NYT reporter bashes Inky’s Philly schools reporting: ‘Wink-and-nod writing about race’

Nikole Hannah-Jones tweetstormed the paper’s “Public school pays off for Philly family.”

Left: Screenshot of Philly.com Right: New York Times Magazine writer Nikole Hannah-Jones

Left: Screenshot of Philly.com Right: New York Times Magazine writer Nikole Hannah-Jones

Left: Screenshot Right: Twitter

Updated at 5:13 p.m.

A Philadelphia Inquirer story about a young family sending their kids to public school is facing some backlash today while critics say the piece cited racial stereotypes and normalized gentrification.

Kristen Graham, a Pulitzer-prize winning education writer for the Inquirer, wrote the piece published today titled “Public school pays off for Philly family.” It detailed the decision-making process of Jill and Mark Scott, a couple who lives in the Graduate Hospital area with their two children. Graham wrote about how the family decided to send their oldest son, Henry, to Edwin M. Stanton Elementary, which is “becoming a possibility for families in the gentrifying neighborhood near the old Graduate Hospital.”

But Nikole Hannah-Jones, a New York Times Magazine writer specializing in writing about modern school segregation, slammed the piece in a tweetstorm today, writing that the story was “ALL about race without ever mentioning it” and saying the headline should have read: “white Philly family goes into well-functioning school.”

Graham said in an interview that she’s taking the concerns raised seriously, but defended the story and said she was aiming to update readers on the status of a family that had a good experience with the School District of Philadelphia.

“Was it about race? Cleary for some people it was. That’s their truth, and I want to honor that,” she said. “Was it overtly a story about race? That’s not how I approached it.”

Of the 330 students at Stanton, at 17th and Christian streets, 98.5 percent are children of color, according to the school’s profile on the district website:

School District of Philadelphia

Here’s what Hannah-Jones had to say about the piece:

Others chimed in following Hannah-Jones’ Twitter critique, saying the piece “normalizes gentrification” and made it sound as if the school was only successful once it was endorsed by a white family:

Inquirer editor Bill Marimow vigorously defended Graham, saying “she’s done exemplary work, and for people to savage her for one story without taking any account of the body of her work is unfortunate.” He pointed to a piece Graham wrote in 2014 about Anna Lane Lingelbach Elementary, a Germantown public school with a $160 total discretionary budget, which resulted in an outpouring of support for the school. 

Marimow added that if readers saw the story as being about race, “I’m sure they can” but “it certainly wasn’t intentional.”

“Kristen saw this as a couple who you may not have expected them to be sending their kids to this school,” he said. “But they have embraced this school. And that’s interesting.”

Graham added that she didn’t hear from Hannah-Jones directly about the story. She also said she hopes readers will look at her coverage of the school district “as a whole.”

“I would say 90 to 95 percent [of my stories] are about kids stuck in failing schools and larger problems,” she said. “That’s the most important part of my coverage… This was one family’s experience.”

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