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06/22/2017 10:54 am ET Updated Jun 22, 2017

Wall Street Journal Reporters Demand Action On Newsroom Diversity

An internal email obtained by HuffPost reveals growing unrest.

Monica Schipper via Getty Images
A half-dozen female reporters at The Wall Street Journal emailed Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker on behalf of nearly 200 staffers, expressing their growing frustration at the paper's lack of diversity.

The Wall Street Journal’s staff is about as diverse as the business world the paper covers: It’s essentially run by white men. A few star women have risen and departed over the years. And people of color are essentially missing from the top ranks.

The situation is growing increasingly intolerable for Journal staffers, who say journalism at the paper that media mogul Rupert Murdoch owns is suffering from the overwhelming homogeneity of the newsroom.

Earlier this month, a half-dozen female reporters at the outlet emailed Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker and his deputy Matt Murray on behalf of nearly 200 staffers, expressing their growing frustration. The email, obtained by HuffPost, pointedly notes that the leadership hasn’t meaningfully addressed two related issues: the significant pay gap between men and women, and the lack of racial diversity.

“Until our leadership reflects a more diverse population ― the population we are trying to attract as new subscribers ― we may not be producing the best journalism possible,” the email reads.

The revelations about turmoil inside the Journal come as the paper is reeling from an ethics scandal. On Wednesday, the paper fired a prominent foreign affairs reporter for ethical violations that The Associated Press uncovered.

"Diversity is such an issue at the Journal, I’ve heard people call it White Castle,” says one reporter.

The June email landed in Baker’s inbox just days before the Journal reporters’ union issued a detailed report on pay at the paper. The report concluded that women in the union make less than men across the board, even accounting for experience, location and job title. Female reporters earn an average of 91 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make. The disparity widens when you consider all the women in the union ― including non-managerial staff in sales, tech and other areas. They make 87 percent of what men earn.

The timing of the email was coincidental, the Journal insiders told HuffPost, but the report has created a greater sense of urgency inside the newsroom. (Full disclosure: This reporter was an editor at the Journal from 2006-2011.)

The note (which you can read in full below) comes just a few months after the departure of the paper’s highest-ranking female editorial leader: Rebecca Blumenstein, who left to take a leadership position at The New York Times. That was a blow to the newsroom and particularly to women who viewed her as a champion and role model, Journal staffers told HuffPost. 

The Journal reporters who spoke to HuffPost asked that their names not be published due to concern for how their superiors would consider their views.

People are scared,” said one female reporter who saw the most recent email. “There’s frustration and concern this isn’t being taken seriously.”

A spokesman from the Journal did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.

Baker put off the reporters in an emailed response to their note.

I will take some time to respond in greater length seriatim to your various points, many of which have great validity,” he wrote back four days later.

Baker has a well-known penchant for using 25-cent words. “Seriatim” means taking each point one by one. “For now, we are right in the final stages of nailing down the new newsroom leadership structure and I should be in position to make some announcements about this by early July,” he continued.

In addition, staffers say that Baker hasn’t seemed sympathetic to concerns about diversity, despite taking some minor action on pay equity.

“Diversity is such an issue at the Journal, I’ve heard people call it White Castle,” said the female reporter. “There’s frustration [they’re] not taking this seriously.”

In the email, the reporters cited two recent stories that missed the mark precisely because of a lack of diversity: A page-one article about Target’s policy on bathrooms and transgender people in April quoted someone who linked transgender people and sexual predators. The story, which presumably went through the Journal’s rigorous editing process, failed to note that there is no evidence of such a connection.

A May feature about how hard it is for college athletes to get jobs at Wall Street firms, failed to note initially the athletes were almost always men. “A (female) reporter brought the omission  to the attention of the Standards team. The fix required just two words, but meant a world of difference,” the reporters write in the email to Baker.

Over the past year, the Journal has been often criticized for its coverage of the Trump administration and accused of going too easy on the president. Baker, a former conservative columnist, has personally caught a lot of flack for his remarks on Trump ― notably explaining his reluctance to label false statements from the president “lies.”

In a memo to staff earlier this year, Baker asked reporters to avoid writing “Muslim-majority countries” when referring to the countries initially included under Trump’s travel ban.

“Would be less loaded to say ‘seven countries the US has designated as being states that pose significant or elevated risks of terrorism,’” Baker wrote in the email, according to a BuzzFeed report.

The lack of diversity needs to be tackled head-on if the Journal really wants to do great work, said one nonwhite male staffer who saw the email and signed an earlier, similar note to Baker in March. “The situation has been allowed to fester,” he said.

The newsroom is not overtly racist, this staffer hastened to add, saying he has no personal beef here. None of the reporters or editors HuffPost spoke to believe this is a situation involving conscious racism or sexism.

Still, the editors in charge are clearly hiring and promoting people they feel comfortable with ― other white guys. “If all the leadership positions are white men, we are missing important perspective on events of the day because we’re seeing it through one lens, whether people intend it or not,” the nonwhite staffer said.

Of the 12 deputy managing editors at the top who serve under Baker and his deputy Murray, eight are white men and four are women. Two of the women work on operational issues, meaning they don’t directly handle coverage. Both of the editors who oversee the Journal’s notoriously conservative opinion page are white men.

The Wall Street Journal is hardly the only newsroom in America that’s dominated by white men or that underpays women, but what’s unique here seems to be its leaders’ apparent unwillingness to grapple with the issue, and the direct way the paper’s staff and union are confronting it.

The executive editor of The New York Times, Dean Baquet, who is African-American, acknowledged the paper’s own diversity issues in a piece the Times published last year. The article, by the paper’s former public editor, noted that of the 20 or so reporters who covered the Trump campaign, only two were black and none were Latino or Asian. “That’s less diversity than you’ll find in Donald Trump’s cabinet thus far,” Liz Spayd wrote. She criticized the Times for not doing more about mixing it up.

“We’re not diverse enough,” Baquet said at the time. “But I think they’d say I have a commitment to it and that it’s gotten better in the past year.” He added that his effort to diversify the Times had been “intense and persistent.”

Eighty percent of the Journal’s staff is white, according to a 2016 survey conducted by the American Society of News Editors. The New York Times is 78 percent white. The Washington Post is at 69 percent. At all three outlets, women journalists write fewer than half of the A-section stories, according to a separate report.

(HuffPost’s union has not yet done a salary review, but plans to perform one sometime next year. HuffPost management has not yet released official diversity numbers.)

The June email to Baker and Murray followed up on a longer March email, signed by 197 reporters and other staffers, who pleaded with Baker and Murray to consider a more intentional strategy when it comes to diversity.

That email laid out specific suggestion for management. Some points were strikingly similar to those recommended recently by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who conducted a thorough internal review of ride-hailing firm Uber’s internal culture. For example, the writers asked the Journal editors to consider implementing the so-called Rooney rule, which calls for at least one minority member and one woman to be considered for every job opening.

The reporters also asked that more effort be made to hire women into leadership roles, that a thorough salary review be undertaken and shared with staff and that managers get more training on how to assess reporters’ career paths ― an effort to dispel the notion, for example, that women who are mothers wouldn’t want to take on breaking news roles.

Baker responded just a few hours later that day. ”I appreciate the seriousness of all these issues and I look forward to discussing them with you,” he wrote. He said many of the issues raised were “under consideration” and that he and the editors are “committed to fostering and developing a highly successful and welcoming workplace that provides the best possible opportunities for all of our journalists, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.” 

After the email flurry, Baker met with a few women at the company, but in the June follow-up, the authors make it clear that not much has happened since.

On pay, after a widely publicized report from the reporters’ union last year, Dow Jones did take action, hiring an outside consulting firm to analyze salaries. The result: The company says only 3 percent of salaries required adjustments and that those were made.

In his email in March to the reporters, Baker writes about the salary review. “The adjustments for the impacted group, which included both men and women and spanned multiple ethnicities, have been completed,” he writes.

In an follow-up exchange, the women ask Baker for more transparency on the salary analysis. “I’m eager to be as transparent as possible,” Baker states. “Though I am sure you’ll understand that when it comes to individual salaries, we have to handle sensitively.”

To be clear, the writers weren’t looking to learn their colleagues’ salaries, but to get a better sense of how such an analysis was conducted. Comparing pay is a tricky thing, and even systemic discrepancies can be explained away by a consulting firm paid by an employer that may not be interested in, essentially, giving half its workforce a raise. 

The company hasn’t shared the particulars of that research with staff or the union, says Tim Martell, the executive director of IAPE, the news guild that represents the Journal’s reporters.

“They told us 31 employees received a salary adjustment, but haven’t given us methodology or data. We only have their word,” he says.

The union report released this month, on the other hand, offers an extremely detailed look at pay, releasing average salary information for workers by age and location.

The union has also offered to review the salaries of its members and give them a report on where they stand in the organization.

Martell says he’s received hundreds of requests ― mostly from women ― and so far has produced about 88 reports that give reporters a sense of where their pay stands relative to the median salary of someone working in the same location with a similar job title and level of experience.

Several Journal reporters told HuffPost they weren’t surprised about the pay gap at the paper.

“I always heard about women getting paid significantly less than men, but I didn’t think about it on a personal level until it happened to me,” said a former Wall Street Journal staffer who left the paper in 2015.

After four years at the Journal, this staffer learned that a man sitting next to her, with the same level of experience and job title, was making $30,000 more a year than she was. He’d been hired relatively recently. When she raised the issue with her boss, she was told that because her male colleague was an “external hire,”  they had to pay more to poach him. “They were trying to convince him to join,” she explained.

The female staffer got a 2 percent raise. “That didn’t come close to closing the gap,” she said. “I was very angry.”

Her colleague ended up getting promoted and landing a new title a few weeks after she complained.

Read the emails in full below.

Email sent Friday, June 9, on behalf of nearly 200 WSJ reporters:

Dear Gerry and Matt,

You closed the meeting with three of us in April by encouraging us to hold you accountable on issues of diversity in the WSJ newsroom. It’s now mid-June, and on behalf of the nearly 200 colleagues who signed our initial letter, we wanted to check in regarding that conversation and what steps The Journal leadership has taken to address the problems discussed.

Specifically, you and Matt said at that meeting that you would undertake a review of bylines, including video and WSJ conferences, to evaluate whether women are underrepresented. Our original letter pointed out that just one Saturday Review cover essay was authored by a woman over the prior six months. Little has changed: nine of the past 11 were by men.  

We are also eager for an update regarding the intention you expressed in April to gather additional data from HR on the pay gap analysis, particularly on the compensation concerns within the newsroom. As we expressed in the letter and our follow-up meeting, we aren’t satisfied by what the company has shared thus far in terms of how it calculates appropriate pay ranges, how wide those ranges are and how many in the newsroom specifically were flagged as having pay inequities. Without breaking out newsroom results from the overall company numbers, we are left concerned that pay inequities do still plague this division.

Finally, we are curious about the masthead changes you said were imminent. Until our leadership reflects a more diverse population ― the population we are trying to attract as new subscribers ― we may not be producing the best journalism possible.

That became apparent in this story from the Quants series recently, in which references to the overwhelmingly male pipeline from the athletic pitch to Wall Street were never explicitly acknowledged as such until a (female) reporter brought the omission to the attention of the Standards team. The fix required just two words, but meant a world of difference.

Same for the leder on Target’s response to North Carolina’s bathroom law, which characterized trans individuals as sexual predators in a quote from the American Family Association but initially offered no rebuttal. At least seven reporters and editors met to discuss the incident with Neal Lipschutz, expressing concern about how The Journal covered trans people and members of other minority groups and encouraging―at the very least―the adoption of a policy in which we seek out comment from those groups being accused of such offenses.

Outspoken individuals helped spur changes in those incidents, but as a newsroom going forward, we must still do better.

We look forward to hearing more from you as this fiscal year closes out.

Best,

Response from Baker on June 13:

Thank you for this.

As we told you back in April, we do indeed take these issues seriously and I certainly am grateful to you for holding me accountable.

If you don’t mind, I will take some time to respond in greater length seriatim to your various points, many of which have great validity.  For now, we are right in the final stages of nailing down the new newsroom leadership structure and I should be in position to make some announcements about this by early July.  You’ll get a chance then to observe how we address the leadership issues you raised, as well as some of your other concerns.  I will respond to you at greater length by then and I’d be delighted to then meet and talk further.

Gerry

Gerard Baker

Editor in Chief

The Wall Street Journal

Earlier email from March 28 signed by 197 staffers:

Dear Gerry and Matt,

We are concerned about the role of women and people of color in The Wall Street Journal’s newsroom, and would like to discuss diversity initiatives with you.

Our highest ranking female role model left the company earlier this year. There are currently four women and eight men listed as deputy managing editors, and both editorial page editors are men. Nearly all the people at high levels at the paper deciding what we cover and how are white men.

More than a year after IAPE released data showing that union-represented women reporters here make 90 cents for every $1 their male counterparts earn, and that black and Hispanic women earn the least among all union-represented employees, we feel that the underlying issues regarding pay equity have not been adequately addressed.

We were troubled most recently by a report issued last week by the Women’s Media Center showing that 34.3% of WSJ’s A-section bylines from September through November were from women, down from 39.2% the prior year. Women comprise 49% of our union-represented reporters, writers and senior writers, according to IAPE data.

During the same period, 42.5% of bylines at the Washington Post came from women and the New York Times saw an increase in female bylines to 39% from 32.3% the prior year.

We recognize that there are potential flaws with an external study that only counted bylines in a single section over a three-month period. But in the absence of other data from the company, this study suggests a problem with female representation among A-section bylines.

There are troubling signs in other parts of the paper as well. For example, over the past six months, the high-profile Saturday Review cover piece was written by a woman just once. And following the most recent round of layoffs and buyouts, just 18% of our union-represented writers, editors, visual journalists and reporters are people of color.

Diversity in the newsroom is good for business and good for our coverage. We would like to see the Journal undertake a more comprehensive, intentional and transparent approach to improving it.

We know that this is a topic being discussed as part of the broader WSJ 2020 project, and we stand ready to work with you to ensure that we have a strong pipeline of women, racial and ethnic minorities, and those from a diverse set of socioeconomic backgrounds, ready for promotion when the opportunity next arises. This will also help ensure that prospective new hires feel they could flourish here. We are eager to see efforts similar to those launched at ProPublica be created in our own newsroom.

Among those programs, we suggest:

―A Rooney rule ensuring that women and minorities are considered in the slate of candidates for all leadership positions.

―A significant effort made to hire a woman in a masthead-level position overseeing news gathering and involved in setting the coverage agenda, with consideration for women who are also racial and ethnic minorities. Many of the women in leadership positions have the word “deputy” in their title, including the deputy U.S. News and Money & Investing editors.

―Manager training to address and dispel assumptions about what individuals want their career paths to look like. For example, parents of young children may be eager to do a stint abroad or a breaking-news beat. And we have typically had few women on beats such as economics and sports, despite interest among women in covering those beats.

―Greater flexibility for parents that still offers them the opportunity to move up the newsroom ladder.

―A review of how well we do in quoting women as expert sources, rather than just men, especially in economics and markets stories, along with a concerted effort by managers and reporters to diversify our source pools.

―A detailed report of salaries among reporters, editors and other newsroom roles, broken down by section or group (US News, our global regions, M&I, Life & Arts, etc.), by gender and by race/ethnicity, shared with staff.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet, brainstorm other ideas and agree to specific next steps to ensure that all journalists in this newsroom are treated fairly and paid equitably.

Sincerely,

And Baker’s response the same day in March:

 Thank you for the note addressed to Matt Murray and me.

First, let me assure you that Matt and I - and all the editorial leadership - take your concerns seriously. I look forward to having a full discussion about the issues you raise in a spirit of constructive cooperation. We are absolutely committed to fostering and developing a highly successful and welcoming workplace that provides the best possible opportunities for all of our journalists, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.

As you note, the people stream of the WSJ 2020 process is reviewing these and other issues. Some of the proposals in your note are already under consideration in that work, led by Christine Glancey. She’ll be taking part in a Storylab session on Thursday, which I encourage you to attend to learn more about these efforts and share your ideas.

While we realize that there are many elements that contribute to the creation and maintenance of a properly diverse workforce, I do want to take a moment to address the issue of pay equity you raise. In particular I wish to highlight the comprehensive internal and external reviews of our compensation practices that were done in response to the IAPE report mentioned in your letter.

The internal review was led by our People team, and the external review was overseen by Willis Towers Watson. The final analysis of both exercises showed that fewer than 3% of Dow Jones employees needed pay adjustments. The adjustments for the impacted group, which included both men and women and spanned multiple ethnicities, have been completed. In order to track our continued progress, we are already midway through new internal and external reviews for 2017.

Again, I appreciate the seriousness of all these issues and I look forward to discussing them with you.

Sincerely,

Gerry

Clarification: A reference in this article to a page-one article about Target has been amended to reflect that the article was subject to an editorial process.

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