Interactive Graphic: Diversity in Journalism

Introduction by Manjula Martin
Data visualization and research by Vijith Assar

When it comes to race and gender parity, how do major publications stack up?

At Scratch, we like to count. We count how much money writers are being paid, we count our contributors, and we count our earnings for all to see. After New York Times editor-in-chief Jill Abramson’s firing reignited debate about gender parity in journalism, we’ve been increasingly curious about looking at the overall diversity of newsrooms. So we thought we’d start at the very top, with the people in charge of the newsroom.

 Scratch enlisted programmer and journalist Vijith Assar to map the race and gender of each person holding the top editorial position at 24 English-language publications throughout those publications’ lifespans, from the Guardian (founded 1821) to Vox (founded 2014). The results, as they say in the click-bait world, might just amaze you.

Diversity in Journalism: Top Editors

Click to sort the boxes along different parameters.

Or not. As it turns out, there isn’t really enough data to make an interactive graphic about diversity among top newsroom editorial positions that doesn’t make you have to squint to see the racial breakdown in the first place—because there isn’t really any racial diversity at all. The results are barely improved when it comes to gender. Any way you click it, of the 183 top editors of mainstream English-language media outlets Assar counted here, one is a black man. Nine are white women (and two of them are Tina Brown). Parity ticks slightly upward after the 1980s. But that’s it.

All in all, this chart covers approximately 1500 combined “man-years” of top editorial positions (and that’s not a gender-neutral pronoun). Of those years, ~1486 were led by men and ~36 were led by women. All were led by white people except for the months since Dean Baquet, who is African American, took over the New York Times in May 2014.

Here’s how we came up with the numbers:

Selection and Biases

Assar started with a list of established publications that could be considered mainstream and then added some recent high-profile startups. As he researched the history of each publication, a few were ruled out simply because the “top editorial slot” could not be reflected accurately in chart form. For example, it was difficult to accurately represent the masthead ins and outs of the Village Voice, which has had especially high turnover since New Times (now Village Voice Media) bought the paper in 2005.

Ultimately, however, final inclusion was most dependent on the availability of data. It’s often quite hard to find exhaustive, accurate histories for a specific position at a private company, even one as high-profile as Editor-In-Chief of a major publication, especially when we’re talking about publications that were started a hundred or more years ago. Most of the information initially came from Wikipedia or official company histories, and in some cases Assar looked deeper into a specific editor to find out who preceded or replaced him. (And in this case, “him” is not a gender-neutral pronoun.) Our fact-checker then verified his findings through additional sources.

A white space in a publication’s timeline indicates a period when the publication’s top editorial position was unfilled (as in the case of the New York Times, TIME, and the Sun) or the publication itself was on hiatus (Vanity Fair).

Positive Efforts

There are certainly many people working very hard to change this picture. While there are few mentorship efforts aimed specifically at editors, most editors do tend to start out as writers. And prominent editors are starting to talk more publicly about the need to hire from a broader pool. Buzzfeed’s Shani O. Hilton shares some great lessons in her Medium post “Building a Diverse Newsroom Is Work.”

Organizations like JAWS (Journalism & Women Symposium) and the Native American Journalists Association, to name just two, offer community and opportunities that might help to shake up the mostly-white-dudes makeup of news orgs (although two prominent women-focused digital media grants, administered by the International Women’s Media Foundation and J-Lab/McCormick Foundation, ceased funding in 2014).

Publications such as Colorlines, NPR’s Code Switch blog, The Root, and novelist/newly minted Columbia Journalism School professor Daniel Alarcón’s primarily Spanish-language Radio Ambulante are reporting stories from more diverse viewpoints and hiring reporters of color to do so. VIDA counts the gender byline stats of literary journals, and crowdsourced projects (including our own) continue to bring attention to race, compensation, and gender issues in the  media industry.

Why It Matters

So why is Scratch, a magazine that is nominally about the fiscal lives of writers, talking about race and gender? Put simply, this stuff is all connected. The American Society of News Editors releases an annual study about diversity in journalism; the 2013 results, the most recent available, called gender and racial diversity “stagnant,” a condition that the Atlantic directly connected with the industry’s financial troubles.

We’re not just interested in money; we’re interested in how money affects access. And access is, in most games—but especially in fields with low pay and high barriers to entry—a product of privilege. Who has access to leadership positions, and who in turn hires and mentors new generations of writers?

As I look at this visualization, trying to click on these pink and blue squares in a way that might cause them to rearrange in a more promising array, I am reminded of something James Baldwin once wrote about how racism renders people invisible. Baldwin was speaking specifically of the United States and of his tough decision to return here—to work here—after many years spent living abroad:

Being black affected one’s life span, insurance rates, blood pressure, lovers, children, every dangerous hour of every dangerous day. There was absolutely no way not to be black without ceasing to exist. But it frequently seemed that there was no way to be black, either, without ceasing to exist.”

—“Every Good-Bye Ain’t Gone.” New York magazine, December 19, 1977

The same year Baldwin wrote that essay about the erasure of black experience in America, journalist Robert Maynard, who was the first black owner of a major newspaper, founded the Maynard Institute for Education in Journalism, which operates on the premise that a more diverse media workforce will result in better journalism—journalism that more accurately represents and engages the entire spectrum of the American populace. In a 1993 speech, Maynard framed the need for diverse newsrooms as a basic prerequisite for a functioning democracy, saying, “This country cannot be the country we want it to be if its story is told by only one group of citizens.”

If journalism’s purpose is to tell and expose the truth, what truths aren’t being brought to light in a homogeneous newsroom?

Something to consider as you click around this graphic that I like to call “diversity Tetris.”

If you want to use or look more closely at how Assar coded this interactive chart, he’s put the whole thing up on Github here: Transparency!

This article is a free excerpt from Scratch Magazine. Please support the work of our contributors by subscribing today.

Manjula Martin About Manjula Martin

Scratch editor and co-founder Manjula Martin is a freelance writer and editor. Recent work appears in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Hazlitt, Modern Farmer, and The Rumpus. She is the creator of Who Pays Writers?


  1. Very good info. Lucky me I found your website by accident
    (stumbleupon). I’ve bookmarked it for later!


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