It is Indeed a Thorny Issue
It’s not enough to just call others out
Before you start on this, I want you to read, really read two articles, both from re/code. The first one is this one: http://recode.net/2015/04/01/the-discrimination-double-standard/
The second one is not a re/code article, but rather their list of writers: http://recode.net/all-writers/ Notice something?
I also want to say something here, and I’m going to work hard to abide by it in this post: I am not bagging on re/code or anyone else in this post. They just happened to accidently illustrate their own point a bit better than they may have intended.
Liz Gannes’ article is a good one, she is, bluntly, one hell of a writer. In truth, that description would apply to most of the writers for re/code, and as for the woman at the top of the list, well, herself is also a formidable human being, writing or no. But no matter how good those folks are, they are also fairly similar. In fact, you see the same things pop up in their biographies:
technology reporter and personal technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News…most recently covering commerce for AllThingsD.com and, before that, was a reporter at Advertising Age, where he covered legacy digital media companies such as Yahoo and AOL and upstarts such as BuzzFeed and Gawker Media…three years at AllThingsD.com leading mobile coverage and served as co-producer of the D: Dive Into Mobile conference. Before that, she spent a decade at CNET where she covered, among other things, Microsoft and Apple…previous to that, at AllThingsD.com. Before that, she worked as a multimedia producer and reporter at the Wall Street Journal Digital Network from 2008 to 2011…He began his career with a weekly column devoted to a new-fangled thing called the Internet for The Idaho State Journal, where he was a business reporter at the time. From 2005 to 2010. he was senior technology writer at Bloomberg Businessweek and wrote the online column and companion blog called “Byte Of the Apple,” devoted to all things Apple, for Businessweek.com…he has previously for AllThingsD.com, both on established and emerging platforms. He also oversees Re/code’s internship program…the first hire at Silicon Alley Insider, the predecessor to Business Insider, where he worked as the site’s managing editor. He began writing for AllThingsD.com in 2008. In 2011, he began producing and hosting the D: Dive into Media conferences; he will continue to work on other live events for Re/code…for the Wall Street Journal, where she was a reporter for a decade, covering tech policy from 2005 through 2012…Previous to that, he was a technology columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and also a multimedia journalist who shot and edited video pieces for SFGate.com…She wrote the Journal’s weekly “Digital Solution” column, a review of consumer technology that appeared every Wednesday. She was also the Editor of All Things Reviewed, which launched in March 2012 on AllThingsD.com…currently writing a book about tech culture for Hachette Books. A former staffer, she contributes regularly to Recode on a variety of topics about the people, trends and community behind tech. Nellie also writes for other publications, such as California Sunday. She was previously a business reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Out of 16 writers, only one isn’t visibly caucasian, (I think the “visibly” qualifier is important here, because it’s all I, or any other casual re/code reader who does not know the staff personally has to go on), one has a bio I couldn’t pull up, and only what, two(?) didn’t write for either the Wall Street Journal, AllThingsD (or both), or the San Francisco Chronicle.
While I am very glad that re/code is keeping the issue of diversity on the front page as it were, there’s a part of me that looks at the…well, homogeneity of their writing staff in terms of visible race and background and thinks “Um…hey y’all, before you get too much in anyone else’s business about diversity, you might want to take a look at your own writing staff and perhaps apply a little Matthew 7:5 here.”
re/code’s hardly unique here. For example, on a smaller scale, take a look at iMore.com, who like re/code is not afraid to get into the social side of tech, but again on their about page at http://www.imore.com/about it’s the same issue. From what anyone can tell looking at the staff, it’s nothing but honkies, all day, every day.
The irony here is a bit interesting and unfortunate as both sites do a good job in terms of diversity with regard to both gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and age. But once you step outside of that…well…
Here, take a look at this article from re/code about Tech Titans of Color: http://recode.net/2015/03/31/inaugural-west-coast-diversity-brunch-honors-tech-titans-of-color/
Now, I was curious about some of these folks, because I’d never really heard of most of them. So I went searching through re/code’s site for other posts on them. Other than the one guy who works for CNN…nothing. Now, in fairness, this was a very basic search. I plugged in their names in the re/code search box. It is entirely possible and plausible that those results are not perfect.
But still, when the title of the article is “Inaugural West Coast Diversity Brunch Honors Tech Titans of Color”, you would expect that on a site who says about themselves that “Re/code’s aim is to reimagine tech journalism.” that they’d have more than one writer who looks something other than white, and when you look at the entire staff, including non-writing folks, that out of 37 people, you’d have more than one, maaaaaaybe two people who aren’t visibly Caucasian or Asian. You’d expect that they’d have more about “Tech Titans of Color” besides the fact they attended a diversity brunch. Once.
And that the bios of the writing staff wouldn’t read like they all worked together at the same three places.
Even when we move to the editorial staff…Bloomberg, Reuters, AllThingsD/S.F. Chronicle, AllThingsD, S.F. Chronicle/Bloomberg, McGraw-Hill, Mac|Life, and two guys still in college. Two-thirds of the sales & marketing staff? AllThingsD and WSJ. The event staff all worked at AllThingsD. It’s not until you get to the site ops staff that you have a group where the majority didn’t come from the same feeders. Even the administrative staff is mostly AllThingsD/WSJ alumni.
If one were to be cynical, re/code’s staff seems to move from almost homegenous to insular. But I at least am not being cynical here, because I’m also getting off the boat with a lot of folks when it comes to this issue: I think intent matters, and I know that Kara Swisher and Walk Mossberg do not intend for their staff to look that way. People rarely do. It just kind of happens, especially in a new company because you’re so damned busy just getting it off the ground that you go for people you already know will fit in with your culture, (that word again), and who will do what needs to be done without having to go through any form of training process.
It’s not just re/code or iMore. You see this same kind of lack of diversity all over the place. In fact, in the statistically invalid set known as “web sites I know the staff of”, I can think of exactly one site that isn’t nuthin’ but honkies, and that’s The Loop, which, (even though he’s not listed as part of the staff), does in fact have someone as a regular contributor who qualifies as “black” or “african-canadian” if you prefer, namely Shawn King. (Update: The Mac Observer is also not white as the driven snow in terms of staff. Good on them, Vern Seward does a great job.)
This isn’t maliciousness
I honestly think that. Especially in the case of re/code, but really, in any of the sites I’m thinking of or have named, none of this is deliberate, and I sure as shit don’t want anyone reading this to start attacking (or anything even close to that) any of them. (I will be beyond pissed off if anyone reading this post uses this post as an excuse to do that. We have enough people yelling at each other without any fucking thought whatsoever right now. What I want, and what this post is about is getting people to think. To step outside themselves for a second and think.)
They are, each and every one, staffed by genuinely good people who genuinely want to make things better, but may have, via steps that made, and still make, perfect sense when they were taken, accidentally contributed to the problem they are working so hard to help solve.
I have seen it happen before, I’ve no doubt I will see it happen again, and it still won’t be maliciousness. It will be, in the literal sense of the word, thoughtlessness. The blind spots we all have that take us out at the ankles. I think this is part of human nature, part of our tribal tendencies, and I think instead of attacking folks when it happens, maybe do a little more work and try to point it out directly, clearly, but not in a moronic “YOU FUCKING SHITLORD” kind of way. We have plenty of that. Perhaps it’s not working as well as some might think?
What to do?
Well, that’s the question isn’t it? How to fix this? First, I absolutely acknowledge that this kind of thing is easier said than done. But, I think the first bit is to look outside yourself, even when you’re in a rush. I completely understand Kara and Walt’s bias towards certain publications but there are a lot of cities in the US (and Canada) with largeish populations that aren’t New York, DC, or S.F. Like…Chicago. Toronto. Dallas. Kansas City. Miami. Boston. Phoenix. Houston. Montreal. Vancouver. San Diego. Tampa. Or even smaller cities. There are publications that aren’t the WSJ, the S.F. Chronicle, AllThingsD, Reuters, and Bloomberg.
There are people living in those cities with different backgrounds that aren’t just racially different/diverse, but literally who grew up in and around a completely different worldview than the current staff have, (based on their published backgrounds), are very intelligent, very capable, and can offer a viewpoint you can’t friggin’ get if everyone comes from the same damned incubators.
They are not however, going to show up on your radar at all if you only look in the same places all the time.
And I think we have to stop accepting the startup excuse. The “we need to hit the ground moving” excuse or its variants. Because when do you not need to be moving? When do you not need people who can get up to speed in a hurry? A year later? Two? Five? Tomorrow never comes, it’s always…well…tomorrow. At some point, you have to do it today. Because you can only do anything today. You can’t do it tomorrow, and you’ve already done everything you possibly could yesterday.
You have to do it today, because today is the only time you can do it.
That’s the inconvenient part of leadership that people don’t want to talk about. Taking a look at yourself and deciding “Holy shit, we really do have a huge beam in our eye. So how do we go about removing it?”
I’m really sure the staff of both re/code and iMore are more than willing and able to take the leads here. The only question is when is it going to be today?