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New York Times editor kills race beat

On The Media

By Ron Wynn


Dean Bacquet, the first Black executive editor in New York Times history, continues to operate as though diversity is the least of his concerns. In a period of increased discussion about race in America, and a wide range of issues linked to it, from police misconduct and problems in public education funding to Oscar snubs, Bacquet has just killed the race beat at the nation's most influential paper.


This is a move that hasn't gotten much media scrutiny anywhere except in Richard Prince's "Journalisms" column. His January 30 column included the news that no less than the paper's own public editor, Margaret Sullivan, expressed her dismay at Bacquet's decision to move Tanzina Vega off that beat and over to cover courts in the Bronx


"To state the obvious, it seems like an odd time to discontinue the one Times beat devoted solely to race and ethnicity," Margaret Sullivan, public editor of the New York Times, said Thursday. "(A few words of reminder: Michael Brown of Ferguson, Eric Garner of Staten Island, Tamir Rice of Cleveland.). That a White woman would need to instruct a Black man, let alone one who has won a Pulitzer Prize, about the need to consider race an important enough topic for a regular beat is astounding. NPR and the Associated Press among others understand that. 


It is the latest and most baffling move made by Bacquet, who a couple of months ago fired the scant few Black reporters and editor in the cultural section, leaving it devoid of any African-American presence. 

Sullivan also asked, "So why end the beat now? Prince asked Bacquet that question, along with two other high ranking Times reporters. 


Bacquet was also at the helm when the Times angered readers around the nation with a story about Michael Brown headlined "He's no angel," implying that his death at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson was justified. He was also running the paper when the fiasco resulted from a TV critic describing Shonda Rhimes as "an angry Black woman" in a column. 


Strangely, right after Sullivan alerted him to the problem of diversity in the cultural section, Bacquet's subsequent move made the problem worse, rather than better. This came after he publicly made no comment on the Rhimes situation, leaving it to Sullivan to field the angry response from social media and eventually write an editorial in response that among other things both criticized the column's content and the paper's lack of staff diversity.


Baquet said he was high on Ms. Vega, calling her 'fabulous' 'She's a really good reporter,' Bacquet said. 'Now we want to develop her by giving her other kinds of experience.'"The move, he said, 'is not a cosmic decision about how we cover race.' He said he would be having discussions with masthead editors, as well as editors on the national and metro desks, about how to broaden the coverage of race beyond a single beat."At this point, he said, 'I haven't decided what to do about the beat, but I know that it has to be covered paper-wide.' "


Sullivan concluded, "I hope the editors are right. The historical moment looms large. It demands great coverage from The Times on race." It also demands an editor at the helm who understands that extensive coverage of racial issues is needed rather than sporadic attention spread across multiple departments.

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