In his first address to the Los Angeles Times newsroom, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong shared his commitment to fostering diversity in our workplace.
A child of Chinese immigrants -- and an immigrant himself -- he said he wanted our ranks to “better reflect the diversity of the communities and audiences we seek to serve.”
By overhauling the Times’ Metpro Program, Soon-Shiong and our executive editor, Norman Pearlstine, can do just that.
The Times launched Metpro, originally called the Minority Editorial Training Program, 34 years ago as a way to build a pipeline and provide opportunities for journalists of color, many with diverse backgrounds.
But as layoffs and cutbacks have chipped away at the newsroom, so too have they chipped away at Metpro and its original intentions. Graduates of the program who joined The Times as full-time staffers contend with depressed wages and say they feel like second-class journalists.
In response, the L.A. Times Guild’s Equity & Diversity Committee created a report, available here, based on a survey of Metpro graduates from the past 20 years. The Guild received about 50 responses from current and former staff members, who shared their experiences in the program.
Some key recommendations:
- The program should be limited to people with a certain amount of experience in a professional newsroom, up to three years. Candidates with master’s degrees would still qualify. Because Metpro has become a way to bring in experienced journalists into the Times newsroom and underpay them, we must reassess who is an ideal candidate to ensure that Metpro is no longer exploitative.
- Metpro should be 18 months — and heavily structured. The first four weeks will be training. There will be three rotations, each 16 weeks. At the end of the first year, after a comprehensive evaluation, a Metpro will be placed into the final six months of the program. If the Metpro is a reporter, he or she will be assigned to a specific beat with a specific editor.
- Metpros should be given a pay increase, as proposed by the bargaining committee. (Current pay is $850/week, before taxes.) Additionally, Metpros should be provided with a moving stipend. If hired as full-time staff, Metpros should be paid minimum reporter or other salaries as established by bargaining.
- A Metpro will receive their first formal evaluation at eight weeks of the first rotation with relevant supervisors and Metpro director.
- A volunteer panel of former Metpros will form and meet regularly, checking in with current Metpros and hosting events throughout the year to ensure Metpros meet a variety of people in the newsroom. The panel will also help the Metpro director assign mentors.
To be clear: The Times should continue the Metpro program. It is a program that has brought much talent to The Times.
But Metpro cannot continue in its current form. To become the prestigious job training fellowship it was designed to be, the program requires a significant overhaul – one that will allow the Times to continue hiring and retaining motivated, ambitious journalists who are crucial to the newspaper’s success.
—Guild’s Equity and Diversity Committee.