Milloy: “Part of being white means being ‘The Voice of Metro'”: There’s an interesting and meaningful discussion taking place on the Washington Post’s internal critique board about race and how it fits into the Post’s news coverage and their newsroom.

Media Bistro

Friday, Feb 03
Milloy: “Part of being white means being ‘The Voice of Metro'”: There’s an interesting and meaningful discussion taking place on the Washington Post’s internal critique board about race and how it fits into the Post’s news coverage and their newsroom. Cou
But what I’d really really like is to read about what it means to be white at the Post. And I dont mean read about it in the New Republic, either, with blind quotes from white reporters. White people, I’ve discovered, are as defensive of their identity as black people are sentitive about theirs. But exactly what does being white mean? Priviledge? Mo money? Or maybe its just not being black? Bet this would be a better newspaper if we knew more about that race wall between us. Would love to know what you’re thinking Len & Phil (and Don and Bo). Stop peeping and start participating..
The conversation was instigated, it seems, by Cheryl Thompson’s (Metro Projects Reporter) critique on January 31:
A1: The first thing I noticed when I picked up today’s paper was the three white women on the front page. Not much diversity there…
Metro:…Coincidence? Every photo accompanying a story on the Metro front in the Maryland edition featured a white male. If we want to improve circulation, then we need to improve our diversity of photos and stories. I live in Montgomery County in one of the most diverse zip codes in the region, where more than one in five of the 58,000-plus residents is foreign born, as Dee Cohn and Pam Constable pointed out in a story several years ago. Our paper–all sections–should reflect the diversity of our communities…
Business: There’s a black guy in a photo on the Biz front! Oh, wait. My bad. It’s the cop escorting Kenneth Lay and his wife into federal court. Really, we need to do better.
Many more then chimed in on this subject, especially in response to the all-white roster of finalists for Metro’s voice contest.
The entire discussion raises some serious questions for not only the Post, but journalists everywhere and is worth a full read. More after the jump…
More from the boards:
Debbi Wilgoren: Just to play devil’s advocate to Cheryl’s smart and funny critique: Yes, three pictures of white women on A1, but also very strong (and well deserved) placement for the African American history museum story, and lesser but still A1 placement for Annie Gowen’s really interesting piece on the Washington area’s Salvadoran community. Plus, those three pictures are of real — albeit white — people, not, for example, government officials in suits. And the two feature photos (not including the mug of Wendy Wasserstein in the keybox) are played nice and big. Would it have been better to have a person of color under the cherry blossoms? Quite possibly. But is this an old-boy’s-club front page? Not hardly.
Martha McNeil Hamilton: Better a police officer than someone facing spending the rest of his life in prison. I hope you turned to page two and the photo of Fed Vice Chairman Roger Ferguson with a story about how he and others guided the Federal Reserve Board on 9/11.
Courtland T. Milloy : Three women, Cheryl, Martha and Deb speaking out on race and the newspaper today. I like that. Two other favorites, Fred B and Peter P did it, too, a few days ago. I really like that. But what I’d really really like is to read about what it means to be white at the Post. And I dont mean read about it in the New Republic, either, with blind quotes from white reporters. White people, I’ve discovered, are as defensive of their identity as black people are sentitive about theirs. But exactly what does being white mean? Priviledge? Mo money? Or maybe its just not being black? Bet this would be a better newspaper if we knew more about that race wall between us. Would love to know what you’re thinking Len & Phil (and Don and Bo). Stop peeping and start participating.
Keith Richburg: Lyndsey’s story on Metro’s search for a new voice to say “doors opening” and “doors closing” was a terrific piece, really enjoyable and well written, and would have been on A1 on any other day; In fact, I might have voted for holding our SOTU package to two just to get it out there as a reader.
As great as that story is, I have one problem with it: Why are all
the 10 finalists to be the voice of Metro all, apparently, white? Did someone at Metro decide they didn’t want a “black-sounding” voice or an ethnic voice to say “doors opening” or “doors closing?” (Okay, maybe Jon Garcia counts as Hispanic). Is that a comment on the suburban reach of Metro? And–more importantly–why was that point not made in the story, since it seemed so glaringly obvious from the photo that it jumped out at me and grabbed me by the throat the second I picked up my Metro front. What a wonderful chance we missed, I think, to write about how in our diverse region, the Metro powers-that-be think that the “Voice Of Metrorail” must be a generically Caucasian voice.
Jonathan Yardley: I emphatically second Richburg’s comment on the Metro competition. Those ten lily-white faces leaped out at me, too. We do the same thing all the time in this newspaper of course, so maybe we’re just inured to this incredible insensitivity about the region’s complex racial and ethnic mix, but this one stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb. I suppose it’s too late to do anything else in the news columns, but it would be nice to see a snippy, impertinent little editorial on the subject in tomorrow’s paper.
Marc Fisher: Keith is far from the only reader to note the lack of black finalists in the Metro voice contest; I’ve received a bunch of emails and calls
on this today, all from folks identifying themselves as white and all wondering why Metro, which serves a very mixed rider base, would not want a greater variety of backgrounds in the finalist group. The readers shared Keith’s suspicion that there was a preference in the selection process for white-sounding voices. But as someone who listened to the samples without seeing photos or knowing anything about the finalists other than what they sounded like, I should add that my aural stereotypes told me that at least one and possibly two of the group were black. Not the case. Might be interesting to ask
Metro’s judges how they heard those voices, and why.
Cheryl W. Thompson: Were all the Metro judges white? And what does black sound like? Just wondering…
Courtland T. Milloy: Thank you, Mr. Richburg. In yesterday’s posted comment, I asked: What does being white at the Post mean? Today, I learn that part of being white means being “The Voice of Metro.” Metro rail, that is, not
Metro’s rail, right?
Neely Tucker: on the race front, with a shout out to courland “dr. love!” milloy: last week i was part of post panel at georgetown univ. with mr. vargas (“beyond race”) and then part of another panel at a dc library branch in georgetown about the post’s front page.
the mostly minority participants at the former were convinced the post is part of the white, racist mainstream media (query: “do you guys have code words you use in the paper to talk about black people without calling them black?”). there was a sentiment that the media had done a great job in the old civil rights days (when, ironically, the media hired very few minorities), but had since gone to seed.
race was not the subject of the second panel, but when it was, several speakers in the the mostly white crowd volunteered their observations that we were “patronizing” to blacks and minorities, we dared not criticize oprah, with the inference it was because she was black and female. there was a sentiment that we were great back in the old watergate/bradlee days (when, ironically, we did far fewer investigations and had a smaller staff), but we had since gone to
seed.
just mention that, in case you needed a bit of uplift.

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