For Diversity Champion Wanda Lloyd, the Challenges Haven’t Changed

Gregory Favre of the Poynter Institute (left), moderates a roundtable discussion between Chris Peck, editor of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Wanda Lloyd, executive editor of the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser and John Seigenthaler, founder of the First Amendment Center. The scene was at an Islam in the Bible Belt specialized reporting institute sponsored by the McCormick Foundation and held at the First Amerndment Center/Middle Tennessee State University photo

By Joe Grimm

Wanda Lloyd will be leaving her post as executive editor of the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser and montgomeryadvertiser.com on Feb. 1, but she’s not retiring.

She has a full agenda of issues to work on, the same items she has been working on for a long time. She described them in a phone interview.

Wanda Lloyd“The thing that is most important right now as we transition to this digital age is, are we keeping up with the concerns about diversity? Everybody is looking for a new model . . . charging for content and putting a value on content.

“I think that’s important because we do have to pay the bills and show a return to our shareholders, but the racial, gender and especially socioeconomic factors may be lost in all that. You may miss the people who are at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder.

“Content is king. Are we doing the right thing in terms of content for the society?”

She doesn’t want to have “a surprise like we did back in the 1960s.”

In 1967, as riots were roiling Detroit, one of several cities that suffered civil unrest, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed the Kerner Commission to look at the causes. The commission concluded, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Its report said, “The press has too long basked in a white world looking out of it, if at all, with white men’s eyes and white perspective.”

Are we still in the same boat? Lloyd said, “A good example is the presidential race: ‘Oh, my gosh, I didn’t know young people and people of color would have such an impact and would come out and vote.’ ”

Lloyd said she would like to help re-engage the executive suite in media diversity. “Like always, the commitment has to come from the top, and the top in all our companies has changed since the last diversity push. I would like to reach out to the top and make sure they have not just a commitment but an understanding of what is needed. You’ve got to have the people who can make the decision and spend the money on it.

“At Unity, there was a collection of conversations with the heads of some media companies about what’s going on,” she said. She would like to see that grow.

Lloyd, who said she learned to write by typing obituaries at the kitchen table for her father’s funeral home, has worked at USA Today and dailies in Greenville, S.C.; Providence; Atlanta; Miami; and Washington. She was founding executive director of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, and as a board member of the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) she chaired its diversity committee.

One of that organization’s key diversity efforts is an annual census of newsroom employment, with the goal of having newsrooms reflect the nation’s diverse makeup. According to the 2012 ASNE census, 12.32 percent of newsroom employees were minorities. In December, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that that minority representation in the nation is 37 percent.

“The ASNE set these goals back in 1978 and reset them in 1998,” Lloyd said. “The problem is the country keeps changing. The pace of change has accelerated more than the newspapers can keep up with, and the economy has set us way back. We had to do all these layoffs, and we did it without any thought of diversity but survival.”

Lloyd, who drives the Advertiser to be more than just a newspaper, said, “I am not one of those people that is trying to hold onto the traditional newspaper. This model can’t sustain itself for a very long time. Secondly, if you want to attract young people to the field they, have to do something besides newspaper. Young people don’t read the newspaper. They read the website, but they don’t read the paper.”

She said another challenge that interests her “is the leadership piece. There is nobody in the pipeline. We’ve got to get people of color and women into the pipeline.

“The big reason we lost ground was the layoffs. People who might be five years further into their careers are doing PR or teaching and other things. Nobody is talking about getting people into that pipeline.

“I don’t know that we are ever going to get that back.”

Joe Grimm, a consultant and adjunct faculty member of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, recruited for the Detroit Free Press, Knight Ridder and Gannett from 1990 until 2008. He now teaches at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He has run the JobsPage journalism careers site at www.jobspage.com since 1996. Wanda Lloyd and he won the 2007 Robert G. McGruder Award for Diversity Leadership. Questions about careers? Email Joe for an answer.

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