Diversity row rattles top US newspapers

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The Independent US

A new controversy has broken out over the lack of diversity at the highest echelons of US journalism, after The Washington Post chose a white man in preference to a black candidate and a woman to be its managing editor, the number two job on the paper.

A new controversy has broken out over the lack of diversity at the highest echelons of US journalism, after The Washington Post chose a white man in preference to a black candidate and a woman to be its managing editor, the number two job on the paper.

The rumblings began after the 5 November appointment of Philip Bennett to the job, ahead of Eugene Robinson, a former London correspondent and 24-year Post veteran who is black, and Liz Spayd, the assistant managing editor for national news.

The issue last week dominated a staff meeting that was supposed to focus on the recent decline in the Post's circulation and the plans of the executive editor, Leonard Downie, to make the newspaper more user-friendly. Instead a full hour of the 90-minute session was taken up with the diversity question.

"We're crushed," Darryl Fears, a black reporter, told the meeting, according to an account of proceedings in the Post. "A lot of our worst suspicions were confirmed about the ability of African Americans and other minorities to rise to the highest levels of the best papers in the world." His protest came after two meetings of the Post's black reporters to discuss the situation.

Although the highly respected Christian Science Monitor has had two female editors, no woman has yet risen to the top job at one of America's mainstream newspapers. Currently, the highest ranked woman at The New York Times is Jill Abramson, one of the two managing editors who replaced the Times' first black managing editor, Gerald Boyd.

Mr Boyd himself resigned in 2003 following the scandal over Jayson Blair, the black reporter who plagiarised and invented stories - a case, some critics say, of well-meaning affirmative action in the newsroom gone horribly wrong. Currently 17 per cent of Times journalists are non-white, compared to 23 per cent at The Washington Post.

The diversity dispute is not the only problem facing the Post. After a 10 per cent slide in sales over the last two years, the paper is struggling to boost its appeal. Surveys found many readers saying it was "too often too dull", and Mr Downie plans to pep up the layout with greater use of photos and graphics. Stories will be shorter, too - not before time, in the view of many readers forced to plough through interminable essays, spreading from page to page.

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