I’m not taking Ed Werder’s side here. I spend too much time on Twitter to face that backlash. And, to be sure, Werder is wrong. But I get where he’s coming from. Hear me out.
The hubbub started when a job opening at Sports Illustrated was posted by Charlotte Wilder on Twitter.
Werder responded by suggesting her post meant no men need apply and things got ugly from there.
This is obviously reading WAY too much into one tweet. Clearly, Wilder is simply suggesting that, as a woman gainfully employed with SI, she’d be interested in talking with other women interested in the job. This seems of little difference than anyone offering to help a friend network, or an alumnus of their same college. It’s just how business is done — which is one of the reasons this is such important an issue to discuss (stand by for more on that).
But Werder’s point hints at the underlying rationale for so many problems in our country right now. Werder is not wrong that it is tough for white men to find jobs in journalism because it is tough for anyone to find jobs in an industry that (aside from The Athletic) is shedding workers daily. Newspaper jobs, for example, have been halved in just 15 years.
So, we have a white male in a decaying industry upset at a perceived preference for non-white males to get one of the few good jobs remaining. That’s an entirely reasonable take, assuming you don’t want to think any deeper about it.
The problem, which, again, is so often the case, is that most of the people who have thought more deeply about it simply want to scold, laugh or shout out in opposition, when what is desperately needed is a calm, reasoned explanation about why Werder — and many others who probably believe exactly as he does — is wrong.
I spend an awful lot of time these days at Clemson for football coverage. The regular beat there (if you include TV), includes four women and one additional non-white male. This is probably the most diverse beat I’ve been around.
When I covered Florida State a few years back, the beat included one black female and one black male (who, when he left for another job, was replaced by a white male), and that was about it.
When I covered Georgia a few years before that, I’m not sure there was a single woman or minority who routinely covered the team.
Now, consider that college football is a sport in which more than 60 percent of players are black. Now, consider that college football has a massive problem with sexual assault and women’s issues within its culture. And yet the vast majority — 90 percent wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest — of folks covering the sport are white men.
And this doesn’t end with college football, of course. When I covered the Phillies, the beat crew included exactly one person who spoke Spanish, (Rickie Ricardo!) while Hispanics make up 32 percent of MLB players.
When Werder suggests the most qualified person should land a job, he’s not wrong. But he neglects to see that, given the issues we’re facing in sports and elsewhere, being a woman or a person of color might well make you more qualified for this work than a white man, who, as Werder so clearly evidenced, can have an awfully narrow perspective.
No doubt this is already being framed by politics, and that makes some sense. The notion that white males are losing ground is at the heart of so much of our national conflict right now. I’m certainly not qualified to lecture on that, but I’d highly recommend Arlie Russell Hochschild’s “Strangers In Their Own Land,” which tackles this exact issue in wonderfully detailed fashion by actually listening to people rather than lecturing them.
But this cuts both ways. The reason the media was so (fairly, in this case) maligned after the 2016 election was because it had largely ignored the voices of so many people who lived outside of the typical metropolitan bubble. The reaction to that has spawned its own genre — the “safari in Trump country” story, which is often equally as tone deaf — which only underscores how problematic the demographics of newsrooms are. It’s not just a lack of women or minorities. It’s a lack of anyone whose perspective reflects the experiences of Middle America. As a Philadelphia native who has spent much of his adulthood in the South (and married a girl from Alabama), I see all the time the way the metropolitan media stereotypes the South with little regard for what life is actually like here. It is a legitimate problem.
Now let’s get back to that earlier point about networking. I’ve certainly worked my way up the ladder in journalism, but I’ve had a good bit of help, too, because I knew people. I worked with people who were like me, and therefore I was able to bond with them, form lasting relationships. I went to a good school, and I was able to talk with fellow alumni in the business who could help me out. I had connections, because other people who are just like me had good jobs already.
That’s often not the case for women. Or blacks. Or Hispanics. Or white men from small towns in the middle of nowhere. And that will never change if the person with the best-looking résumé is always the person hired. And maybe if things do start to change, if new ideas and voices and perspectives show up in the coverage of sports and elsewhere, maybe the landscape for journalism jobs starts to change, too. Maybe more readers will see themselves in their news coverage and buy a paper or tune in to a studio show. Maybe rather than fighting over scraps, we should be thinking of ways to make the pie a little bigger.