Times Public Editor Addresses Elimination of Race Beat

A wait and see approach

In her latest column, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan addressed the paper eliminating its race/ethnicity beat.

In a memo earlier this week, the Times announced that Tanzina Vega — its only reporter on the beat — was moving to the Metro desk. We asked the simple and obvious question: Why do this now, when it seems we need this more than ever?

Sullivan spoke to executive editor Dean Baquet, who said the move was “not a cosmic decision about how we cover race” and that he hadn’t decided what to do with the beat. Susan Chira, an assistant managing editor, said it would be a mistake to keep the race beat confined to one person. “We all have to raise the issues and discuss it through a wide array of topics – housing, culture, school desegregation,” explained Chira.

While that’s true, there is no harm in keeping Vega on the beat while stressing that reporters need to keep race and ethnicity as a focus point in their coverage. The Times can do both, but it’s not. That’s a poor decision.

For her part, Sullivan offered a more neutral take on the situation:

While it seems counterintuitive to increase and improve race coverage by discontinuing the race-and-ethnicity beat, the proof will be in the stories and the coverage ahead… But I hope the editors are right. The historical moment looms large. It demands great coverage from The Times on race.

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