The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) and Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) are deeply troubled by the findings of a recent analysis revealing racial disparities in a New York Times performance evaluation system, which has given “significantly lower ratings” to employees of color. The analysis was conducted by Times journalists with the NewsGuild of New York, the union that represents New York Times employees.
The Guild examined the evaluations of Times employees and found that Latino, Black and Asian employees are less likely to receive positive performance ratings compared to white employees, with Latino employees having the lowest odds in some years. In 2021, for instance, being Latino reduced the odds of receiving a high score by about 60%, while being Black reduced the chance of receiving a high score by nearly 50%, the Guild stated in its analysis, which was released earlier this week and is based on data provided by the New York Times Company from the past three years. “The disparities have been statistically significant in every year for which the company provided data,” the Guild report stated, noting that its analysis was reviewed by several leading academic economists and statisticians, as well as performance evaluation experts.
NABJ, NAHJ and AAJA concerns extend not just to the findings themselves, which have far reaching consequences as job ratings influence employee bonuses, career opportunities and retention, but also to the company’s response to the Guild’s findings.
Despite repeated attempts by the Guild to convince the company to acknowledge the discrepancies in the performance ratings, Times management has denied them, according to the Guild. In a statement to NPR earlier this week, a Times spokeswoman said that while the news organization has taken the Guild’s concerns seriously, the Times evaluated similar concerns raised by the Guild a year ago and concluded the ratings did not reflect bias. “We’re committed to a performance evaluation system that is fair and equitable, and we have been working to continuously improve it,” Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha told NPR.
We find this response sorely lacking as it fails to acknowledge the disparities within the evaluation system. As journalism organizations representing thousands of journalists of color across the country, we are committed to protecting and advocating for the fair treatment of our members. Ensuring the equitable treatment of our journalists helps to support diverse newsrooms, which in turn leads to fair and accurate reporting in the communities we serve.
To address these disparities, The New York Times must first acknowledge there is a problem with this performance evaluation system. We call on the Times to halt the use of these evaluations to determine employee bonuses until the disparities are addressed. The Guild report outlines best practices and methods recommended by leading experts to evaluate the disparities within this evaluation system. We call on the Times to consider using these methods, to be transparent about the results and to swiftly address some of the most glaring disparities, such as those among employees with the shortest tenure at the Times.
For example, in 2021, more than half (56.1%) of Latino Guild members, 39% of Asian Guild members and 37% of Black Guild members who have worked three years or fewer at The New York Times, received a low rating on the company’s performance rating scale, according to the Guild’s data. By comparison, 25.9% of white Guild members who have worked three years or fewer at the Times received a low rating.
Last year, The New York Times released its plan to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive company. Its report found that the company’s “human resources systems and management practices remain underdeveloped.” The company acknowledged that “without high-functioning systems to define the ways in which people experience an organization — hiring, feedback and evaluations, development, and more — informality can lead to a lack of consistency and fairness.”
NABJ, NAHJ and AAJA commend the Times for identifying these shortcomings and their stated commitment to increase the representation of Black journalists and Latino journalists in leadership positions by 50% over the next five years. However, without a pledge to address internal, systemic failures, these efforts to hire a more diverse workforce will fall flat if current employees aren’t treated equitably in the company’s internal evaluation process. Ultimately, this may lead journalists to seek other jobs and leave the newsroom. Indeed, as NPR noted, The New York Times has found that Black and Latino employees have left the news organization at “elevated rates.”
“At the end of the day, retention is equally as important as recruiting a diverse staff, and that starts with being transparent about processes such as evaluations, which play a crucial role in a person’s career trajectory within a newsroom,” said NAHJ President Yvette Cabrera. “Ensuring that journalists of color are fairly evaluated, treated, and supported in their newsroom is paramount.”
AAJA President Michelle Ye Hee Lee said that the analysis revealed a broader need for newsrooms to interrogate their internal cultures and systems that have long marginalized journalists of color and have created or contributed to imbalances that create barriers to success for employees of color. That includes performance evaluations, as this Guild study demonstrates, she noted.
“AAJA calls on news outlets to be transparent in their processes and standards of evaluating employees to make sure all employees of color are treated equitably,” said Lee.
NABJ President Dorothy Tucker said her sincere hope is that the Times won’t ignore the Guild’s report. “If management is truly committed to building a more diverse, equitable and inclusive company it must address the disparities that make journalists of color feel devalued,” said Tucker. “The first steps are to suspend the process that is in place; participate in candid discussions with union representatives to work toward a cogent resolution to everyone’s satisfaction, and replace the current process with the mutually agreed upon solution.”
NAHJ has reached out to New York Times leadership with this call to action in order to begin a dialogue with the three organizations. We hope they will demonstrate their commitment to equity and inclusion by addressing these disparities in a spirit of collaboration with its NewsGuild.
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