A survey of approximately 1,000 The New York Times employees led by members of the union that represents its newsroom found that black and Latino staffers are significantly less likely than their white peers to receive good job reviews.
According to the NewsGuild union, job evaluations have financial consequences because they influence the amount of employee bonuses. But staffers tell NPR the differential is even bigger because it points to an underlying systemic problem that the newspaper is failing to address. It is demoralizing, they say, and contributes to the early departure of some colleagues.
The guild’s study, published on Tuesday, comes amid difficult negotiations over the newspaper’s contract with the NewsGuild. The journal is still operating under the terms of the last one, which expired in 2021.
“Being Hispanic reduced the odds of high scores by about 60%, and being black reduced the odds of high scores by nearly 50%,” says the report from the NewsGuild chapter representing employees at The New York Times. The study, shared ahead of publication with NPR News, reflects data dating back to 2018, when a new scoring system was implemented.
Although there were some fluctuations – on average, the performance of black employees increased in the intervening years, while it decreased for Latinos in the organization – white workers were consistently rated as more perform better than their peers.
A senior New York Times spokeswoman said the newspaper took the guild’s concerns seriously – weighing similar objections a year ago and concluding they did not reflect bias. Spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said the newspaper was assessing the Guild’s latest analysis.
“Having a fair performance appraisal system is one of the most important levers we have to ensure that we develop and support the growth of our employees fairly,” Rhoades Ha said in a statement to NPR. “We are committed to a performance appraisal system that is fair and equitable, and we continually strive to improve it.”
“There is still a long way to go”
“We started this analysis almost two years ago from an honest place of investigation,” explains Ben Casselman, an economics journalist at the newspaper who participated in the study. “We wanted to know if there were any racial disparities. We were hoping the answer would be no. Obviously there wasn’t.”
He says he enjoys reporting and working for the Time and that colleagues raised the issue with the newspaper’s parent company in an effort to resolve how the ratings were structured. The newspaper instead sought to downplay the significance of the findings, according to the guild, suggesting that it had used flawed logic. The guild interviewed academics who conceive such a methodology and they mocked the position reported by the newspaper.
“The temperature is far from unique here. The temperature trying to build a more diverse staff. I believe they really mean that,” Casselman says. “But building a diverse workforce means more than hiring a diverse workforce… This whole process has proven that there’s still a long way to go for everything else.
The temperature The spokeswoman contradicted the claim that the newspaper rejected the process. Rhoades Ha says the paper is deeply committed to what he calls a “multi-year action plan”, launched in February 2021, to “make the paper a great place to work for everyone”. She says the plan included hiring new heads of talent management and compensation and benefits. This also includes creating new departments to drive inclusion across the company and to respond to newsroom culture.
“The NewsGuild raised a similar issue last year about our grades,” she adds. “We undertook our own expert analysis which gave us assurance that our ratings were not applied in a discriminatory manner.” The Times is already promising further improvements and reviewing the guild’s latest findings, she says.
Testimonials shared with NPR from Time the reporters offered some texture to their objections. Many journalists told the union of the bewilderment they felt at what they said were large discrepancies between the editors’ glowing assessments and their numerical scores at the end of each year. Several noted that the Times had investigated other major companies, such as Amazon and Starbucks, and said they wanted the newspaper to respond more effectively to concerns closer to home.
“A Puerto Rican Girl from Queens”
An old New York Times An Asian-American reporter told NPR that she cried after getting poor grades even though she received positive verbal evaluations. She said she saw no future and took a job with a competitor. (She said she did not have permission from her new employer to speak officially.)
Frances Robles, Florida-based investigative reporter for the Time country office, says she suffered whiplash after receiving a warm review from her editor and lukewarm digital ratings in 2018, 2019 and 2020. “I don’t understand their logic. I don’t understand what they think that ‘they do,’ Robles says. Robles says she personally no longer has such worries: Her rating rose in 2021, after complaining about the dissonance, she says. But Robles says the dynamic remains appalling for colleagues, especially younger employees.
Like most Time reporters who have spoken to NPR, Robles expresses her admiration for the newspaper and her appreciation for the work it does. She points out, however, that she did reporting that helped uncover the misconduct of a former Brooklyn homicide detective in a multitude of cases. Robles and three colleagues won a Polk Award. According to the Associated Press, 20 verdicts in cases he built have been overturned – in part following reports that Robles said it was only possible because she’s “a Puerto Rican girl from Queens”.
Diversity effort includes top candidates
Many organizations, inside and outside the media, have recognized the need to build and maintain a diverse workforce and have made greater efforts to achieve these goals.
To The temperature, a concerted effort on equity included the appointment of a top editor, Rebecca Blumenstein, to focus on diversity and inclusion in the newsroom. She reports directly to the newspaper’s publisher and president, AG Sulzberger. The paper’s human resources director, Jacqueline Welch, has many years of experience in this field, including, most recently, a stint as diversity director at Freddie Mac.
According to the most recent figures, released publicly by the newspaper last year, people of color made up 33% of the company and 23% of its leadership positions in 2020. Both were up about 2% from compared to the previous year. The document set a goal of doubling the share of African American and Hispanic colleagues by 2025.
The report adds, however, that while the company’s workforce saw a drop in attrition in 2020, “Black/African and Latino/Hispanic colleagues [left] at high rates.” Rhoades Ha said the newspaper would publish more recent statistics soon.
Some Time staff members question the effectiveness of the newspaper’s efforts.
“Everyone should be concerned about there being a universe of consultants and economists that companies hire to bury their bad diversity statistics,” says Robles, “especially if that company is one of the biggest newspapers in the world, which seeks to speak truth to power, without fear or favour.”