By: Joe Strupp
Author William McGowan, whose controversial book Coloring the News has been alternately praised and panned for its attacks on diversity efforts in newsrooms, continued his assault during an appearance Monday night at the National Press Club in Washington, in which he slammed industry leaders ranging from the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) to New York Times Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr.
In a debate with New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, who also serves as president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, McGowan accused newsroom leaders of hindering news reporting by their continued focus on diversity in hiring.
“The diversity crusade has opened the door to hypersensitivity, political correctness,” McGowan said during the debate, which was broadcast live on C-SPAN. “There has been a disappointing constriction of available information.”
Revisiting the major theme of his book, McGowan claimed that efforts to increase the number of minority journalists in newsrooms through affirmative action-type recruiting has diverted attention, in many cases, from keeping the best people on the job and focusing on providing a complete, unbiased report. “Journalists become way too concerned about presenting the world the way it ought to be instead of the way it is,” he said.
McGowan criticized ASNE’s ongoing diversity program, which seeks to increase the percentage of minority newsroom employees. He claimed such an approach amounts to a quota system. “They’ve got to get rid of this obsession with numbers,” he said. “They look foolish.”
Gonzalez pointed out that statistics and numbers are among the most accurate and popular ways of judging the state of industries ranging from baseball to elections. “But, suddenly it is a quota when it becomes a way to quantify a stated goal,” he said.
Directing his attention to Sulzberger, McGowan accused the publisher and chairman of The New York Times Co. of hindering journalists from giving affirmative action programs a complete review in the paper because he is so pro-diversity. “When [Sulzberger] says, ‘You can either get with the diversity program or find your career prospects dramatically narrowed,’ it makes people reluctant to be that person who looks at the nuts and bolts of racial preference programs.” McGowan said the Sulzberger quote came from his book.
McGowan saved his harshest critique for the Philadelphia Daily News, slamming the tabloid for its apology in August following an uproar over a cover story that highlighted the city’s top fugitives, all of whom happened to be non-white. After the paper published 15 mug shots on the front page, hundreds of phone calls came in, prompting the paper to run two apologies.
“This is a classic example of the kind of capitulation that goes on all the time,” McGowan said. “The newspaper should have stuck to its guns.”
Gonzalez contended that McGowan sought to blame too much of the newspaper industry’s problems on diversity and not enough on other factors, such as corporate control of newspapers, increased threats of lawsuits, and the increasing shift to “infotainment.”
“There is a serious problem with the quality of journalism,” Gonzalez said. “I believe the rapid decline has very little to do with [diversity efforts].”