As things now stand, the U.S. Labor Department is standing with Yahoo, Google, Apple and two other Silicon Valley companies that refuse to disclose the amount of diversity — or lack of it — in their workforces.
The American Society of News Editors this year added "online-only newspapers" to its annual diversity census of print newspapers. Yahoo and Google were among the 21 that did not respond. A Yahoo spokeswoman later told Journal-isms flatly, "We do not release our diversity statistics."
The Labor Department confirmed this week that Yahoo, Google and three other Silicon Valley companies felt so strongly about not disclosing the information that they persuaded federal officials two years ago to block public disclosure — and that the Labor Department agreed that to be forthcoming would be revealing "trade secrets."
Referring to the Freedom of Information Act, Labor Department spokeswoman Elizabeth N. Alexander told Journal-isms, "The FOIA Appeals Unit determined through its own careful analysis that the companies’ claims that the release of the information could cause significant competitive harm were valid."
The refusal came during an investigation of Silicon Valley diversity by the San Jose Mercury News.
In February, reporter Mike Swift wrote that in early 2008, the paper had sought federal employment data for Silicon Valley's 15 largest companies through the Freedom of Information Act. "Following an appeals process that stretched over nearly two years, five of those companies — Google, Apple, Yahoo, Oracle and Applied Materials — convinced federal officials to block public disclosure," Swift reported.
He nevertheless concluded, "Hispanics and blacks made up a smaller share of the valley's computer workers in 2008 than they did in 2000, a Mercury News review of federal data shows, even as their share grew across the nation."
Alexander told Journal-isms that "Mr. Swift’s request was for EEO-1 data (composition of the workforce with respect to demographic information). The Department of Labor was required to determine whether the information fell within the FOIA exemption relating to trade secrets, or commercial or financial information.
"Ten of the companies included in Mr. Swift’s request did not object to the release of the information, and as a result, this data was released to Mr. Swift.
"Five of the fifteen companies included in Mr. Swift’s FOIA request did object to the release of the requested information. These companies claimed that if the FOIA request were granted, the public release of confidential trade secrets, or commercial or financial information would occur.
"Mr. Swift appealed the decision that the FOIA request fell within the 'trade secrets' exemption. The FOIA Appeals Unit determined through its own careful analysis that the companies’ claims that the release of the information could cause significant competitive harm were valid. Therefore, as required by Executive Order 12600 the appeal was denied and the information was not released.
"Once information is classified as falling under the 'trade secrets' exemption, it is a criminal offense to disclose it."
The Labor Department's response leaves unanswered why the Labor Department decided that disclosing the demographic information caused "significant competitive harm" in the case of these five companies when it did not in the case of those that did not object to disclosure.
Alexander was also asked whether the position by the FOIA Appeals Unit, determined under the Bush administration, would be the same under the Obama administration.
"There is not really anything more I can tell you," she replied. "We’ve explained the process for reviewing FOIA requests, but it is not possible to discuss the specific details underlying the determinations regarding the requests."
Milton Coleman, president of the American Society of News Editors, noted that "the census we release to the public reports only the percentages of women and journalists of color in individual newsrooms, not numbers. Those are kept confidential."
He told Journal-isms, "The American Society of News Editors believes that newsroom diversity is essential for the accuracy of coverage on whatever platform that news is presented. We cannot cover communities well if those communities are not represented among those who decide what news is, report and edit it, and present it to the public. Newsroom diversity is therefore an industry imperative.
"Since 1978, we have conducted an annual census of daily newspaper newsrooms and have in recent years begun to invite online news organizations to participate in the survey. All the numbers reported to us by hundreds of newsrooms each year are voluntary disclosures, and the census we release to the public reports only the percentages of women and journalists of color in individual newsrooms, not numbers. Those are kept confidential. In this way, concerned journalism organizations can monitor the news industry's progress in this very critical effort."
Yahoo News is the most-visited news site on the Web.
"For the first time, Yahoo! News actually has full-time beat writers — six of them, including high-profile bylines like John Cook (formerly of Gawker), Michael Calderone (formerly of Politico) and Holly Bailey (formerly of Newsweek)," Joe Pompeo wrote Friday for businessinsider.com. "And they've already unearthed some big scoops, like Cook's recent piece about revelations that Walter Cronkite may have aided anti-Vietnam War activists in the 1960s,"
Pompeo quoted Andrew Golis, editor of blogging for Yahoo News: "It's like doing a startup, except we've already got the biggest news audience in the country."
"Golis said the basic strategy for Yahoo! News was to take advantage of Yahoo.com's existing audience of around half a billion people."
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