This is sad, primarily because an important and influential newspaper man is gone, but secondarily because another minority leader within the newsroom is out of power.
Although Mr. Boyd actually resigned back in 2003 after the Jayson Blair scandal was exposed, The New York Times was quick to publish an article extolling Mr. Boyd and his accomplishments.
Mr. Boyd’s career, which took him from the end of the civil rights era to the beginning of the Internet era, was built on competitiveness and a determination to get the story right. As he rose in prominence, he became a beacon of possibility for aspiring black journalists.
The reporter who wrote this article was quick to emphasize Mr. Boyd’s abilities over his race. She included others voicing that position as well.
Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said in a statement: “Gerald was a newsman. He knew how to mobilize a reporting team and surround a story so that nothing important was missed.”
I think this article was written in such a way that it dealt gently with the issue of race. The reporter acknowledged that people would see “race” or “affirmative action” in this situation.
For me, this article subtly brings up the bigger issue of race and/or diversity in the newsroom. (It also could be because I’m doing my research paper about this topic.) But how do we deal with it?
Traditionally, the concept of newsroom diversity has been defined largely in terms of numerical targets that related to ethnicity, race, and gender….Getting more minorities in the newsroom is a target, but not the goal, of diversity. The goal is a more accurate news organization.
--From The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, p. 188
Kovach and Rosenstiel suggest the newsroom needs intellectual diversity but don’t bother to explain what that would look like. They say the newsroom could look like, or be representative of, America, but it also needs to be able to understand and make sense of America.
Although a federal judge declared in 2001 that "intellectual diversity bears no obvious or necessary relationship to racial diversity," it does seem to me that simply hiring journalists from different racial, economic, religious, etc. backgrounds would ensure this “intellectual diversity.”
Each journalist, based on his or her background, brings his or her own experiences and unique knowledge into the newsroom. Even if a newsroom were to hire students only from a particular J-school, diversity would still exist to some extent—diversity of experience.
However, diversity of ideology would be virtually non-existent because each of the journalists would have been trained almost exactly the same way. You’d have cookie-cutter journalists as far as methodology and thinking go. And we certainly don’t need a bunch of reporters who are just like the boss.
We need diversity—of any kind—in order to challenge one another in the newsroom so that we can make our publications better and our audiences better-informed citizens. Allowing different voices than ours in the reporting process can improve journalism because the chance of “getting it right” would be improved.