Someone who did not know him well might well be surprised to learn of Boyd’s student militant phase, when he briefly adopted the name Uganda X. By the time he became entrenched at the Times, he had shed common manifestations of black identity in favor of the corporate culture. He armored himself with a firmly buttoned-down style, ironic repartee, and an inscrutable poker face, of which he was proud. “I became proficient at getting more from others than I gave to them,” he writes.

An abiding irony of the Blair scandal—and of the rap that Boyd had been his “rabbi”—is that he was always leery of being cast as the “editor for blacks.” Nor was he especially involved in nurturing people of his race, not that this should have been required. A newspaper more serious about diversity would have shared that responsibility widely throughout management.

There are moments in this book where Boyd rues having allowed the Times to so dominate his identity. In the end, his strategy of being the consummate company man proved to be a dubious survival technique.

Still, his account provides a timely opportunity for a beleaguered industry to think deeply about diversity. The Times seems to favor blacks who don’t make whites feel uncomfortable—as even Boyd did from inside his cocoon of inscrutability. In practice, this suggests that only the most thoroughly assimilated minorities (politically, culturally, some would even say physically) get in the door or get ahead.

If this is diversification, one might wonder, what’s the point?

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Howard W. French is an associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2003 to 2008, he was Shanghai bureau chief of The New York Times. His latest book, China's Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa, will be released this May. He is currently writing a book about the geopolitics of East Asia.