The former L.A. Times Metro desk in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Tony Pierce.

How the L.A. Times Can Easily Create a Diverse Newsroom

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Angel Jennings’ promotion to the masthead is a great first step, but only if she is given true power to enact change.

On Friday, the Los Angeles Times promoted reporter Angel Jennings to the newly created position of assistant managing editor for culture and talent. It’s a bold move for the grand paper that finds itself in dire need for immediate change in regards to diversity in its newsroom.

According to its own numbers, the newspaper employs about 500 journalists, of whom just 26 are Black, including Jennings. That equates to about 5% of the staff covering a county made up of approximately 8% African Americans.

While that might seem just a tad below an ideal goal, Jennings was the only Black reporter on the paper’s large Metro staff, and her promotion will leave the Times with zero Black writers covering L.A.

Another concern in regards to diversity are Latinos, which make up just 13% of the El Segundo newsroom. Something practically disgraceful for a metropolis where every other person is Latino.

So, yes, there is work to do, and fortunately the paper’s owner, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong wants the change. To be fair, he asked for a more diverse newsroom in 2018 when he bought the Times and approved hiring of over 110 new employees. Unfortunately the hiring spree resulted in more of the same leading to the mostly white staff that we see now.

Full disclosure, I was a senior editor at the L.A. Times for a few years. Its only Black one during that time. I dealt with every desk in the old building. It is not a racist institution. Those are very good people. And clearly the owner, who grew up in apartheid South Africa, is an ally to minorities and was sincere when he asked for a more diverse newsroom.

But he didn’t get it, and it wasn’t because the Times is racist, and it wasn’t because there were few qualified Black and Latino journalists to choose from. Change rarely happens unless there are consequences.

If the L.A. Times sincerely wants its staff to represent the communities they report on, it has to give Angel Jennings two things: true power and real protection.

The first is easy — on paper. Allow her ultimate veto power on all newsroom hires and terminations over the next 10 years. For example, let’s say Bill Plaschke retires at the end of this year, and Sports ultimately chooses to replace him with another white columnist. The only way it should be allowed is if Jennings signs off on it. And because odds are she wouldn’t, it is more likely that a person of color would get the offer letter instead.

And that’s precisely how change is made.

Naturally, such a dynamic might rile up certain members of the staff who might object to such unprecedented power. They might also have several good reasons behind hiring a white person as Plaschke’s replacement. Meanwhile, Jennings would probably have her own good reasons for demanding a person of color.

The best way management could support Jennings in her main directive would be to give her job security, namely long-term security. A 15-year contract would do.

This way for at least 15 years, a strong Black woman is the gatekeeper of diversity for the most important newspaper west of Manhattan.

Bold? Yes. But it’s also an acknowledgement that the old way didn’t work. At all.

Isn’t that what this promotion and the creation of this new position is supposed to be about?

Then let it be so.

Los Angeleno