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Los Angeles Times vows to accurately cover racial issues after apology

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The Los Angeles Times published an apology Sept. 27 for its failures in accurately covering issues of racial disparity and its own history of racism within the organization, showcasing the need to have diversity in the newsroom. 

The editorial, titled “L.A. Times apology during a season of reflection,” goes through the entire history of the Times, from its 19th century beginnings rooted in white supremacy to the response to the recent killing of George Floyd on May 25. 

Floyd’s killing, coupled with political unrest and the pandemic exposing systemic racism, prompted the Times to examine its own systemic racism in the editorial and an accompanying series of articles and columns.

The editorial noted its failure to live up to its mission of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,” especially during the time publisher Harrison Gray Otis controlled the newspaper, from 1882 to his death in 1917. While Otis opposed slavery, the newspaper was aimed toward white Protestant settlers in Southern California, a theme that was later reiterated in 1978 when publisher Otis Chandler – Harrison Gray Otis’ great-grandson – said that the Los Angeles Times was not the kind of newspaper Black and Latino people read.

Journalism is a powerful and necessary tool that only works with a diverse newsroom, especially for one based in the melting pot that is Los Angeles.

The Times also apologized for many opinions that were once held by the newspaper. While the newspaper had already apologized for its support for the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, this editorial doubled down on that apology. 

During the 1992 riots, the Times failed to acknowledge the context of social and economic upheaval and even opposed the idea of the riots having roots in racial discrimination. 

This is exactly why diversity in the newsroom is so important. Without the voice of minority groups, the covering of their issues will not be covered accurately as the Los Angeles Times showed. If the newsroom cannot take into account minority groups’ lived experiences, how can it accurately cover said experiences? 

For example, it wasn’t until 1983 when a group of Latino journalists got together for a groundbreaking series of stories about the Latino community that it was accurately portrayed in the pages of the newspaper. Following that Pulitzer Prize winning series came a vow to increase diversity in 1992, which sadly fell flat at the time.

Also noted was the Los Angeles Times’ failure to keep its own newsroom diverse, having had a mostly white staff throughout its history. While the Los Angeles Times has had some people of color on staff throughout history, in 1995 Janet Clayton was named the first Black woman and person of color to serve as editorial director. And currently, people of color make up only 38% of the Times’ staff, while they make up about 73% of the population of Los Angeles.

Despite the history of the Times, its apology came with a vow to do better. The Times promised to increase the number of people of color on its staff and do better when covering issues of racism. 

This level of accountability from a major news organization is commendable, and it is something that more American media outlets need to do. Diversity is imperative to keeping journalism for all. Now we can only hope that this vow to increase diversity in the newsroom sticks, unlike its similar vow in 1992.

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