Debates over race and media have been rekindled in the past week after ESPN anchor Jemele Hill was publicly reprimanded for calling Donald Trump a white supremacist, followed by the president’s ongoing attacks on black NFL players for exercising their First Amendment rights. The controversies are good reminders about who has the power to set and enforce rules about what is deemed fair and appropriate when it comes to discussing race. More often than not, that power rests with white men.
But not always. Today, Vox.com and British Vogue both announced that their head honchos on the editorial and business sides, respectively, will be women of color.
Lauren Williams is taking the reins as editor in chief of Vox from site co-founder Ezra Klein, who will become editor-at-large. Williams, who has held high-level editing roles at Vox for the past three years, will lead the site as it unveils a daily explainer podcast and expands into TV. It’s a high-profile gig in the new media world.
“Vox’s explanatory mission is particularly urgent in this moment,” Williams said in a statement. “The biggest news stories of the day are both complicated and enormously consequential.”
Allison Rockey will take over Williams’ role as executive editor, leading the site’s efforts on third-party platforms and new editorial products.
Across the pond, Vanessa Kingori was named publishing director at British Vogue. She was previously publisher of GQ Style and British GQ. She was not only the first female publisher of that latter title, according to a memo announcing her hire, but also led it to its highest annual revenues of the past decade.
Vogue has been criticized for its shockingly white editorial staff, as featured in its own pages.
In April, it named Edward Enninful as its first black editor in chief. The addition of Kingori is part of a broader push that has seen multiple people of color placed in prominent positions at the magazine.
Vox Media, too, has occasionally been knocked for a lack of diversity, lagging behind some similar digital media companies in hiring non-white or female employees.
Media types talk a lot about how to open their companies’ doors to talent from underrepresented communities, but there have only been marginal gains in most newsrooms over the past few decades. The business has become more professionalized just as traditional financial models have imploded, meaning that young journalists often need prestigious degrees and unpaid internships to get ahead. That stacked deck has left most mainstream outlets far less diverse than the communities they purport to cover. In addition, there’s the optics problem: Do you want to work at a place that doesn’t appear to include people like you?
But the talent pipeline also narrows as it extends upward, with the top echelons of media still packed with white men. Just one out of 11 masthead editors at The Washington Post, and three out of 18 at The New York Times, are people of color, according to a study this year by the Asian American Journalists’ Association. Those numbers are even worse for women of color.
Leadership roles hold far-reaching implications for how news organizations structure their businesses and frame their coverage, especially with subjects like race and gender. What’s more, black women have spending power and major cultural influence, and a perspective that needs to be heard. It’s long past time we saw them and other women of color represented in the upper echelons of the media.