Analysis: Do ProPublica and ProPublica Illinois Have a Black Face Problem?

“The best way to judge us on hiring, in the end, is to look at our numbers,” they say.

On Jan. 1, 2019, I published an op-ed calling out ProPublica and ProPublica Illinois for what I believe to be their blatant hypocrisy. The opinion piece highlighted and called into question their advertising and hiring of Black reporters.

In brief summary, in 2017, Pro Publica Inc. – their legal name, according to the Delaware Secretary of State website – which is operating as ProPublica newsroom out of Manhattan, New York, decided to expand and open a Midwest regional newsroom. First stop: Chicago.

Louise Kiernan, an associate professor from Northwestern University was tapped to head the news outlet. ProPublica advertised requirements that appeared to be welcoming and liberal, particularly to people of color. Click here for the details.

Louise Kiernan with ProPublica Chicago employees in elevator
Photo of newly hired reporters posted on ProPublica Illinois Editor-in-Chief Louise Kiernan’s Twitter account

Soon thereafter, Ms. Kiernan posted a photo on her Twitter account of the new hires in Chicago. And guess what? There wasn’t one Black reporter to be found.

I took issue with the photo, especially after having met Ms. Kiernan in person at the Lookingglass Theater in 2017. Read about my revealing encounter with her here.

Within weeks of publishing my opinion, on Jan. 24, 2019 ProPublica published a report titled: “What ProPublica is Doing About Diversity in 2019.

Three things stood out about their efforts:

  1. The report states that their “Diversity Committee” was just formally started – despite them taking on these issues as far back as 2015. Shouldn’t the diversity committee have been formally formed first – back in 2015?
  2. They couched their achievements in percentages and not whole numbers. Black employees make up 7 percent of their employees, according to the report. Why not share whole numbers with your readers and followers instead of percentages? And tell a more compelling narrative as you so often do with your other data-driven reporting? Unless you’re trying to hide something?
  3. The committee is headed and co-chaired by Lena Groeger and Liz Sharp, two nonBlack staffers.

Who’s Going to Take the Responsibility?

When ProPublica hired its first Black male reporter – Christopher Sanders – in 2015, it appeared to be aiming towards genuine reform and inclusiveness in its NYC newsroom.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. They haven’t hired another Black male reporter since, and they have 42 nonBlack male reporters in their Manhattan bureau and not a single Black male reporter on the ground in Chicago.

That’s a 42:1 ratio for nonBlack to Black male reporters in NYC.

But it would take ProPublica almost two more years before it hired another Black reporter, this time a female – Talia Buford in 2017. Thus increasing their Black female reporters by 100 percent in a single stroke. A remarkable feat, bringing their Black female reporters to two.

Ginger Thompson – senior reporter – is the first Black female hired back in 2014.

ProPublica has 43 nonBlack female reporters. That’s a 43:2 ratio for nonBlack to Black female reporters in NYC.

In Chicago there are no Black full- or part-time staff reporters whatsoever.

The 7 percent of Blacks mentioned in their diversity report includes all the Blacks ProPublica employs, including the business side, Black fellows and maybe a cleaning person or two.

Hone in on the reporters only and Blacks involved in writing and reporting the news drops to a paltry 3 out of nearly 90 reporters, or 3 percent.

Updated ProPublica graphic

Obfuscating the truth, misleading their followers, content partners and maybe even their board members appears to be their preferred method of running their newsrooms.

“Board members,” you say?

Yes, the nonprofit has a 15-member board of directors and two happen to be Black: Danielle S. Allen and Henry Louis Gates Jr., according to their website.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. made national news when a white female neighbor called 911 and reported him as a burglar attempting to break into his own home – in Cambridge, Massachusetts – after returning from China in July 2009.

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Harvard professor and ProPublica board member Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The prominent professor and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University was arrested for disorderly conduct by Sgt. James Crowley and the incident sparked international outrage opening the door to the ongoing, contentious debate about race, racial profiling and white privilege.

Charges were eventually dropped and both men were invited to the White House for a “Beer Summit” with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Gates was the only Black board member since their founding in 2007, until recent. See the full board membership here.

Also, ProPublica appears to have only one Black on its 15-member Journalism Advisory Board, Cynthia A. Tucker, which also include current members such as:

Jill Abramson, former executive editor, The New York Times, and L Gordon Crovitz, former publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

To top off their governance boards, there doesn’t appear to be any Black faces among its 18-member Business Advisors, which include as current members:

Ann Blinkhorn, founder, Blinkhorn LLC, a reported leader in digital media, and Maria Gotsch, president and CEO, Investment Fund, which funds rising entrepreneurs in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors across various sectors.

Click here and scroll towards the bottom to view the full membership of journalism and business advisors.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

This is what ProPublica said in their very first diversity report in 2015.

“The best way to judge us on hiring, in the end, is to look at our numbers.”

Black female reporters in New York – 2
Black male reporters in New York – 1
Black female reporters in Chicago – 0
Black male reporters in Chicago – 0

And the count for executive managers, board members and advisors:

Black Board of Directors – 2
Black Journalism Advisory Board – 1
Black Business Advisors – 0
Black executive managers – 0

Let that sink in for a moment before we get to the heart of the matter.

After 5 years of committees, meetings and vainglorious rhetoric: Why do ProPublica and now ProPublica Illinois have a problem hiring reporters with Black faces?

On Feb. 1, 2019 my attorney Jill M. Willis filed a federal lawsuit alleging race, age and color discrimination.

Stay tuned for more on this developing story . . .

#ProPublicaWhereAreTheBlackReporters?

This story has been updated as of July 18, 2019.

Disclaimer:

This is a personal blog for the above named writer. The views, information and/or opinions expressed are solely those of the individual writer and do not necessarily represent the views of any entity, organization or company that I may have been affiliated with in the past, present or future.

This blog is for education, information and entertainment purposes. All information is provided on an as-is basis. It is the reader’s responsibility to verify their own facts. Assumptions made in the analysis are not reflective of any entity other than the author(s) and due to critical thinking these views are subject to change and revision.

Author: Kenneth Eric Hare

Investigative reporter and former journalist for the historic Chicago Defender newspaper, whose groundbreaking stories paved the way to laws and policies being changed at the city, county and state levels.

2 thoughts on “Analysis: Do ProPublica and ProPublica Illinois Have a Black Face Problem?”

  1. It’s so disheartening to know that an alleged major media outlet is actually operating under mendacious and deceitful tactics. I applaud any source capable of exposing discrimination to any minority group of employable candidates. It is blatantly obvious that they are purposely denying qualified candidates seeking journalistic opportunities. What is the real reason for such monopolization? Is it really a matter of BLACK AND WHITE? I pray that a judge and jury ineluctably gets to the bottom of it.

    Like

    1. Very interesting article but I am far from surprised that this company n any other white owned company don’t hire blacks until they feel forced to do so! Blacks must continue to shine a light on those that discriminate against them. Progress will be made, just don’t get discouraged!

      Like

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