Florida Times-Union editor Palka talks diversity
The Florida Times-Union will be reflecting the diversity of the Jacksonville communities that it covers by 2025. Below is a shortened version of what editor Mary Kelli Palka has to say on the matter.
“When almost everyone looks the same and our organization is not a reflection of the communities we cover, it limits our coverage and hurts our credibility in those communities.
“Unfortunately, due to years of layoffs and attrition, the Times-Union finds itself in that position today. Our coverage area is about 49 percent male and 63 percent white. But our newsroom is 67 percent male and 92 percent white.
“That’s according to a diversity survey Gannett released this week, looking at the 29 people in our newsroom as of July 31, which includes all reporters, photographers, editors, myself, the editorial page editor and a specialty publications editor. And as fast as that, the survey is already outdated with the departure a week ago of one of our longtime editors.
“Times-Union journalists are strong and good at what they do. We prove it time and time again. But so, too, were the people who used to work alongside us, who brought different ideas to the table and who brainstormed with us.
“When I came to the Times-Union in 2003, there were ongoing efforts to improve diversity in the newsroom. And then the recession hit — and jobs were lost.
“Then in 2013, a new publisher came in and let us rebuild some. With that came more gender and racial diversity in our ranks. Because of our larger community and our focus on doing ambitious projects, we haven’t had difficulty attracting and hiring talented journalists passionate about this field.
“And our coverage showed it. But again, as newspapers continued to face economic troubles, we lost large numbers of our staff. And now through layoffs in some cases, but mostly through attrition, we lost so much of what we had worked so hard to add.
“Only six people hired since 2013 remain here today: two white women, two white men, one Black man and one Asian man. The loss of so many journalists, including many of the women and people of color who used to work here, hasn’t stopped us from doing important journalism that makes a significant difference in our community.
“But it does stop us from doing as much of it.
“Editorial Page Editor Mike Clark and I began working weeks ago on an editorial for this weekend about the Times-Union’s coverage, or lack thereof, about Ax Handle Saturday. It was an idea that came from a member of our editorial advisory board and that Mike and I embraced immediately. For that editorial, we talk about our lack of diversity in the 60 years since Ax Handle Saturday, the efforts we made to improve it and where we are today.
“But it was missing something important: What do we do about it? We rely heavily on that advisory board, we work with outside organizations when opportunities arise and we are always seeking diverse voices in our reporting. But how do we improve diversity in a newsroom that has lost dozens of positions in three years and only added two?
“When I returned from a week’s furlough Monday, I received the answer.
“Gannett has committed that by 2025 the diversity in newsrooms will reflect the diversity in our communities. That includes the Florida Times-Union, and I know that is welcome news in our newsroom.
“We know this won’t happen overnight. And no, it doesn’t mean we’re kicking those who are here aside. It means being intentional with our hiring when we’re able to add or replace positions and knowing we have support from the top of our company.”