American Prospect Writer Laments 'The Unbearable Whiteness of Liberal Media'

The American Prospect is shaking up their own liberal audience with Gabriel Arana’s article “The Unbearable Whiteness of Liberal Media: If left-leaning publications value diversity, why don't they have any?”

Arana began by noting “On the staff of The American Prospect, I’m the only member of an ethnic minority....It's not just the Prospect. Journalism upstarts like Vox Media and FiveThirtyEight have come under fire recently for lack of diversity in their hires, but that's largely because they are drawing from the milky-white pool of ‘existing talent.’”

In the corner of the publishing industry that caters to college-educated wonks—a slightly fuzzy designation, but I've included most of the publications my colleagues and I read on a daily basis—racial and ethnic diversity is abysmal.

Nearly 40 percent of the country is non-white and/or Hispanic, but the number of minorities at the outlets included in this article's tally—most of them self-identified as liberal or progressive—hovers around 10 percent. The Washington Monthly can boast 20 percent, but that's because it only has nine staffers in total, two of whom belong to minority groups. Dissent, like the Prospect, has one. Given the broad commitment to diversity in our corner of the publishing world, why is the track record so poor?

Arana writes that it starts with the fact that liberal opinion journals aren’t doing the bean-counting that makes them self-aware. And then there’s the whole capitalist-structure argument:

But the primary reason magazine staffs are so white is structural. "We practice fairly specialized form of journalism and the pool of people who do it isn’t terribly large to begin with, and then you look at the group of people who are practicing at a higher level and it’s just not a diverse pool," Foer says.

The road that ends with a spot on staff at places like The New Republic, The Atlantic, or the Prospect is paved with privilege. It starts with unpaid internships, which serve both as training grounds and feeders to staff positions.

"Most of our staff comes through our intern program," says Harper's editor Ellen Rosenbush. "Do we get as many applicants of color as we’d like? Probably not, but we do get them and we have hired them." There's a straightforward reason for the dearth of intern applications: Those who can afford to rely on mom and dad for a summer or a semester tend to be well-off and white....  

Most publications put little effort into recruiting for their internship programs, and the fact of the matter is that a black or Latino kid who grew up on the South Side of Chicago is far less likely to have even heard of The New Republic or the Prospect than a white woman growing up on the Upper West Side.

Tim Graham's picture