronx early this year, the Times had only three Spanish-speaking local reporters to send out to interview survivors.


If the fire had broken out a year earlier, says Managing Editor Joseph Lelyveld, “We would have been in the remarkable position . . . in a city with a 20% to 25% Spanish-speaking population . . . of having had only one fluent Spanish-speaking reporter on the metropolitan staff.”

But the Times had recently hired two Latinos--and it has since hired three more, Lelyveld says.

The Times is clearly changing.

Last Friday, the paper announced that Gerald Boyd--a black and a former White House correspondent--would be the new metropolitan editor, the first minority placed in charge of a major news desk at the paper.


Some skepticism about the Times’ commitment remains among minority journalists, though, in part because of the glacial pace with which the institution moves in most matters.

Even Paul Delaney, the paper’s senior editor, who is in charge of recruiting reporters, said recently that he had become “pessimistic” and “frustrated” this year watching high-level minority promotions at several other major papers but not at the Times.

Delaney says that he was “encouraged” by Boyd’s promotion, but he and other minorities realize that even the presence of high-level minority editors does not automatically mean an overnight revolution in the way minorities are covered.

“I’m not terribly impressed with the impact we’ve had on . . . the business . . . on coverage . . . on the definition of what news is,” says Dreyfuss of Fortune magazine. “We’ve been assimilated, largely, into the business. We haven’t changed the way the business approaches news. . . . We haven’t changed journalism the way, say, blacks have changed the way basketball is played . . . moving it from a horizontal game to a sort of three-dimensional game . . . at probably twice the speed.”


Why not?

Because, Dreyfuss and others say, not only are there few blacks with real authority but those who do have authority come through a corporate screening process designed to select minorities who are “safe,” who share the values of their white bosses and who won’t “rock the boat.”

White editors don’t say that, of course. What they sometimes say instead is that they aren’t promoting a specific black--especially a black male--because he has “an attitude problem.”

Black males are often perceived by their white supervisors as “overly aggressive,” even “belligerent or surly,” says Dan Holly, a reporter at the Miami Herald and president of the South Florida Assn. of Black Journalists.


White editors who are uncomfortable with black males, even intimidated by them, aren’t likely to promote them.

Sam Fulwood III, a black reporter in the Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times, says that white editors are also reluctant to appoint blacks to positions of real authority because they’re “worried about who we’ll hire and promote.

“They may think they know the black they promote and they figure he’s enough like them not to change the paper too much,” Fulwood says, “but they’re afraid that if they give that black any power, he’ll get some blacks very different from them into other editing positions and they’ll produce a very different kind of paper from what the white bosses want.”

There are other explanations as well for the lack of revolutionary change, even at those few papers with a number of minority editors and reporters: Journalism can be a complex and cumbersome process. Changing habits can be slow. Bureaucratic inertia can be considerable.


Simple human error, carelessness, and oversight are inevitable.

USA Today recently assigned a story on teen-age pregnancy. The story was edited by a black, after having been written by a Latino and photographed by an Asian-American. But when it was turned in, all the photos were of blacks.

Peter Prichard, a white, is the editor of USA Today, and he thought that publication of photos of only blacks would contribute to a damaging stereotype. He delayed the story until a photo of a pregnant white teen-ager could be included.

Being Evenhanded


Just as minority editors and reporters cannot automatically and invariably ensure sensitive, comprehensive coverage of minorities, so minority editors cannot--would not--ensure success for other minority employes. Indeed, one black editor says that he once found himself with two black staffers who “should not have been allowed to the read the newspaper, no less work for it. I fired one and put so much heat on the other he had to get out of the building.”

Generally speaking, a minority editor is probably more likely to hire, promote and be sensitive to the needs of a minority staffer than are most white editors. But minority editors say they are evenhanded--not only out of fairness but also because they realize the current drive to hire and promote more minorities (and women) has created a strong backlash among many whites, especially white males, who fear that their career ambitions will be sacrificed on the altar of diversity and affirmative action.

“The fact that I’m black will not help a black person,” says Thomas Greer, editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

In fact, the percentage of blacks on the staff at the Plain Dealer has slipped recently, and Greer says it’s his fault.


“I’ve been so concerned with getting three new suburban bureaus off the ground . . . that I haven’t been as diligent as I should have been,” he says.

Even though his diligence is now resurgent, Greer makes it clear that there are no free rides for blacks (or anyone else) at the Plain Dealer.

Few minorities have Greer’s authority, though, and until they do, minority journalists say, newspapers will continue to present a distorted picture of the communities they are supposed to serve.

That distorted picture is especially evident now.


During the holiday season, “You have a lot of well-meaning people who are doing things for poor and deserving people,” says Bob McGruder, managing editor in charge of news coverage at the Detroit Free Press.

“That’s wonderful,” says McGruder, a black, but in the press, “It always turns out to be well-meaning white people giving food, candy, clothes to impoverished black people.”

Last month, for example, to illustrate a Thanksgiving Day story about Skid Row, the Los Angeles Times published photos of three people--all black. The next day, to illustrate a story on Thanksgiving celebrations nationwide, The Times published a photo of homeless people in Washington being served dinner--all the people pictured receiving free food were black; all the people serving the free food were white.

That kind of coverage “sets up a way of thinking about the two groups of people,” McGruder says. So he tells Free Press photographers, “Don’t consistently bring in pictures of whites in a superior and benevolent attitude, giving to blacks in a posture of victims, supplicants and receivers of charity.


“There are a lot of black people in this town who are not accepting charity and candy and food for Christmas and in fact they are giving it to other people. Let’s try to reflect what’s going on.”

How have the photographers responded to this dictum?

“The photographers here are smart people,” he says, “and they’ve come to agree with me on that.

“I guess they have to.”


He pauses, reflecting on his high-level position at the paper.

“I guess that’s the point.”

Joyce Sherwood and Peter Johnson of The Times editorial library assisted with the research for this series.



Percentage of minorities among professionals on newsroom staff. Atlanta Constitution Staff*: 16% Supervisors: 16.2% Boston Globe Staff*: 13% Supervisors: 12% Chicago Tribune Staff*: 13% Supervisors: 5% Dallas Morning News Staff*: 15.5% Supervisors: 13.5% Detroit Free Press Staff*: 20.3% Supervisors: 17.3% Los Angeles Times Staff*: 14% Supervisors: 9% Miami Herald Staff*: 19.7% Supervisors: 11% Philadelphia Inquirer Staff*: 12.7% Supervisors: 12.9% Newday Staff*: 15.5% Supervisors: 6.8% New York Times Staff*: 11.8%** Supervisors: 10%** Seattle Times Staff*: 16% Supervisors: 10% USA Today Staff*: 17.6% Supervisors: 19.6% Wall Street Journal Staff*: 15.6% Supervisors: 7% Washington Post Staff*: 17% Supervisors: 12% * Percentage of minorities among professionals on newsroom staff. ** The New York Times declined to release current, specific figures, saying only that the 11.8% figure released by the America Society of Newspaper Editors in April has been “improved slightly” since then and that “about 10%" of the paper’s newsroom supervisors are minorities.