Women Editor Departures Raise Diversity Concerns

By: Joe Strupp

In less than one week, three of the top women newspaper editors announced plans to leave their jobs, with all three indicating they are not likely to run a newsroom again.

With the ranks of women among top editors already low, is such a move a cause for concern? Or is it just a cyclical change?

“I am always concerned about diversity and I think it is important in editors, it is a concern,” says Martin Kaiser, editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and president of the American Society of News Editors. “Each case is individual, but it is important to have diverse leadership.”

The departures began Dec. 1 when Karin Winner, editor of The San Diego Union-Tribune, announced her retirement after 15 years at the helm. At 64, that is not a surprise. Her replacement has yet to be named.

This past Monday, two other top women editors broke the news that they would leave. Sandra Mims Rowe, editor of The Oregonian in Portland, and Janet Coats, editor of The Tampa Tribune, both will depart. Rowe, who has run The Oregonian newsroom since 1993, is retiring at 61.

Although she is close to retirement age, Rowe did note in a memo to staff that she believed the newspaper needed to shed some managerial positions and so she chose to leave at this point.

Coats, however, is 46 and not planning to retire completely. She told E&P that she wanted to do something else related to journalism. She also is leaving to move closer to her husband, E.W. Scripps Vice President/Interactive Rusty Coats, who is in Knoxville, Tenn.

Coats acknowledged that her departure and that of her two fellow editors is notable. “It is like any other kind of diversity in business, when economic times get tough, it takes a toll on diversity,” Coats said. “It has also been about the choices you have to make climbing the ladder. Women at mid-life go through this reflection in a different way than men do and that is going to have an impact.”

Rowe also cited the impact, although she said it is not always gender specific and often a product of the tough economic times in newspapers: “I think it is worrisome any time talented top editors leave. A lot of talented editors, men and women, are choosing to do something else or are retiring.”

After those three depart, only two of the top 20 circulation daily newspapers will have women editors. Those are Nancy Barnes at The Star Tribune in Minneapolis and Susan Goldberg of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland.

That does not mean other women editors are not doing well, such as Julia Wallace at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Melanie Sill of The Sacramento Bee, and Charlotte Hall of The Orlando Sentinel.

Still, the dwindling ranks raise concern. The 18-person ASNE Board of Directors has only six women.

“It is a difficult time in the industry and there are some concerns about diversity,” says Goldberg. “We have never been able to get to a level of parity, and we have seen some backsliding. I think it is a huge cause for concern.”

Barnes also believed the diversity was a problem, but did not think it was irreversible. “It is a brutal business for women, particularly women who want to have a family,” she says. “There are just different choices you have to make. But I believe we will grow more women editors.”

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