The New York Times scuttled its race beat last month — drawing ire from many of its readers who appreciated Tanzina Vega’s nuanced look at issues related to race and ethnicity in America.
The move came at a particularly awkward time for the paper, which has dedicated a lot of time and ink to covering the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Eric Garner of Staten Island, N.Y., and Tamir Rice of Cleveland.
Vega will now cover the Bronx courthouse for the Times’ metro desk. The race beat was created at Vega’s own suggestion, and she gave the following quote to the New York Times’ public editor Margaret Sullivan:
“While I was saddened to see the race and ethnicity beat discontinued, I’m very proud of what we were able to do, and I plan to bring that same energy to the Bronx.”
Twitter users were largely against the Times’ decision to move Vega. Some seemed to look forward to the energy she would bring to the new beat. Dean Baquet, for his part, hasn’t publicly committed to what he’s going to do about replacing Vega.
Instead, Baquet offered the following:
“I haven’t decided what to do about the beat, but I know that it has to be covered paper-wide.”
In many ways, I can appreciate Baquet’s desire to have the “race beat” extend beyond just one reporter at one desk at this massive, largely traditional newspaper. Race has been at the center of many different story lines this year — from police bias to school punishments to prison reform.
Instead of moving Vega entirely, I think Baquet should have considered giving her her own team within the national desk. A team dedicated to producing both the smart, quirky content Vega is known for along with the powerful, poignant pieces the Times is capable of. Over the better part of 2014, Vega has proven herself as a leader on this beat. She is widely respected for her nuanced approach to covering race in America. She seems to be perfectly capable of managing a team of reporters.
I hope Baquet keeps his promise and makes a concerted effort toward incorporating more reporters covering race on many different desks. Ultimately, I think that decision will give Times’ readers a broader selection of race coverage. However, I worry that, without a single reporter dedicated to the topic, the Times’ will abandon its commitment to doing strong enterprise reporting on the beat.
It’ll just be something to watch out for.