Politico Becomes Latest Example of Digital Outlet with Serious Diversity Problems

Aug 18, 2014
10:02 PM

A recent Twitter exchange between Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery (in between his Ferguson coverage) and Politico’s Dylan Byers and Kenneth P. Vogel about the political site’s lack of black reporters led to a rather detailed report by All Digitocracy’s Tracie Powell, confirming (not surprisingly) that Politico’s newsroom is not that diverse at all.

“Politico veterans should focus on building on its journalism institute by figuring out ways to hire more experienced black journalists, particularly those who can be added to the newsroom’s executive ranks,” Powell wrote.


Powell, who published her piece earlier today, also wrote the following:

Politico has long struggled with newsroom diversity, particularly where black journalists are concerned. So much so that I interviewed the publication’s editor-in-chief, John Harris, in 2012 and asked him whether Politico was a good place for black journalists to work. Here’s what he said then:

“Politico is not a great newsroom for any and all journalists. There’s a particular type of journalist who seems to thrive at our publication, someone with a high metabolism and very high in these core topics,” Harris said in 2012. “We’re a great publication for any journalist, particularly and especially journalists of color, to come work. Politico journalists have more fun and more impact than they did in their previous jobs. It’s a damn good place for journalists who are interested in politics and share our kind of competitive feel for being the best in politics.”

When Harris and I talked in 2012, six black journalists worked in his newsroom. Now, that number is down to three in a staff of nearly 200. They include: copy editor Robin Turner as well as Darius Dixon and LaRonda Peterson, who both work for Politico Pro, the organization’s premium policy news service. This means there are no black reporters working for the country’s paywall-free premier news service covering Beltway policy and politics.

Some former insiders say Politico’s newsroom operates a star system that many journalists find difficult to penetrate, black or otherwise. Most of those within the star system, however, are white and male.

The lack of diversity not only applies to black staff members, but also to Latinos. The number of Latino staffers is about the same as the number of black staff members, although two emails sent to Politico’s Olivia Peterson earlier today about why Latinos are so underrepresented and whether the site’s public staff information is accurate have yet to be answered. Considering that Politico has produced over 2,700 stories about Latinos and that the U.S. Latino vote continues to be a newsworthy topic during election cycles (see Politico’s featured profile on Jorge Ramos), the site’s Latino staffing record is dismal. No executives. No Latino political journalists who fall under the “star system” category Powell describes.

Such sobering data led editors at Latino Rebels to tweet both Byers and Vogel earlier today. Their profiles have yet to respond:

When reached for comment about Politico’s diversity issues, Mekahlo Medina, the new president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), sent the following remarks via email:

The problem with Politico’s lack of diversity is a widespread problem in Beltway news operations. News managers hire what they know, and who fits that bill? Often journalists that look and sound like them.

NAHJ is launching a “leadership council” initiative that aims to connect news operation leaders with Latino journalists to fill management roles. It’s those roles that are pivotal in diversifying a newsroom.

It’s good journalism and good business to have the faces and voices of America represented in any media’s content and decision-making.

When editor-in-chief John Harris said in an earlier interview, “Politico is not a great newsroom for any and all journalists. There’s a particular type of journalist who seems to thrive at our publication…” Journalists of color knows that is code for “you are not one of us.” It has happened to a close friend of mine working at a tech blog.

It’s incumbent upon news executives and managers to look outside their box and look toward the demographic that will be, if not already, is their customer.

NAHJ will reach out to Politico to ask if they will take part in our leadership council and together we can work at bringing more accurate and true diversity to Politico consumers.

Politico is just the latest example of how U.S. digital news media is failing when it comes to diversifying newsrooms. Quite frankly, that needs to change.

UPDATE, August 23, 2014: A Media Moves article announced that on August 18 editorial writer Eva Rodríguez was named a Senior Editor at Politico.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. A 1990 Harvard graduate in the History and Literature of Latin America, his personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the NationNPR,  Univisionand The New York Times. Recently, he was a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream.