The LA Podcast

Exclusive: LA Times all-staff email

by Hayes Davenport
June 6, 2020

On June 5, Los Angeles Times executive editor Norman Pearlstine sent an all-staff email announcing reforms, acknowledging the LA Times’ failures “addressing concerns of people of color in the newsroom,” and “focusing on a white subscriber base even as the city became majority non-white.”

The email was shared with LA Podcast by LA Times employees who asked to remain anonymous.

Dear Colleagues,

This has been an extraordinary week during an extraordinary year. Thousands of Americans have taken to the streets during a pandemic to protest longstanding racial injustice, prompted by the deaths of George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky. These incidents are the latest in a terrible legacy of state violence against black Americans. 

What’s different this time is that the anger and pain have not only brought protesting crowds to the streets, but they have also prompted conversations about our worldviews, our interpersonal relationships and our workplaces. 

We’ve been reporting on the protests and the local and national response to them, including the violent police actions against peaceful protesters and some members of the press (among them our own colleagues), and President Donald J. Trump’s often escalatory rhetoric and actions. 

Our reporters have spread out across Los Angeles, the country and the world to help our audiences understand what’s happening. Their work has illuminated the motivations of the protesters. They have debunked the idea that lawful protesters were doing the bulk of the looting. They have explained policing strategies as they evolved. And they have refused to accept the president’s Monday photo-op at face value.

I am very proud of and grateful for all you have done to help our audiences understand what they have seen and heard. But at a moment when thousands of protesters are pushing America to examine how systemic racism has shaped our institutions, we would be remiss in not examining our own institution as well.

The Los Angeles Times has a long, well-documented history of fueling the racism and cruelty that accompanied our city’s becoming a metropolis. This publication fomented the hysteria that led to Japanese American incarceration, the Zoot Suit Riots, redlining and racial covenants, and it turned a blind eye to generations of police abuses against minority communities. At its worst, our coverage didn’t simply ignore people of color — it actively dehumanized them. More recently, we can be faulted for focusing on a white subscriber base even as the city became majority non-white. Our paper’s history of addressing the concerns of people of color in the newsroom has been equally checkered. Our failures have caused pain for staff past and present.

It is vital, as we continue to revive the Los Angeles Times, that we do better. We must serve our city more fully, and we must recruit, promote and retain a more diverse staff. 

The events of the past week make clear that we must move faster to address our failings and that we must do more to support our staff who have already successfully brought about change. While we have been working over the past few years to make our institution more diverse, we are far from finished — and in fact we shall never be finished. Whatever progress we’ve made, we have not come far enough. Our staff is not as diverse as our city. We do not have enough people of color in leadership positions.  

The modest progress we’ve made in bringing more diverse voices to The Times in recent years and elevating the voices of the staff who have dedicated their careers to the paper has paid outsize dividends as these journalists help connect us to the Los Angeles of today and tomorrow. This work has not always been easy for them. Our journalists of color have successfully fought to tell stories they think essential, often overcoming management’s blind spots. 

Although we and our readers benefit from having a more inclusive newsroom, some of our staffers of color have felt a particular burden, of reporting on injustices that have shaped their own lives and of helping their colleagues avoid mistakes.

I want to emphasize today that the responsibility to fight racism — both conscious and unconscious, in our institution and in our coverage — lies with all of us who are here now, and ultimately with me. Listening to many of you this week, it’s clear that we must move quickly to expose flaws in our own organization and make overdue improvements.

Here are some first steps:

Finally, I encourage each of you to send me your suggestions and to confront me with your criticisms. 

We must never forget the lessons of the past week. With your help we shall all benefit from what we have learned.

Many thanks,