A Translation of Deborah Needleman’s Statement on T Magazine’s Lack of Diversity

A Translation of Deborah Needleman’s Statement on T Magazine’s Lack of Diversity

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Last week, the first issue of T, the New York Times Style Magazine under new EIC Deborah Needleman was released. Almost immediately, readers noticed that the content and ads in the magazine were almost completely devoid of people of color, prompting Margaret Sullivan, NYT’s Public Editor to come forward with the promise that future issues of the magazine would be more diverse.

I am a fan of T, but diversity has always been one of their weaknesses. When it was announced that Needleman (former editor of WSJ Mag) would be joining and revamping the magazine, I was optimistic (as I am with all new editors) that she’d add a new, fresh perspective that truly reflects the reality of fashion today and not just the whitewashed catwalks.

Sullivan wrote:

There was much to admire. But many readers found one aspect of the magazine disturbing – its lack of people of color. Indeed, there could be no argument; it was overwhelmingly white.

Deborah Needleman
Deborah Needleman

This was followed by a few reader comments (to drive home the point) and then Needleman’s statement, which is copied below in its entirety:

“It was something I noticed and regretted as we were putting the issue together. We are a global magazine and so would like the content, subjects and geography of stories to reflect that. In coming issues, we cover the people and places of Seoul, São Paulo, Kenya, Bollywood actors, Nigeria, etc. A majority of fashion models are still unfortunately mostly white, but it is our aim to celebrate quality and beauty in all its diverse forms. We can and will aim to do better, but our goal is first and foremost to deliver the best stories we find, and it is my belief that quality and good journalism appeal to all of us regardless of our specific ethnic origins.”

Please allow me to translate…

Deborah Needleman (DN): “It was something I noticed and regretted as we were putting the issue together.”
Translation: I absolutely knew that the issue we were putting together was super white, but I was hoping you wouldn’t notice. I regret that you did. 

DN: “We are a global magazine and so would like the content, subjects and geography of stories to reflect that.”
Translation: Look we really could care less about real diversity, so I’m going to use the word global to make it seem as if we can’t possibly spend our time covering what’s happening in fashion right outside of our door. 

DN: “In coming issues, we cover the people and places of Seoul, São Paulo, Kenya, Bollywood actors, Nigeria, etc.”
Translation: See, we’re so busy traveling to all of these foreign lands to tell one or two stories that feature men and women of color that we can’t be bothered to focus on things that reflect the day-to-day lives of our readers who we were surprised to discover aren’t all white and don’t live in any of these places. 

DN: “A majority of fashion models are still unfortunately mostly white, but it is our aim to celebrate quality and beauty in all its diverse forms.”
Translation: Don’t hate the player, hate the game. 

DN: “We can and will aim to do better, but our goal is first and foremost to deliver the best stories we find, and it is my belief that quality and good journalism appeal to all of us regardless of our specific ethnic origins.”
Translation: We’re gonna work on it….just kidding…our priority is delivering the best stories we can find and I believe that the best stories all have completely white casts and we really aren’t interested in looking for any other kinds of stories. But hey, you love great journalism like the rest of us so let’s just focus on the task at hand and forget about this whole ethnic/diversity thing. K? 

– – –

My grandmother always tells me that “anything after but, is bullshit,” and the last line of Needleman’s statement reeks of it.  The whole statement actually seems quite forced and paints the picture that diversity is a burden that gets in the way of great journalism.

Things like this bother me to my core, especially when it comes from organizations and editors that I respect. Most of the responses to Needleman’s statement have excused T’s lack of diversity as something that we should expect and accept as the status quo in fashion.

However, I believe that editors who find themselves in Needleman’s shoes, with a great platform that can influence consumers and the entire fashion industry, should rise to the occasion and actually do something different (like maybe creating content that reflects the diversity of your audience).

I also wish editors and other people in executive roles would be honest about not really caring or  having a diverse enough staff who could help call out and correct situations like this before a new product is put out into the world.

How much longer is the excuse of not being able to find any non-white models, writers, editors, executives, buyers, designers, stylists, readers, consumers, etc. going to work?

And when did the pursuit of great journalism become an acceptable explanation for a lack of diversity?

It’s not. It’s bullshit. And, it’s just plain lazy.

Do better.

– – –

In other news, Numero magazine used a 16-year-old white girl in an editorial about “African Queens.”
Translation: We’re global…and hey, at least we’re talking about Africa or as Foudre put it, “Why hire a black model when you can paint a white one?” 

Updated 2/27/13: 

The photographer who shot this editorial has apologized. And his “apology” is worse than Deborah’s. Click to read.

african queen  

 

  • JG

    Great post!!!!! 100% spot on analysis. Very sad.