- Teaching Notes
As people in the United States continue to protest systemic racism, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought down a reckoning for the media industry. With firings, resignations, and demands for accountability impacting leadership at multiple prestige media brands, including the New York Times and Condé Nast, many media companies are grappling with their failure to provide equitable and healthy working environments for employees of color. Students are asked to review the recent fallout and discuss how these companies can move forward.
Students should apply learning in organizational culture, leadership, strategy, and diversity and equality to evaluate the responses from the affected media companies and to discuss how those companies can better commit to diversity in the future.
As the Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum nationwide, demands for defunding police departments and combatting racist structures have been joined by a new scrutiny of racism within workplaces. In the media industry, this scrutiny has led to a very public reckoning in which Black employees have spoken out against discriminatory practices and top editors have stepped down from their positions. At the New York Times, James Bennet resigned from his position as opinion editor after publishing—and then defending the choice to publish—an op-ed that was widely decried as being dangerous to Black people. On June 22, the Black Caucus of the Los Angeles Times Guild called for a public apology in an open letter to publisher Patrick Soon-Shiong and sent a list of demands that included equal pay, more advancement opportunities, and increased hiring of Black contributors.
In early June, Adam Rapoport stepped down from his position as the editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit magazine after a photo of him in brownface resurfaced, along with accusations of a toxic work environment for employees of color. Condé Nast, which owns Bon Appétit, has weathered further accusations of racism within the company, leading to the resignation of Vice President Matt Duckor. Anna Wintour and other Condé executives have offered apologies and stressed diversity efforts in response. Meanwhile, top editor of Refinery29 Christine Barberich resigned amidst accusations of a toxic workplace in which women of color were serially mistreated (Barberich’s resignation was quickly followed by the stepping down of the company’s president, Amy Emmerich), and ESPN leadership promised to reflect on their missteps as Black employees went public with examples of racism within the company.
The issues raised at these media companies are just now coming to the surface because of recent mainstream acceptance of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has galvanized efforts to oust racism from institutions. A host of media companies are now publicly grappling with racism and abuses of power that were previously covered up—at Complex, for instance, several former employees broke nondisclosure agreements in order to speak out about their experiences. Resignations, apologetic statements, and promises to do better have largely been the immediate response, though many of those statements have been met with skepticism. But what happens next, particularly while momentum wanes as media attention is drawn to other news events, remains unclear.
- How well—or how poorly—do you think these companies have responded to the allegations of entrenched racism? Do you think resignations of leadership or top editors are enough to enact change?
- What are the practical next steps for these companies? What do you think are some concrete actions they can and should take?
- How can these companies be held accountable to their pledges to “do better”?
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