Why Minority Reporters Leave

Milton Coleman closed up his office at The Washington Post yesterday for the final time, ending a 36-year career at the paper. I have many Milton stories, and I will always feel so fondly toward him, not least because, although Doug Norwood and Gene Robinson hired me at The Post, it was Milton, then the deputy managing editor, who sent me the letter announcing that The Washington Post actually wanted me on its staff.

In 2005, Milton was one of several editors who took part in a kind of training session for younger editors. He was deeply involved with the weekly El Tiempo Latino at this time, and of course I knew of his role as a mentor for many African Americans on the staff. So I wasn’t surprised that Milton came to us to discuss how to reach minority readers — a crucial topic in a city where minorities made up the majority. He pointed out, “The old paradigm of who our new readers are doesn’t work anymore. It used to be our children whom we wrote for, but now immigration drives our population growth.”

What really grabbed me, though, was his list of reasons why reporters of color leave The Post. It opened my eyes to a problem that we still struggle to resolve all these years later. For me, this is the best Milton story, because it touches on his willingness to share, to explain, so that we all end up in a better place, and that’s what Milton Coleman was about. That, and music.

  • They’re street reporters, not process reporters
  • They prefer features to news
  • They pay a tax in their home communities for working for a mainstream publication (Is my newspaper gonna embarrass me?)
  • “My editors don’t get excited or don’t understand my ideas” (This sends a message that the newspaper’s not for me.)
  • They don’t get good assignments
  • “That story is so old” — we are not sophisticated in reporting on communities

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