LA Times Apologizes for ‘History of Racism,’ Vows Diversity in Coverage and Staff

Newspaper is “taking positive action to affirm a commitment that our newsroom will not tolerate prejudice,” owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong says

Last Updated: September 27, 2020 @ 11:23 AM

Los Angeles Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong vowed to increase diversity in the newspaper’s coverage and staff in a letter published Sunday along with a series of sweeping, introspective reports into the Times’s long history of racism.

“The Times has also mirrored, and in some cases propagated, the biases and prejudices of the world it covers, reflecting and shaping attitudes that have contributed to social and economic inequity,” Soon-Shiong wrote. “Today, we are beginning the process of acknowledging those biases of the past and taking positive action to affirm a commitment that our newsroom will not tolerate prejudice.”

The articles examine the LA Times’ history dating back to its creation in the 1880s and its repeated failure to cover critical issues affecting millions of nonwhite Angelenos. Those issues include racist abuse from law enforcement, redlining practices that segregated Black and Latino residents into environmentally and economically poor neighborhoods, and willful bias on behalf of wealthy interests dating back to the paper’s first major publisher, Harrison Gray Otis.

“Again and again, The Times sought to shape and dominate the region instead of merely chronicling it,” the Times Editorial Board wrote. 

The criticisms have continued to today, as reporters of color at the Times have accused executive editor Norman Pearlstine of failing to diversify the Times’ newsroom as well as failing to modernize the paper to meet digital subscription benchmarks. Over the summer, Black and Latino caucuses within the Times have published public statements criticizing the paper’s leadership, noting that its editors remain predominantly white and do not reflect the diversity of Southern California.

“This very much feels like a sink-or-swim moment for the paper. And when the people who are supposed to be guiding the ship, so to speak, don’t seem to be aware of what’s going on — if they’re even around — it’s alarming. It’s very, very alarming,” one reporter told TheWrap in August.

In his letter, Soon-Shiong notes that he and his wife are the first nonwhite owners of the Times, and as such “feel a deep personal responsibility and duty to fight racism and bias.” Along with today’s editorials and introspective reports, Soon-Shiong says that more articles from the Times’ reporters of color will be published in the coming days examining the paper’s coverage of nonwhite communities.

“The national reckoning on race and that within the Los Angeles Times are welcome developments that have already led to productive conversations, concrete plans and accelerated progress for us,” he wrote. “We are committed to change, both because it is just and because it is mission-critical for our business. Only a diverse newsroom can accurately tell this city’s stories. Only a newspaper that holds power to account and uncovers injustice can truly succeed.”