Quota Quote

Technology in the service of a more inclusive diversity


When Los Angeles Times publisher Mark Willes recently announced that he was going to grade his editors and reporters on the number of quotes from women and minorities that they included in their stories, not everyone reacted in the proper spirit. If any editor told him to add quotes to a story simply to achieve an appropriate gender/race/ethnicity mix, "I would tell that editor to go to hell," one reporter told the publisher.

Some observers have misunderstood this remark to mean that the reporter objected to the spirit of the enterprise, that his fixation on facts and commentary directly relevant to a story had blinded him to the larger social function, the contribution to inclusive diversity, that newspaper articles can serve. Others surmised that some quote suppliers, laboring under the misapprehension that their remarks were sought for their intrinsic value, might be displeased to find they were filling a demographically labeled box.

But these critics are missing the real point. What bothered the reporter–and the many others at the Times who voiced similar concerns–is surely the fear that doing full justice to the demographic multidimensionality of quotees would absorb many scarce column inches. After all, when it comes to identifying people, what's in a name, as Shakespeare so presciently remarked? President Clinton has gotten scant credit for appointing Ambassador Bill Richardson to high office despite his maternal Hispanicity. We can't all be lucky enough to be named Geraldo Rivera.

Consider, for example, a recent front-page article in the L.A. Times describing the rise of Charlotte, N.C., to second-largest banking center in America. Variously cited are a bunch of local businessmen, bankers, and urban experts with names like Carroll Gray, Hugh McCall, and Edward Crutchfield. On the face of it, only one citee, a bank official named Carlos Evans, might score a publisher's point. Yet who knows what mosaic of ethnicities, religious affiliations and migratory impulses might be hidden behind a name such as Winchell Cross (as we shall dub one of the cited experts for purposes of illustration)? Full justice might, one imagines, require a reporter to write: " 'Most banks are run by faceless MBAs,' said Winchell Cross, director of the Urban Research Center, an Anglo-Franco-Irish-Italo-nonevangelical-Protestant-with-Catholic-antecedents-American whose predominantly Chinese wife has some Tatar and Burmese ancestry."

Well, obviously that's not going to work. And it's certainly not going to fit on a business card. What is needed is a compact notation that will allow full and precise display to the unique parameters of each and every giver of good quote.

A new software package QUOTA QUOTE™ provides the solution. Easily installed into any newspaper, magazine or personal word processing system, it allows reporters and their editors to describe respondents by assigning appropriate values to the superscripts and subscripts in the following expression (note that the coded categories are meant to be illustrative not definitive, so no offense should be inferred from the failure to specify the appropriate values for every reader):


where the superscripts are specified as follows:

A denotes age (1 = one of the nation's children; 2 = teenager; 3 = Gen-X; 4 = aging boomer/soccer mom; 5 = older worker; 6 = senior citizen; 7 = frail elderly; 8 = death bed)

C denotes color (absent sunning) (1 = black; 2 = tan; 3 = yellow; 4 = white)

Cs denotes color of spouse (defined as for C)

F denotes food preferences (1 = omnivore; 2 = vegetarian; 3 = vegan; 4 = kosher; 5 = lactose intolerant, etc.)

G denotes gender (1 = female; 2 = male; 3 = transgendered)

O denotes sexual orientation (1 = straight; 2 = gay or lesbian; 3 = bi; 4 = other)

P denotes political orientation (1 = Democrat, old; 2 = Democrat, new; 3 = Republican, Rockefeller; 4 = Republican, Reaganite; 5 = Republican, religious right; 6 = Republican, Buchananite; 7 = libertarian; 8 = nonaligned)

R denotes current religion (1 = Muslim; 2 = Catholic; 3 = Protestant evangelical; 4 = Protestant other; 5 = Jewish; 6 = Mormon; 7 = Hindu; 8 = agnostic; 9 = atheist; 9 = animist; 10 = Scientologist; 11 = whatever)

Ry denotes religion of youth (defined as for R)

S denotes socioeconomic status (1 = underclass; 2 = welfare class; 3 = working poor; 4 = lower-middle; 5 = genteel poverty; 6 = middle American; 7 = yuppie; 8 = Range Rover rich; 9 = Learjet rich

Sp denotes socioeconomic class of parents (1 = lower; 2 = higher; 3 = same)

The subscripts (reserved for the important dimensions of ethnicity and geographical distribution) are given as:

Geo denotes geographic residence (in some instances, broad geographic region–Northeast, Midwest, etc.–may suffice. In others cases, recourse may be had to the two-letter state postal codes.)

N denotes current nationality (1 = U.S.; 2 = Central American; 3 = South American; 4 = Canadian; 5 = Northern European; 6 = Southern European; 7 = North African; 8 = Central African; 9 = Asian; 10 = Pacific Islander, etc.)

Nb denotes nationality at birth (defined as for N)

E1 denotes predominant ethnicity–where no ethnicity dominates, specify as the predominant ethnicity of the mother [See Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups for a useful guide from which a three-digit coding system (from 001 = Acadian to 115 = Zoroastrian) may be readily constructed.]

E2…n denote other ethnic antecedents in declining order of importance, where n assumes (for computational efficiency) a maximum value of 5 and unspecified ethnicities are coded as 00Esk (where k = 1,m ) denotes ethnicity of spouse or significant other defined as for E, and m has a maximum value of 3.

Applying QUOTA QUOTE™ to the illustration above produces the parsimonious but revealing: "Most banks are run by faceless MBAs," said Winchell Cross4,4,3,2,2,1,2,4,2,7,1

Once a document is specified, QUOTA QUOTE™ will automatically score the document using a five-dimensional matrix of weights specified by editors to represent the relative importance of certain types of classifications (typically age, sexual orientation, political affiliation, and primary and secondary ethnicity–though these also may be specified as parameters for a given application) to their publications in general or to a particular story. Thus, in Miami, extra credit may be given for a Cuban citation, whereas in Alaska an Aleut will score higher. Stories with high emotional content will, of course, be scored high for quotes from females (another Willes dictum), while those dealing with nuclear throw weights or numbers in general will get extra points for male commentary, etc.

Scores can be posted at the end of articles for the convenience of both editors and readers, thereby sparing them the need to read the main body of the article in order to assess its importance. After all, it doesn't really matter what people think or say. What matters is who they are.

Jodie T. Allen ( is Washington editor of Slate ( and a former editor of The Washington Post's "Outlook" section.